Take Five with Gillian Rhodes ’12

Gillian Rhodes
Gillian Rhodes ’12 is a dancer and choreographer currently based in Lahore, Pakistan. She has performed with some of the top dance artists in Pakistan, including Adnan Jahangir and Wahab Shah, and performs cultural dances regularly with Versatile Dance Company. In March, she presented a collaborative work with Rehan Bashir at the first Lahore Biennale. Prior to her time in Pakistan, Rhodes worked in Phenom Penh, Cambodia, as a choreographer for the Cambodian Television Network and in Seoul, South Korea, performing with the Second Nature Dance Company.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

What comes to mind are words like “young” or “idealistic,” but I think the word I want is unfocused — not in the sense that I wasn’t serious, just that there was just a lot of me going in all kinds of directions. That’s why I chose Columbia in the first place — the Core allowed me to scatter my interests widely. I was raw and eager, a wide-eyed kid from a small mountain town in Colorado who couldn’t wait to get out and start living.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived in a suite in Wallach, and I loved the communal flat feeling. My roommate from that year remained a good friend for many years after, and another flatmate inspired me to go to Cambodia after graduation, which started the mad and winding path I’ve been on ever since. I liked being able to do homework in the common space while people were cooking and hanging out. It was a smaller, family-type feeling that kept me grounded.

What class do you most remember and why?

There are two that stand out: The first was my Lit Hum class — the professor was brilliant at effortlessly steering the dialogue without appearing to do anything, and we always found a way to look at the text that I hadn’t already thought of. I found many of the books actually interesting to read, sometimes quite despite myself — the week I remained glued to Crime and Punishment definitely came as a surprise. The other was a solo repertory course with Donlin Foreman. There were only two of us in the class, and I had never worked with dance in such a way — it was moving, touching and opened me to a whole new way of approaching performance. I still use so much of the material from that class in my professional work.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I had a few favorite places — the fields in front of Butler in spring, the courtyards behind Low, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library stacks — but I think the best was the studio that was on the 12th floor of whatever building is near Riverside Church, the name of which escapes me now. I had a composition class there, but as dance majors we were allowed to sign out studio space, and there was nothing better than working in this perfect little sanctuary at the top of the world, looking out over New York from above.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

In the six years since I graduated, I have never once wished to go back. The four years I spent were exactly enough, no more or less, than what I needed to set me on the path. Each year brought its own rewards and challenges. I wouldn’t do any of it over, not even sophomore year, when I took way too many classes. I believe I took advantage of all the wonderful things Columbia has to offer, and not just the incredible academic range: from the musicals to senior nights at the local bars, from the cultural internship program (a few months interning for an Off-Broadway company near Times Square, yes, please) to a full year abroad in Paris that absolutely changed my life.