For this family, dance brought them together and remains a 'source of life'

When Jodee Nimerichter landed a college internship in New York City 27 years ago with the American Dance Festival, one of the country’s oldest modern-dance festivals, she set her life’s course — job, marriage, children, home.

She rose through the ranks of ADF to become executive director of the annual Durham event that features acclaimed performances from national dance companies and choreographers. This year's festival is June 14 to July 21, but ADF programming now spans the entire year.

Through the festival, she met her husband, Gaspard Louis, a dancer from Haiti.

The couple, now married 13 years, have made Durham their home, leaving behind New York City and their 500-square-foot apartment. They have two children who spend time learning about the dance world that occupies their parents' lives.

“They’ve grown up going to performances,” Nimerichter said of their children.

Before the dance festival kicks into overdrive, we sat down with Nimerichter and Louis to talk about the upcoming festival and how dance connects them.

"The arts have always been a part of who we are," Louis said.

ADF executive director Jodee Nimerichter left, and her husband Gaspard Louis, a dancer, choreographer and director of ADF's Project Dance at ADF's Samuel H. Scripps Studios in Durham April 23, 2018. Louis also runs his own dance company, Gaspard & Dancers. Juli Leonard jleonard@newsobserver.com

ADF beginnings

ADF was founded in Bennington, Vt., in 1934, its headquarters later moving to New York City. Almost 10 years ago, when Nimerichter was appointed co-director and had her first child, she moved her family to Durham.

ADF has been a permanent fixture in Durham since then.

“It’s been amazing for our family,” Nimerichter said, “and it’s been an amazing move for me professionally.”

Louis is the director of ADF's Project Dance, a year-round outreach program for young people in the community.

“We’ve gotten to know the community a lot more than having to come here for six weeks in the summer and then back to New York," he said.

The couple met about 20 years ago, one summer in Durham at ADF. He was still dancing with Pilobolus, a contemporary dance group known for its highly physical dances and theatrical pieces. Pilobolus performances are a perennial ADF favorite.

Nimerichter had already graduated from New York University, having finished her internship and was working as a full-time ADF staffer. Soon after she met Louis, she left ADF for New York’s public television station, Thirteen/WNET, and she and Louis married in October 2005.

Modern dancers Gaspard Louis and Justin Tornow perform during a Museum Park Celebration at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, N.C. Nov. 6, 2016. Louis runs his own dance company, Gaspard & Dancers, in Durham. Ben McKeown newsobserver.com

But a few years later, she was called back to ADF. Stephanie Reinhart, the festival's co-director, died in 2002 after battling cancer. Charles Reinhart, her husband, was the festival's longtime director, and he asked Nimerichter to return to become associate director.

Eventually, she became co-director, and after Reinhart’s retirement from ADF after 43 years, she became director and then was named executive director by the ADF Board.

A move to Durham

Having a child helped Nimerichter decide to move. She and Louis were living in New York City in their tiny apartment, which they still rent and use on frequent trips there. If they had continued living in the city, though, she said, “You would have seriously had to have thought about private schools.” Added Louis, “And think about bunk beds.”

They have a 10-year-old daughter, Dahlia, born in New York City, and a 7-year-old son, Preston, who was born in Durham.

When Nimerichter asked Louis to consider moving to Durham, he already had left Pilobolus and was pursuing various ventures in banking and real estate in New York City.

“If you think it would work, we should give it a try.’ Nimerichter recalls Louis telling her.

"I looked at him and said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Of course, because if it doesn’t work out, we can always move back to New York City.’ And I looked at him and said, ‘Nobody goes back to New York City.’”

He said he sometimes misses being with Pilolobus, but notes that the physicality of the work can be demanding. Given that he’s older, he added, “The young dancers … it’s their turn.”

And in that respect, he has turned to teaching young dancers in his adopted home.

Complimenting Nimerichter’s work, Louis heads ADF’s community outreach program. This summer, he will again lead a week-long Pilobolus camp for grade-schoolers and one for teens. By introducing children to dance, Nimerichter said, students learn male dancers can be strong, black and athletic and can work together to build dances.

Gaspard Louis, center, former Pilobolus dancer and ADF director of community outreach, teaches kids age 5 to 7 to dance during a workshop at El Centro Hispano in 2009. 2009 News & Observer File Photo newsobserver.com

A showcase of dance

This ADF season, Nimerichter said, audiences will see a larger percentage of women choreographers. She said she aims for quality and diversity in the programming.

“I really want to show a range of what’s happening,” she said of dance today.

On tap again will be a wide range of companies, from major groups to up-and-comers, doing everything from dance theater to pure movement, from comedic works to darker ones, from small works to major large-scale endeavors.

She said it's important to showcase Durham and North Carolina artists, along with holding performances in venues as varied as the Durham Performing Arts Center (DPAC) to the North Carolina Museum of Art.

Pilobolus, along with the Paul Taylor Dance Company, is on the schedule again. She laughs when asked if there's a time when her husband's former dance company won't be on the lineup.

“I think it’s a question everybody is dying to know," she said. "I haven’t decided if they’ll never come back or they’ll ever take a summer off, but for now I’m continuing to bring them.”

As Nimerichter points out, Pilobolus and Paul Taylor are the highest grossing performances each summer.

Some 400 students, meanwhile, will arrive from around the world to take classes in every major dance technique from modern to hip-hop. Classes are held in dance medicine and body therapies. Some students will go on, perhaps, to form their own companies as Paul Taylor did, once a scholarship student. Madonna also was a scholarship student. Behind-the-scenes tours of the classes are open to the public.

'Pure beauty'

A few weeks from the first ADF performance, Louis has just taken his seven-person dance company, Gaspard and Dancers, to Siberia, Russia, to perform and teach at a modern dance festival there. He was invited by a woman who has studied at the ADF for years.

His company, he said, will perform for Triangle audiences this October at Reynolds Industries Theater at Duke University, doing a trilogy.

Nimerichter explains the appeal of seeing dance performances live.

“The pure beauty of it, and that you can go sit in a theater and see how elegant, how strong, how amazing, a human body can be with incredible training," she said.

Dance, Louis said, is “a source of life.”

And for this dance family, 24/7 dance is their source of life.

“For us, it’s genuinely blissful, because we understand each other’s worlds and appreciate the commitment, the time, the travel that’s involved," Nimerichter said. "We really support each other and all that has to happen to make both our jobs successful."

Linda Haac is a Chapel Hill-based freelance writer.


The 2018 American Dance Festival (ADF) season is June 14-July 21 and features 53 performances by 26 companies and choreographers in 7 different venues. That includes 4 ADF debuts, 11 ADF commissions and 10 world premieres. For tickets and information, go to americandancefestival.org.

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