Gary Palmer



Gary Davis Palmer was born in Cooperstown, New York, in 1951. He received a Clark Foundation Scholarship in 1969 to attend the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo, where he studied ballet and participated heavily in university dance, opera, and theatre productions. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1973. His dance training includes studying with Linda Swinich at SUNY, the Royal Academy of Ballet, and the Company of Man School. He attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor from 1973-1974, studying with Gay Delanghe, Elizabeth Bergman, Nancy Carroll Abbey, and Phyllis Lamhut. He received a Masters Degree from University of Michigan in 1977. 

Palmer relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1975. He began his career working with groups such as the Lucas Hoving Performance Group, Christopher Beck Dance Theatre, San Francisco Opera, and the Xoregos Performing Group. He also performed in works by renowned choreographers such as Welland Lathrop, Klarna Pinska (from the Denishawn School), Viola Farber, Phoebe Neville, and Rael Lamb, among others. 

In 1976, Palmer became the director of Centerspace studio, an alternate venue within Project Artaud, one of San Francisco's leading artist communities. The Centerspace Dance Foundation was incorporated in 1977 to sponsor the Gary Palmer Dance Company (GPDC). From 1981 to 1991, GPDC maintained a home base in San Francisco and at Centerspace, before relocating to San Jose, California.   

In 1996, Palmer worked with South American dancers, after having been invited to perform at festivals and with companies in Peru and Chile. In 1997, he brought South American companies and individual dancers to the United States to showcase their work as well as to perform with his company, presenting the first Americas Series at the Montgomery Theatre, San Jose. Palmer became the executive director for the San Jose Dance Theatre (SJDT), with which he merged his existing company. He resigned in 1999.

Concurrently to producing and creating works for GPDC, in 1982, Palmer produced Men Dancing, a popular San Francisco Bay Area dance series that featured male dancers and choreographers. Men Dancing performances soon became an annual tradition, continuing until 1998. Palmer also received an Isadora Duncan (Izzie) award in 1993 for producing the Men Dancing Showcase. 

While running his own performance company and working as a producer for other San Francisco Bay Area dance companies and choreographers, Palmer also worked as a teacher. He taught ballet and modern dance at several San Francisco Bay Area colleges such as San Jose State University, Mission College, and Sonoma State College. His longest affiliation was with De Anza College in Cupertino, where he taught from 1980 to 2000. In 1999, Palmer was granted a lecturing award by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars under the 2000-2001 Fulbright program with Peru.

Other honors include receiving a choreography fellowship from the Arts Council of Santa Clara County in 1993 and being awarded a Laureate from Silicon Valley (SV) Creates in the Performing Arts: Choreography category in 1994. 

Palmer is now retired from performance and resides in Washington, DC. 



The images below are from various works choreographed by Palmer for Gary Palmer Dance Company (GPDC). Throughtout its history, GPDC performed in venues such at Centerspace (its home when based in San Francisco), Theater Artaud, the Herbst Theatre, the New Performance Gallery in San Francisco and in South Bay, venues such as the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Flint Theatre at De Anza College, Santa Clara University, and the Montgomery Theatre, San Jose. GPDC participated in the Bay Area Laney Dance Series in Oakland, the Stern Grove Festival in San Francisco, among several others. The company toured to Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and San Diego and participated in international festivals such as London's Capital Music Festival and Munich's Tanz-Project, along with tours to Perú and Chile. 

A prolifiic choreographer, Palmer choreographed over 35 works in the first ten years of the GPDC's tenure. The works below represent only a sample of Palmer's repertory.


Photo by Steve Savage

Spring Snow premiered in May 1985 at Centerspace and featured music by James Swyers, costumes by Palmer, and lighting design by Holly Charlton. Judith Green of the San Jose Mercury News wrote that "Swyers's [music was] a twelve-minute score that mirrors the dance's theme of unfolding or flowering" when reviewing the performance at Foothill College, 1987. 

Performers (pictured, left) include Jane Schnorrenberg, Jonny McPhee, Matthew Child, Wally Cardona, and Betsy Ceva.


Photo by Steve Savage

Vesalii Icones premiered in October, 1987 at the Waterfront Theatre, San Francisco. Vesalli Icones is set to a music-theater work composed by Peter Maxwell Davies in 1969, set and stage projections by Ariel Parkinson, costumes by Ariel Jones, and lighting design by Jane Drakka. According to Timothy Pfaff of the San Francisco Examiner when reviewing the performance at Theater Artaud in February, 1990, "Palmer (pictured, right) fuses technique ranging from mime to trapeze artistry into a harrowingly gestural performance."


