Freelance Dance Artist | Executive Assistant | Producer
Gabija is a professional hip-hop and contemporary dancer based in London who finds joy in collaborating with practitioners from various art sectors. Originally from Lithuania, she has acquired experience in choreography, movement analysis, physical theatre, camera acting, teaching, directing and performance. Since being an Advanced Executive for a competitive dance team and Co-Artistic Director of Actual Size Dance Company at the University of Surrey, Gabija has gone onto become Executive Assistant at Fabula Collective and, until recently, has been Arts Coordinator for the Future Youth Zone in Barking and Dagenham. In January 2021, Gabija also undertook the role of Producer within the newly founded movement-based and multi-disciplinary company, Making An Elephant.
I spoke to Gabija in February 2021 about her motivations, professional experience and launching her freelance career.
© Luke Lentes
Which elements of your training encouraged you to explore movement styles out of your comfort zone and how has this shaped your work today?
When I started my professional training, everything I did was out of my comfort zone. I think contemporary choreography and general choreographic tools I discovered through my studies inspired me to explore art and the world with a more open mind – this led to me experimenting within other techniques, dynamics and movement styles. I realised that my expression does not have to be limited to one medium or one technique, as different topics require different creativity.
Do you feel that personal exploration is an important starting point for an early-career dance artist, or do you believe this grows with confidence and time?
I think that all of us have something to say, but not all of us have developed a voice yet (or ever). Art for me generally is showcasing a topic through a certain perspective – my perspective – emphasising aspects that might have not been visible for others. So in short, yes, personal exploration is of high importance, because what is art without it?
What are the key things you learnt from your time as Co-Artistic Director for the student dance company Actual Size?
Five important lessons I learnt from my time with Actual Size were: be sure to respect other people’s perspectives and creativity, understand that collaboration is a skill, try not to be a control freak, be realistic and appreciate that good art can take time, don’t rush it.
What type of work do you undertake as Executive Assistant for Fabula Collective and how has this position challenged you?
My duties for the company cover administrative work, social media marketing, rehearsal support, communications and support to the creative and management teams. We joke and say that I am everything and anything the company needs! I am learning a lot about the creative and dance industry and am also supported in my learning around how to produce work for dance and theatre. I am challenged every day but have become used to being uncomfortable and find that it actually helps my growth.
What did you enjoy most about your role supporting the Barking and Dagenham community as Arts Coordinator for Future Youth Zone?
Quite simply – bringing joy and transforming the lives of young people through art.
Making an Elephant (MAE) launched earlier this year. As a producer on the creative team, what are your ambitions for the company’s future?
Luke Lentes, who is the founder and director of MAE, has been working on his ideas for a long time. Our first ‘official’ rehearsal took place back in 2019 with the first planned performance scheduled to be in 2020, which was obviously canceled due to the pandemic. Due to this change in events, we decided to ‘make ourselves visible’ by sharing our research and development processes on digital platforms. We are in the very beginning stages but I am part of a great team with a broad skill set and deep trust between us. My ambitions for MAE are big, I will just say that! Let’s talk in a few years time to see where we stand then.
Collaboration is a large part of your work. How does working with different artists expand your own practice and why do you feel it is important for artists to support other artists in this way?
I think artists need to realise they cannot be everything on their own. I love doing everything by myself but had to admit I cannot master every medium fully – we don’t have enough time on this earth for that. I in no way suggest people shouldn’t explore other mediums, please do! But know your strengths and allow others to help you with your weaknesses. It is beautiful to be able to lean on other creative minds that are able to bring a unique richness, skillset and experience to your idea. This will allow the art to grow and reach its full potential. I see collaboration as a great skill and am learning more through every project. It really takes time to find or get to know your potential collaborators, as not everyone will be a good fit. It takes time to reach a good balance and build trust. It takes time to make sure all of those involved understand collaboration similarly – people love shouting ‘Hey, let’s collab!’ but 9 times/10 they need a dancer who would work for free without any right for creative input. That’s not a ‘collab’.
Which aspects of establishing yourself as a freelance artist do you find daunting and which excite you?
I think the lack of stability is daunting, particularly when planning your finances and making sure you are balancing expenditure correctly. Yet it is exciting having a more flexible schedule and choosing your work environment, as this can mean working from abroad and travelling more! I am also excited by the opportunity to learn new skills and find myself in various roles, continuously surrounded by creativity.
Which strong women have inspired you? Both within the dance world and beyond.
First and foremost, my mum and all the females around me – all of them are really badass. From the world of politics, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez continues to inspire me. Within the performance sector, I would like to mention: Sevda Alizadeh (Sevdaliza), Crystal Pite, Marion Motin, Jameela Jamil, Tahliah Debrett Barnett (FKA Twigs), Lee Griffiths, Shanelle Fergus – Tali, Tabitha Brown, Stefani J A Germanotta (Lady Gaga) and Jillian Rose Banks (Banks)… amongst many more. Check them out!
What motivates you to keep learning and producing work?
I don’t know any other way of living and being healthy and happy.