In 2009, Bay Area dance artist, Alex Ketley, worked with the LA-based repertory company, BODYTRAFFIC, to create a new work. Now BODYTRAFFIC is on its way to the ODC Theater in San Francisco September 26-29 to perform works by Barak Marshall, Kyle Abraham and Richard Siegal. In advance of the company’s arrival, I asked Ketley a few questions about what it was like to work with the company:
Julie Potter: In 2009 you created Raushen 13, a commission by the LA-based repertory company BODYTRAFFIC. What do you remember from this week-long process with the three dancers?
Alex Ketley: I remember when we worked on Raushen, that we had a very dynamic and intensive week. I had no idea what kind of work I was going to make for them, and I think I ended up just responding to the different personalities in the room. I was also really beginning to think about fracturing lines of information, and curious about the visual rhythmic patterns that stem from that idea, both in making phrases and the overall construction of a work. I think Raushen was the first piece I really went headlong into this way of thinking about making a dance.
JP: How did BODYTRAFFIC connect with you initially and what did you determine as the parameters for your work with them?
AK: Glenn Edgerton, the former director of Netherlands Dance Theater, knew my work and had moved to Los Angeles and recommended me to Tina and Lillian who are the directors of BODYTRAFFIC. Tina and I met quickly one afternoon for coffee while I was in LA, and hit it off immediately. It felt like a good fit so we decided to find some time to work together.
JP: What’s different about choreographing for dancers who perform the work of others versus those who are active makers? How much did the BODYTRAFFIC artists collaborate in generating material for Rauschen 13?
AK: Working on a commission, you always feel like you are getting to know each other really quickly. The dancers in BODYTRAFFIC are very dance savvy, and have seen and worked with many different choreographers throughout their careers, which makes them really receptive to engaging new ideas. In many ways I brought them rough sketches of ideas for Raushen, that then they colored in beautifully with their unique approach and take on the movement.
JP: You’ve done lots commissions before – how was working with BODYTRAFFIC different than working with larger ballet companies? Did you communicate differently in the studio? Did anything surprise you with these artists?
AK: BODYTRAFFIC is really unique because they feel really bright in the studio. They seem to absolutely love dancing, and when I worked with them the company was young and they seemed excited about trying absolutely anything. I think they’ve held on to this feeling that there is something really valuable in embracing the unknown, which is part of them constantly doing new work by younger contemporary choreographers. The studio and work environment doesn’t feel hemmed it by a long history. They still feel vibrant and adaptable to change because they are finding each day what this company is and what they love and value.
JP: One of BODYTRAFFIC’s goals is to bring world-class contemporary dance to LA through commissioning work. What do you value most about San Francisco as a dance home base?
AK: What I value about San Francisco as a home base, is that the West Coast feels very young historically. San Francisco was founded in 1776, which relative to the span of history is nearly nothing. This newness always strikes me as a place that is still in flux and a place that is dynamically finding its sense of identity. San Francisco feels creatively fertile and expansive to me. Also the diversity of dance work being created here feels exciting to me. I think there is a culture in San Francisco of dance makers really following what inspires them, and not feeling like they have to carry the weight of past histories and be hemmed in by past dance discourses. And the geographic diversity of California will always amaze me.