Close-Up of a Listening Dancer: A Conversation with Kate Weare | By Marie Tollon

In cinema, the technique of close-up allows the viewer access to the slightest and most subtle emotions undulating across an actress’ face. There is no such similar tool with dance, especially in the context of the theater, although some spatial arrangements, as well as dancers’ ability to project, can provide for a closer viewing and the potential to discern what is happening at the surface of the performers’ skin. By its ability to excavate and make visible what seems to oscillate deep within the human body and psyche, choreographer Kate Weare’s work offers such a close up: her dances often function as a magnifying glass, revealing an inner world.

Leslie Kraus and Luke Murphy in "Drop Down" Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

Leslie Kraus and Luke Murphy
in “Drop Down”
Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

In Drop Down, a duet which is inspired by tango and which will be featured at the Music Moves Festival, the two dancers appear to be standing at the edge of themselves, listening to each other from every pore. It is almost as if the sound of their body’s internal functions (heart beating, blood pumping, cells opening and closing…) has been turned up in volume. In this sense, Weare’s dances do not only resonate visually, they also communicate the body’s inherent musicality. At one moment in Drop Down, the female dancer stands with her back to her male partner, and drops her head, slowly rounding her back, as if to coil within her own skin. Then, with a pronounced shift, she lets go of the built tension within her spine, which in turn snaps like the cord of a taut bow suddenly released. The movements invoke the ferocious sound of a bone cracking or a tendon snapping. Originally from the Bay Area and currently based in New York, Weare recently answered my questions via email.

Marie Tollon: Still Life With Avalanche, which will be featured at the Music Moves Festival, was previously named The Light Has Not The Arms to Carry Us. Why did you decide to rename the piece?

Kate Weare: The title Light Has Not the Arms… was a play on an original and very graphic light design by Brian Jones – a wonderful designer I’ve collaborated with for years – as well as the name of a piece of music I’ve used in the work. But since I’ve asked San Francisco-based lighting designer Allan Willner to light a new version of the work, the old name no longer feels relevant.

Still Life With Avalanche (again an existing title of a piece of music in the work) feels more apt for where the piece has landed after the newly-made third section influenced the whole. And I like to refresh my perception of work, choreographically and in other ways, to remind myself that where a given work landed artistically is not the only possibility…there are always more options!

MT: When you spoke about the making of Bright Land, you mentioned that you don’t usually work with the music first, as you are “interested in cultivating the musicality that’s already present in the movement or that physicality inherently has.” Can you share how you worked with the score when creating Drop Down?

Leslie Kraus and Luke Murphy  in "Drop Down" Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

Leslie Kraus and Luke Murphy
in “Drop Down”
Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

KW: Drop Down was developed without music and the score by Katie Down was built later as a kind of backdrop… a sort of underwater, faraway, yet urgent, soundscape. I chose to create Drop Down this way, because the rhythms, the musicality and the intimacy between the two dancers is how they are articulating to us, the audience, what matters about their relationship, and it must be a very alive process (as it is in real tango). The dancers need to listen to each other’s bodies with a lot of concentration to be as immediate, reactive and virile as this dance requires. It’s not only a series of steps to be executed well, it’s an unfolding experience bound by formal structure in which the dancers act and react from the gut.

MT: Can you talk about the use of music in Still Life With Avalanche, which seems quite different?

KW: Still Life With Avalanche relates directly to the music and the dancers are dancing to the music, so to speak. When I’m working with music in the studio, I seek to have a conversation with it (sometimes an argument) so that the movements and sounds might diverge and rejoin, come toward flow and agreement or sometimes pull against each other to an uncomfortable degree. It’s a strategy not to let one medium dominate the other so that it becomes the only lens through which the work is viewed, thereby flattening potential. It’s also instinctually a way to use the music as a collaborative voice in the process… a dialogue unfolding in rhythm, tonality, density, color, speed. Ideally, the dancers are also having a sensitive conversation with the music each night as they interpret afresh in the moment.

MT: You choreographed Triangulating Euclid with KT Nelson and Brenda Way in 2013. You recently set Drop Down and Still Life With Avalanche on the dancers from ODC/Dance, who will be performing both pieces during the Music Moves Festival. Randee Paufve, for whom you created one of the solos in her evening-length piece Soil, is also sharing the bill with you during the festival. Questions of lineage, collaborations and conversations between fellow choreographers and dancers therefore permeate the festival’s program. Can you talk further about that?

Kate Weare Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

Kate Weare
Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang

KW: I believe in the vast conversation we’re generating through time and human lineage, especially having to do with the body. At the macro level dancers and choreographers are informing us as a species about what it feels like to be alive, and this long-standing wellspring of research is incredibly rich, complex and surprising.

In one lifetime, I suppose this boils down to interesting artistic relationships. I love collaborating. My voice is loud enough that I know I can collaborate pretty freely, letting my work be influenced by very different voices, intonations, and still sense my own course. I tend to like strong collaborative partners – the intensity of our differences feel challenging and nutritious to me.

I also believe that we have a lot to learn from each other across value systems, modes of performance, techniques and aesthetic stances. I’m not protectionist, and I don’t worry about guarding territory – rather I see the spectrum of movement/performance production as rich terrain to explore… it all deserves respect as representation of human diversity. For instance, I routinely dip my toes in movement forms I know little about or that I’m an amateur with, like tango or hula or contact improvisation or viewpoints or tai chi or whatever, to refresh a sense of risk and unknowingness in my own practice. Lineage, history, and contemporary collaborative relationships are all a means to aim a searchlight on your own assumptions as an artist.



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