June Digest: A Conversation with Kathy Adams

Kathy Adams, who has written dance criticism for the Salt Lake Tribune and Dance Magazine among other publications picked up the phone a few days ago to call me (Samuel Hanson, editor of this digest) in Brooklyn. We chatted about dance in Utah, New York and elsewhere past, present and future.

 Kathy Adams visiting San Francisco to see the work of Justin Peck

Kathy Adams visiting San Francisco to see the work of Justin Peck

Sam: Kathy, I’ve missed your voice for the last couple of months at the Tribune. You were my prime source for keeping up with dance in my hometown. I understand from talking to you just now that what happened to you was anything but personal. But I'm still struggling to understand what's going on.

[Since the time of this conversation, the Tribune laid-off 34 staff members, including Arts section editor Anna Cekola, and the only arts staff reporter Ellen Fagg Weist. Prior to these cuts, the freelance staff had been eliminated as a cost-saving measure to spare staff positions, a plan that obviously did not work.]

Kathy: I think it is well worth anyone’s time to listen to the May 15, 2018 podcast of Radio West for a deeper analysis of why the Tribune and newspapers across the country in smaller markets are either sinking or swimming.

Sam: I will check that out. I know that newspapers in general are having a rough go of it. I’ve thought the Trib was doing a pretty good job with “hard news”. I’ve followed their coverage of the Bears’ Ears debacle. But I and others have missed your writing on dance.

Kathy: Thank you. I think investigative reporting is the lifeblood of a civil society. But young people need to learn to pay for news. Just because you can read it for free doesn't mean you should – someone wrote, edited, re-edited, designed and did the layout for every article. They all need to be paid.

Sam: I agree. So are you writing for any other local or national publications? I know you’ve done a lot at Dance Magazine in the past...

Kathy: I do have a query into Dance Magazine right now after receiving a call from them for pitches on a particular subject. But I've become somewhat involved in local politics. I'm the vice president of my neighborhood League of Women Voters, and am a delegate for Utah State District Two. Both positions are only because I failed to step back off the line quickly enough and was left standing as the volunteer.

Sam: Good for you! Are there things going on in dance that excite you that I might not know about?

Kathy: I've been paying a little more attention to what is going on in LA, because it’s closer and since my daughter moved from NY to LA. I bought tickets for her to see LA Dance Project (next best thing to being there) at The Wallis. Her report back was very positive. Last year I wanted to see what all the fuss was about regarding Justin Peck so I flew to San Francisco to see SFBallet perform his work and found all the fuss was about his immense talent.

I check out things I come across such as New York Live Arts online – I recently watched some of Rashaad Newsome's work.

Regionally, SALT Contemporary Dance out of Lehi has made positive strides in the last two years. They commissioned several works by the NY-based choreographer Brendan Duggan, who is refreshingly creative, and recently hired Nick Palmquist to teach and create a new work. I ran across Palmquist on Instagram, he teaches at Broadway Dance Center and danced with American Dance Machine, the company that reconstructs Broadway choreography for the concert stage, so his work reflects the historical elements of jazz and adds a new flavor.

What are you seeing that interests you?

Sam: I would love to learn a little more about what’s going on in LA. It’s interesting though that you bring up Palmquist or Newsome because I often have this experience where I ask friends of mine outside New York what they’re interested in and they bring up things that are happening here that are just outside of my orbit. NYLA (formerly Dance Theater Workshop) is a space I make it to sometimes but it’s not really on the circuit of places I’m visiting almost every weekend. Even within the so-called “downtown” scene (although most of us don’t live in downtown Manhattan anymore) there are these little cliques you find yourself in. The last time I was talking to Liz Ivkovich, another Utah choreographer and performer, she brought up another show at NYLA which I had no idea about. I did see Bebe Miller’s show (with Susan Rethorst) there recently which I loved.

Kathy: I first saw her work in Ohio. I think she was one of a generation of artists who toured to NPN sites in the late eighties, before the national funding for dance really started to dry up. I was also fortunate to see Bill T. Jones, Creach/Koester, Stephen Petronio, Doug Varone at that time when their careers were first launching into the national spotlight. But whose work are you interested in now in NYC?

