Hybernate: Gunnar Montana’s Newest Project Will Break You Out of Your Winter Funk

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Hibernation is an idea that many of us are probably very familiar with at this point. What with Mother Nature sending a Polar Vortex our way every 3 days to remind us she’s the H.B.I.C, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t gotten a little more intimate with their couch and their Netflix account recently. A snowman even knocked on my door the other day to ask if it could come in to warm up for a little. It seems only appropriate that local artist Gunnar Montana has created a show to capture the feeling of the season. Hybernate is the newest project from the artist that brought you Drag Me to Hell this fall. I went to meet Gunnar at one of his rehearsals to get a sneak peek at his upcoming show and ask him some questions about what we can expect.

I arrived at the Latvian Society and walked into rehearsal in the middle of them running through a burlesque number that will be featured in Hybernate. After showing me where I could take a seat, Gunnar got right back to it. It was like I wasn’t even in the room when he was in the zone. “Make it sexier” he said, giving dancer Stephi Lyneice some notes. “What if you did this…” making his way to the steps she was dancing on. As he takes the position she was in, he giggles “This is hard.” They go back and forth talking about how to make this dance the best it can be and, of course, the sexiest it can be. As I sat and watched I was entranced by how every subtle movement had such an impact on me as a viewer. The music was not a distraction, it was a perfect accompaniment to the piece they had created. It was sensual and soft, still with a powerful sexiness. I was really enjoying myself. Every once and again I forgot why I was there and would just put down my pen, stop taking notes, and stare at what was happening in front of me. I was so interested in the intricacies of the art of burlesque. They would play with how the clothes were placed, and where they were tied, all to enhance the look and flow of the piece.

As Stephi walked back to where she begins the dance to start a new run-through, Gunnar turns to me and gives me a short background about what I am watching. “It’s supposed to have a fantasyland feeling to it.” A fantasy winter wonderland piece where no clothes hit the floor, I would soon find out, was just the tip of the innovation iceberg in this show.

As soon as I walked through the door, I could immediately envision how the space would be transformed for this show. All around the space were winter-inspired, white props and costumes – and that was just the beginning. Gunnar mentioned his trips to Jefferson every week on garbage day where he fills his car with discarded shredded paper that will later fill the performance space as snow. It’s worth mentioning that picking up bags of paper isn’t the only work he puts into his production. Gunnar makes everything himself, including the 15 foot ladder draped in hand-ripped plastic that will serve as the bottom of a mannequin that is also adorned in couture fashion made by Gunnar. And if, excuse me, when you go see the show, know that anything that is moving is being moved by Gunnar himself.

Once rehearsal for the burlesque piece was done, Gunnar came and sat with me to answer some of my questions and show me clips of other performances that will be part of Hybernate.

How would you describe Hybernate?

The creative mind is a muscle, right? So you have to take it to the gym. Hybernate is kind of like the gym for my creative mind. It’s the time of year where everyone hibernates and locks themselves away, so I wanted to do something creative. It’s like reverse therapy on the season. I’m still being creative and collaborative – I’m still being an artist. The show itself captures winter. It’s solum and sad and Narnia-feeling. It’s like an emphasized winter.

How many numbers are in Hybernate?

There are 3 solos and 2 duets.

And the stilt number you showed me a little of, is that a solo or a duet?

It’s starts as a solo but turns into a duet.

What was your inspiration for that piece?

I wanted to be a snow bear. It’s kind of voodoo inspired. I actually got the stilts from a very intense supporter of my work, Thomas Thiermann. He knew I was working on a show and asked what I needed and I jokingly said “It’d be really cool to have jumping stilts.” The next day I had a confirmation in my e-mail for an order of stilts. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing on them. (Side note: “Fun” for Gunnar also translates into me losing years off of my life. Every time he did a spin I was like an over-protective mother, clutching my non-existent pearls and gasping like Beyonce just walked through the door. My heart has just now, four days later, stopped beating out of my chest.)

How is Hybernate different from Drag Me To Hell and other work you’ve done?

They were dark and twisted – horror, gore, guts. Hybernate is, I don’t want to say more family friendly, but it’s tamer. I had gotten feedback from people who said “I can’t handle seeing blood on stage.” Hybernate is looking to be a continuation of Basement. At the end she walks through a door and this is what is on the other side. It is the opposite of Basement. It’s lighter, more beautiful, it has a loving, caring feel. The environment is standing still.

Are any of the performers from your previous work coming back for Hybernate?

Yes. We’re like American Horror Story, people keep coming back. So I have my original cast and then I kind of build off of it. Like Machy (Lady Poison), I asked him to be in Drag Me to Hell and he just stuck. I like working with people who like working with me.

Are you inspired by the cast?

Do you take their strengths into account when building a production? Yes, the cast creates the show. The choreography is based on the person. I created a piece for a drag queen because I was working with a drag queen. I do burlesque for Steph because she does burlesque. I’ll usually leave the heavy dancing to Jen Jones because she is a dancer. So it’s all driven by the cast.

So how would you describe yourself as an artist?

That’s really hard. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I’ve described myself as a visually physical artist. I have no boundaries. I make the costumes, I edit the music, I build the sets, I’m the overall choreographer, and that’s the way I like it. I like to have full artistic rights over a production. It all comes out of my head.

And how does something just come out of your head?

I have no idea. I think it was because when I was younger, my creative muscle was always being used. I lived in Montana, I had no TV, so I would go outside and play. I had to be creative or else I would have been bored.

How long does it take for you to put something together like this?

Usually it takes 6-9 months. And the show changes everyday. We’re always adjusting and changing things, so it never comes together until the last few days. That’s the fun part. I gave myself a challenge with this one though, and put it together in a month. (Don’t worry, I spoke for all of us and told him he was crazy after I picked my jaw off the floor.)

So how did you get into all of this?

It all started with a guy named Brian Sanders – I was in Brian Sanders ‘Junk’. He does a lot of shows that involve aerial work and circusy stuff. He was my mentor for awhile, he showed me how to put on creative shows. My first Fringe Arts show was two years ago, and that was kind of the jumping off point. This is actually the first show I am totally self-promoting without Fringe Arts or anyone else.

Is that scary for you?

Not really. You kind of have to do it. Making work is important.

Of all the work you have created or been a part of, what is your favorite?

I guess it would have to be the bathtub piece in Basement that I choreographed for Jen. It was the saddest moment of the show and she nailed it. It was perfect. It’s really cool to find people who can pull off your vision, so that would have to be my favorite.

What’s next for you?

I have another big show coming up in September similar to this one, but in this day and age it’s hard to predict the life of an artist. I make sure on a daily basis that I could die and be proud of the work I have made. I know I have created the best work I could have up to that point. I mean, it’s hard to measure success. Who is to say I am successful, or how do I gauge if I am being a successful artist, you know? For me, I feel like I am succeeding at art and creating it to my standards.

You can catch Hybernate at the Latvian Society, 531 N. 7th Street. March 6, 7, 13, 14 at 8:00 p.m. and March 8, 15 at 9:00 p.m. And trust me, you definitely should check it out! The Latvian Society Bar will be open one hour before showtime, so get there early, have a cocktail, grab a good seat, and enjoy the show!

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