Photo by Steve Savage

Palmer created Dark Fires, an evening length work, in May 1991 as part of the celebration of GPDC's tenth anniversary. The work features an original score by Marc Ream, a San Francisco Bay Area-based composer in their first collaboration, set and lighting design by Matthew Antaky, with costumes designed by Ariel Jones. Palmer called Dark Fires "an expose of romance" and that the work "examines both the light and dark sides of relationships that bind men and women, and the peace that comes after resolution of tension and confrontation."

Dancers (pictured, left) include Debra Bentley, Joe Alter, Mark Ogo, Melissa Moss, Jonny McPhee, and Todd Courage.


Photo by Marty Sohl

Mad Jigs and Broken Shadows premiered in April 1996 at the Montgomery Theatre, San Jose. Palmer once again collaborated with Marc Ream, who created the sound score, and Ariel Jones, who designed costumes. The evening-length work also featured scenic elements designed by Jeff Wilk and computer visuals by Wayne C. Goodrich, then of Pixar Animation Studios. Wilk and Goodrich worked in collaboration, viewing their work "as a kind of laboratory in they [were] adapting and developing visual technologies for applications in a live performance."

Dancers (pictured, left) include Melanie Henderson, Amanda Goldman, and Gary Grisham, Jr. 


Photo by Marty Sohl

In 1997, Palmer worked with the Ballet Nacional de Perú, where performers from the South American company joined his dancers at GPDC for performances in San Jose for the company's first America Series. The series premiered with Palmer's Blue Lizard Highwayan evening-length modern ballet, featuring a score by Marc Ream and stage design by Jeff Wilk. Principal dancers featured from Ballet Nacional de Perú include  Gabriela Paliza and Mario Mendoza Sanchez (pictured, right). 


Robert Henry Johnson in his choreographic work, The Creation (1989), as part of Men Dancing 10, 1992

Photo by Steve Savage


Alongside his renown as a choreographer and director of GPDC, Palmer is known for producing the Men Dancing showcase. The showcase came about in order to "give male dance artists a creative space outside of traditional roles and archetypes." 

The first showcase premiered in May 1982 as a benefit for Centerspace. The first showcase featured male dancer/choreographers Christopher Beck, Ron Garnys, Richard Haisma, Lucas Hoving, Joah Lowe, Alan Ptashek, and Fred Stricker and male performers from Theatre Flamenco and Khadra International Folk Ballet. The showcase was very well received, resulting in what became an annual tradition until the final showcase premiered in 1998.

Throughout its sixteen showcases, Palmer pulled from a wide variety of dancers and companies active in the Bay Area, including ethnic and folk dance, modern dance, jazz, classical ballet, among several others. The annual events associated with the showcases later included forums for meditations on gay culture ranging from the oblique to the confrontational to the formal.

The series included works by Remy Charlip, Lucas Hoving, Robert Moses, Khadra International Folk Ballet, CONTRABAND, among several others. The images featured below represent only a sample of the variety of dancer/choregraphers and styles represented through the Men Dancing showcases.


Photo by Steve Savage

Portrait of Lucas Hoving performing Growing Up in Public for the Men Dancing series. Hoving contributed to the first three Men Dancing performances. Palmer produced his performances of the Lucas Hoving Performance Group. 


Photo by Steve Savage

From Men Dancing IV, 1985: Promotional portrait of Bennet Feld from Khadra International Folk Ballet, a San Francisco-based ethnic dance troupe, in costume for Legenyes, a folk dance set to traditional Hungarian music and choreographed by Lisa Codman.


Photo by Steve Savage

From Men Dancing 9, 1990: Promotional portrait of Keith Hennessy, Jess Curtis, and Jules Beckman from CONTRABAND, a San Francisco-based interdisciplimary dance group. Hennessy, Curtis, and Beckman performed an excerpt from a CONTRABAND repertory work, Mandala (1989-1990).

For additional information about this video, click here.


Photo by Marty Sohl

From Men Dancing XIV: Promotional portrait of Robert Moses. Moses performed his work, Never Solo, with music by The Last Poets. 


The Gary Palmer Papers contain paper and video documentation of Men Dancing as well as Gary Palmer Dance Company (GPDC)/San Jose Dance Theatre (SJDT). The papers include programs, pre-performance press and subsequent reviews, flyers, promotional collateral, and videos of various Men Dancing performances with a selection of performances by GPDC/SJDT. The collection also includes several photographs in print and slide form featuring key performers and works, including an extensive set of slides featuring scenic designs by Charles Rose for Palmer's work Suitcases and Strangers. Original order was maintained, with items being physically stored by medium.

The collection is arranged in the following series: I. Personal; II: Gary Palmer Dance Company/San Jose Dance Theatre; III: Men Dancing; IV: Audiovisual; V: Collected Items.

To access the finding aid, please click here.