 Jessie Young, NY-based choreographer who trained in Utah

Jessie Young, NY-based choreographer who trained in Utah

Sam: Jessie Young, who went to school with me at the U, has arrived here by way of Seattle, Chicago and lately the Urbana-Champaign grad program. She went to school with a woman named Jess Pretty who did a beautiful solo I saw a few nights ago. Jonathan González’s show at Danspace took some pretty incredible risks; Jasmine Hearn, who’s also an incredible singer; the beguiling Emily Wexler; and Adrienne Truscott and Mariana Valencia, two powerful women who use a lot of text in creative ways. Heather Kravas, a Seattle-based artist who I think is doing what people think Beth Gill’s work is doing, taking formal tools of choreography and stretching them to their limits to put the performers under a certain pressure. Do you know Charles Atlas’ work? I loved his video show at the Kitchen recently, so much history. I could go on and on. It included a video about Merce Cunningham that I think was the first time I ever saw modern dance, long before I was ever in a dance class when my dad used to take me to the Utah Film and Video Center which is where UMOCA is now. It was a wonderful space destroyed by the Olympics.

Kathy: I know Charles Atlas’ work...

As you go about your so-called circuit in New York, you should keep a little journal of things you see along the way. I remember just walking home from the train one night and as I passed a vacant gravel lot, there were several Butoh dancers slowly sliding down ropes with spotlights on them. It turned out to be Sankai Juku. That’s part of what makes New York special.

Sam: I really should start doing that.

Kathy: Do you ever run in to Laja Field in New York? She and her husband have a new company called LajaMartin...

Sam: Maybe I should start by going to Laja’s show. I actually ran into them at the airport recently when we were both coming back from Salt Lake. They just had a show at the Westbeth building where Merce Cunningham used to live. A slight digression: As you know I don’t get to the ballet much, but circling back to Justin Peck I did hear a very lively discussion about his work on Reid and Jack Ferver’s podcast, “What’s Going on with Dance and Stuff”. Bartelme is an interesting person, one of those people on the edge of the ballet world but also “downtown” dance. It’s important to get out of one’s little niche world and see what else is going on in the place where you live, that’s part of what I loved about Atlas’ show, it was all of this history, from Merce to Michael Clark to Ishmael Houston-Jones to Dancenoise and points between mixed with images from CNN and the Iraq War. But it was almost like he hadn’t edited anything out. Often in history we get the hagiographic, canonized version. In my circles it’s the eighties now and also Judson, Judson gets canonized a certain way. The irony being most of these people are still alive. But there are things left out, like African-American choreographer Dianne McIntyre’s work with jazz musicians and dance improvisation that was happening at the same time just in a different part of the city.

Kathy: I think it would be great if more people recognized Dianne McIntyre as a groundbreaker – she is from Ohio like me (haha). I just subscribed to “What’s Going On With Dance And Stuff” – thanks for the suggestion.

Sam: Are you fed by artistic or cultural interests outside of or related to the dance world?

Kathy: I’m very interested in visual art, yet I don’t find it necessary to integrate dance with visual art. Except in places where it occurs naturally, combining mediums is often clumsy. Wherever I travel, I seek out live performance and art exhibits. Art is the most telling aspect of any city or place.

Earlier this year I went to a 35-year retrospective of Kerry James Marshall’s work at the LA Museum of Contemporary Art. Since that time, the Obama portraits by two other African American artists caused quite a stir so I was glad I’d seen Marshall’s work up close in a gallery setting and could make an informed opinion about the aesthetics of the Obama portraits. I think Marshall’s work is more mature and complex than Amy Sherald's painting of Michelle Obama. Kehinde Wiley’s portrait of President Obama captured his essence and the iconography will be explored and analyzed throughout the ages. Wiley is accomplished at portraiture, but Sherald’s lack of experience in portraiture was apparent to me. I understand all the sociological implications of choosing Sherald – it still looks like a piece of commercial art to me.

I also went to an installation in LA at the 14th Factory curated by artist Simon Birch, it was a self-guided immersive experience. I’ll send a couple photos to you Sam.

 At the 14th Factory in LA, photo by Kathy Adams

At the 14th Factory in LA, photo by Kathy Adams

I spent a couple weeks in Hawai’i this winter and went to the Honolulu Museum of Art – I saw David Hockney’s L'Enfant et les sortilèges, a permanent exhibit at the Spalding House. Then I went to the main HMA that houses the largest collection of Hawaiian and Polynesian cultural artifacts in the world. It also has a nice collection of contemporary art, the Doris Duke Theater, and when I was there a tour of Shangri La, Duke’s home in Honolulu.

