Gary Palmer began his career in the 1970s as a San Francisco–based dancer with the Lucas Hoving Performance Group, the San Francisco Opera Ballet, and Christopher Beck & Company Dance Theater. In the late 1970s, he performed in numerous works by Beck, from “Night Vision” (1976) to “Unspoken” (1979).
In 1977 Palmer set up the nonprofit Centerspace Dance Foundation to support Centerspace, an alternative dance venue that he founded at Project Artaud. He also organized his own troupe, Gary Palmer Dance Company, for which Centerspace served as home base until the early 1990s. Palmer’s choreography for Gary Palmer Dance Company is highly kinetic, featuring open balletic movement in tension with tighter gestures. He developed his dance sequences in response to his dancers’ individual strengths rather than setting predetermined movement on them. The result is choreography with strong theatrical values and frequent speed changes reminiscent of the work of Lucinda Childs. By the late 1990s, he was being called a “key performer and innovator in the San Francisco contemporary dance scene”. Over the years, Palmer has worked with many musicians, including Jay Cloidt, Pamela Z, Paul Dresher, and Christopher Fulkerson. Dancers in his company have included Betsy Ceva, Jonny McPhee, Robert Allen, Charles Chism, and Melissa Moss.
In 1982, Palmer inaugurated a series called “Men Dancing” that featured only male dancers and choreographers in order to “give male dance artists a creative space outside of traditional roles (as partners to ballerinas) or archetypes (heroes or villains)”. With works by such luminaries as Remy Charlip and Jose Limon alongside lesser-known choreographers, it became a popular annual event in the Bay Area, offering a forum for meditations on gay culture ranging from the oblique to the confrontational to the formal. In 1993, Palmer received an Isadora Duncan Dance Award for founding this long-running series, which lasted through 1998.
In 1991, Gary Palmer moved his company from San Francisco to San Jose, where he performed at various South Bay venues such as the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. He toured his company to Lima, Peru, in 1996 and subsequently collaborated with the Ballet Nacional de Peru on the ‘Americas Series’, which premiered at the Montgomery Theater in San Jose in 1997.
In 1997, Palmer was hired to be the executive director of the nonprofit San Jose Dance Theatre, which he subsequently merged with his own company to form a combined entity that included both a professional company and a classical ballet school intended to serve around 150 students.
What did the Fellowship or Laureate mean to you at the time you received it?
What do you do now? Has your art evolved or changed?
What is one piece of advice you would give to an emerging artist?
Briefly, how would you describe the state of the arts locally, as well as national and beyond?