Maria Gillespie Headshot

Maria Gillespie

  • Associate Professor, Dance
  • Director, Dance Graduate Program


MFA, Choreography, UCLA
BFA, Dance, SUNY Purchase


Maria Gillespie is a choreographer, performer, dance and somatic educator. She is a CLMA Laban Bartenieff Movement Analyst and certified Pilates teacher. Locally, she directs MG/The Collaboratory and Hyperlocal MKE, both dedicated to interdisciplinary collaboration and improvised performance. She directs the community teaching project Parts of the Whole-The Body Is Home, sharing kinesthetic learning and expressive experiences with youth impacted by the carceral system. As her research is grounded by collaboration, she continues to make work with long time collaborators, Nguyễn Nguyên and Kevin Williamson. Her recent interdisciplinary projects have included making works locally with Present Music, Renaissance Theaterworks, visual artists Nirmal Raja, Portia Cobb, Glenn Williams, Nathaniel Stern, Sonja Thomsen, and Mike Rea and nationally and internationally with Nguyen Nguyen, Kevin Williamson, Erik Speth, and Fabio Altenbach. She received an MFA in choreography from UCLA’s Department of World Arts & Cultures/Dance and a BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase. Gillespie founded and directed LA-based Oni Dance (2003-2015) and was named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch". Gillespie's dances... "ricochet between vulnerability and strength with razor-sharp shifts in intensity and intent" (LA Times) and have been presented nationally and internationally.

Residing in Los Angeles from 1996-2012, Gillespie's choreography was presented by The Ford Amphitheatre, The Getty Museum, the Roy and Edna Disney/Cal Arts Theater (REDCAT), The A.W.A.R.D Show!, UCLA's Department of World Arts & Cultures, Cal Arts, The Fowler Museum, Highways Performance Space, The Electric Lodge, Cal State Long Beach, Diavolo Space, The Brand Library & Arts Center, The Alexandria Hotel, numerous festivals throughout LA as well as at Joyce SoHo (NYC), CounterPULSE (San Francisco). Gillespie and her company Oni Dance have performed and taught in Beijing, Guangzhou, Tokyo, and Mexico City.  She maintained a somatic and Pilates-based teaching practice from 2000-2012.

Her choreographic works and teaching have been deeply impacted by her study with Simone Forti, Guillermo Gomez Peña, Peter Sellars, David Rousseve, Vic Marks, Cheng-Chieh Yu, and Janet O’Shea. She was an adjunct professor at UCLA's Department of World Arts & Cultures (2001-2008) and continued teaching at UCLA through 2011. An esteemed teacher of contemporary modern technique and Pilates-based dance conditioning, she was lecturer and guest faculty at California Institute of the Arts, Loyola Marymount University, California State University Long Beach, University of Iowa, Dance New Amsterdam (NY, NY), La Cantera in Mexico City, and the Beijing Modern Dance Festival and was a choreographic and teaching resident in Mexico City with the company Apoc Apoc.

Gillespie’s choreographic commissions include Present Music, The Getty Center, Loyola Marymount University, Scripps College, Pomona College, Cal State Long Beach, Utah Valley University, University of Florida, and Santa Monica College dance departments. While residing in Los Angeles, she performed and toured extensively with Victoria Marks, Helios Dance Theater, and additionally with Simone Forti, David Rousseve, and Joe Goode. Noted as a "charismatic, mighty performer with a distinct vision" (LA Times), Gillespie is a four-time Lester Horton Award winner (2002-2005). Gillespie’s dance film, Saliendo, shot on super 8, was presented in Dance Camera West’s film festival. Gillespie has received grants from Wisconsin Arts Board, Milwaukee Foundation, The Durfee Foundation, The Irvine Foundation, and from UWM’s Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, The Center for International Education, and Office of Research. She was a 2014 UWM Global Studies Fellow. In 2019, she was a UWM Research Mentor of the year nominee for her ongoing commitment to undergraduate research and received the 2019 Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

She has enjoyed choreographic commissions with numerous universities and loves bringing improvisation methodologies, embodied anatomy, and choreographic thinking to students of all backgrounds. Her work explores dancemaking as a liberation practice and a form of choreographic writing in the body through gesture to explore restoring/rewriting history, embodied subjectivity, and future making. | |