Dancer/Choreographer David Giller: From The NBA Courts To Neoclassical Opera

Dancer/Choreographer David Giller:
From The NBA Courts To Neoclassical Opera

“As a kid I always loved sports,” says professional dancer and choreographer David Giller. He played tennis, basketball, and every other recreational sport he came across. “I was always expressive physically.”

Dancer David Giller
Dancer/choreographer David Giller

As he tried a series of sports and activities, dance and tennis were the last two disciplines he came to. He was already dancing competitively when he made his final choice. “I pretty much chose dance over tennis because I felt a lot more creativity and artistry in dance.”

He went on to study dance at George Brown College. “I absolutely loved the programme,” he says. “I loved being downtown.” He credits the environment for truly bringing him into the dance world.

In the beginning, that consisted of “a lot of free gigs and networking” – a familiar story in any creative field. In the process, he realized that he wanted more training, and went back to George Brown for another two years, adding more intensive training and ballet to his skill set. 

His first year back, though, got cut off by the pandemic, and eventually became a hybrid online/in-person. David recalls doing ballet in a mask and face shield. “You stand, and you’re exhausted,” he laughs. “It was pretty funny.”

The Celestial Fox

And, despite its drawbacks, the time was well spent. When the dance world finally opened back up again, he’d already made the connections to move on quickly. David became part of a production with the Garden Little Night Orchestra titled The Legend of Huli, based on ancient legends of the Celestial Fox. David served as both choreographer and dancer in a role that took him through several styles of music from flamenco and jazz to baroque. 

Together with composer, arranger, and guitarist Roman Smirnov, Chinese pipa virtuoso Wen Zhao and oud, lyra and percussion player Demetrios Petsalakis, the show toured to Estonia as well as playing in Toronto.

“It was very much improvised,” he recalls. There was little time for preparations before the show hit the stage, and then the road. “I was dancing for instruments.”

Along with the performing experience, he got a closer look at how shows are financed, as well as the working trip to Estonia. “It was a whole different side of the world to me.” He was the youngest in a group of veteran performers, including Wen Zhao, who is in her 70s and still touring. “I definitely learned a lot from that. I was really grateful to be able to experience it.” Eventually another dancer from Russia was added to the show. “We performed in the nicest places.”

David has appeared in music videos, and worked with a variety of noted choreographers, like Hollywood Jade, Shavar Blackwood, Nicola Pantin, Leon Blackwood, Chris Clarke, George Jone, among others. 

The Raptors

In between his bouts of college studies, David auditioned for the Raptors.

“There’s not a lot of consistency in jobs with dance,” he says. It was almost a challenge – to prove to the world that he could make a living as a dancer. “The training, because it is performing in front of 20,00 people, I always wanted that,” he says. 

It began with the G-league Raptors in small stadiums in front of a hundred fans or so – not at the Scotiabank Arena. During the second year of the pandemic, he auditioned for the NBA versions. He got the gig, which at the time involved dancing in a mask, with a schedule that could be cancelled at a moment’s notice. 

“I was still happy that I made it,” he said. “It’s really, really fun. It pushes me.” It led to regular visits to the gym just to keep up with the choreography. “Everyone was already an athlete. All the dancers were very athletic. It really inspired me.”

It’s also a busy schedule, with three-hour rehearsals twice a week along with the games. “It’s pretty heavy,” he says – although he still finds time to teach private swimming lessons. 

Tango For Two

“Anything I can pretty much do to stay innovative,” he says of what drives him. 

In October, he’ll be performing in a new neoclassical opera by Toronto composer Jonathan Kravtchenko titled Tango for Two. The innovative project combines original neoclassical music, opera, and dance. 

Naturally, the piece involves an entirely different style than what he performs for the Raptors games. “It definitely asks for a lot more, but also just, being flexible [...] to the style that’s given to me,” he says. “I just have to be observant of what the song asks of me.”

Learning the tango has been an interesting challenge, including research. “Just like any homework you do,” he explains. “It’s more about the flow than the really fast spins and all that. It’s a sensual style, but it’s classy. It’s nice to research and explore a dance that’s classy like that.”

  • Tickets for Tango For Two are on sale [HERE].

Dance Film 

On And On is David's dance film, released in September 2022. From his description:

I can't write you a love song but I can dance you this song. It's my truth to share something as valuable, as impactful as this feeling inside me. My love for our love. The steps will pour out of me as these words shoot out of my thumbs. It's beautiful, it's important, it's feeling.

The most impactful thing we can share in this world is how we feel. People will relate and see the window into your truest self. Opening up and letting everyone know that you are more. You are you. 

Forever in your arms so please keep on holding on and on. I might be lost at times, but if you have me forever I will show you my unconditional love. It will guide me in our relationship. 

Choreographed and Performed by David Giller; Directed by Theo Zgraggen; Featuring Nicole Jaskot; Music by Thirdstory