Sam: What else inspires you these days?

Kathy: I’m inspired by Eric Handman who consistently produces intelligent work. Most choreographers describe their process as collaborative now-a-days – but when Eric’s work goes up on stage it reflects the people that were there in the room.

I was also emotionally inspired when Doug Varone came to Utah recently and performed at the Marriott Center for Dance. The symbiosis of the U dance students with the professional RW dancers and Varone’s exceptionally skilled dancers (including our very own Brad Beakes) coming together in a performance felt very personal and emotionally rich for me. How better to inform the audience about the value and potential of dance than by experiencing our community on stage.

When Doug Varone and Dancers performed in Cincinnati in 1987 on what I believe was his first company tour, it coincided with the very beginning of my writing career. As an audience member last month at the Marriott, I had the sense of watching an entire career evolve from a seat in the front row.

Sam: Varone certainly has had an influence on this community through the years. Through his work and others connected to him. I wonder about the sustainability of even those sorts of lineages though. Lately when I come home to Salt Lake it looks different. There are more new condominiums and the endless sprucing up of downtown seems to just be getting more intense. I have friends – not so much dancers off the top of my head, but painters, musicians –who have long viewed the city as a kind of haven where they could make their work in seclusion and not have to worry too much. I feel like it’s a place where such marginal lifestyle can now not so easily be indulged. Do you feel that change in the dance world in the last three years?

Kathy: Honestly Salt Lake is still so much cheaper than any other major city. There’s more work now that doesn’t announce itself. You have to watch it and put together the clues to figure out where the artist is going.

A few young SLC dancers who I’m watching are Eliza Tappan, Breanne Saxton, and Katherine Adler, who now lives in Massachusetts. I've always wanted to do an article on how one builds a dance career as a freelancer in a small market. It would be about the positives (freedom to choose projects) and the negatives (scheduling, budgeting, stress). I envisioned the three dancers mentioned above as good interviews. Maybe you can write that story Sam!

Sam: Another person I might add to that list is Emma Wilson, who I interviewed last month. She reminds me a little bit of Adrienne Truscott who I mentioned above – who I worked with in Liz Ivkovich and Alysia Ramos’ piece about Terry Tempest Williams last year. Alysia’s soon headed to Brazil I think, she was at Oberlin, but Liz is still in town and very talented, I hope they reprise their collaboration. Anyway when I was last visiting my folks I saw Emma Wilson at 12 Minutes Max doing a solo about the perils of love and imaginary friends. I used to love Amy Freitas’ work and I admire her ability to organize people into regular gatherings, I don’t know what she’s up to now.

 In the foreground, Adams' mother dancing with RDT dancer Ursula Perry in an improvisation workshop for aging populations in 2016 lead by St. Louis-based RDT alum David Marchant. (Marchant's workshop was separate from Claudio's work referenced below.)

In the foreground, Adams' mother dancing with RDT dancer Ursula Perry in an improvisation workshop for aging populations in 2016 lead by St. Louis-based RDT alum David Marchant. (Marchant's workshop was separate from Claudio's work referenced below.)

Kathy: I spent the past year researching and writing an article on Juan Carlos Claudio’s organization Grey Matters, because I think it is at least as important for movement to be relevant in marginalized communities as it is for those seeking out daring and adventurous forms of contemporary dance.  

I’m also excited to see Omar Karrum who’s coming to Salt Dance Fest, he’s someone I know nothing about from a scene I know little about...

Sam: It seems like there’s a lot going on in Mexico these days, but I’m also uninformed about the larger situation for dance there, outside of Performática, a wonderful festival in the state of Puebla that I’ve been to twice. A lot of people I met there now live up here in NYC and Europe. Did you happen to go to Hilary Carrier’s last Dance Company concert at West High? I was sort of moved when I found out that it was happening last night as I was performing a solo in Queens. Natosha Washington is taking over as they have long discussed.

Kathy: No! Hilary is the most practical yet creative person in the world – and she never encourages me to come to her shows. Natosha Washington’s show at the Tanner Center about two years ago was also tremendous in terms of movement invention and continuity.

Sam: No one could replace Hilary but I think Natosha will be amazing in that role that has historically fostered the beginnings for so many dancers that are now spread out all over the world.