September Digest: Katherine Adler and Daniel Charon

Katherine Adler and Daniel Charon hadn’t spoken in a while when they recorded this conversation a couple weeks ago…

K: Hi there!

D: I think I’m recording. So you’re where [these days]?

K: I’m right now in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Which is about an hour and a half away from Boston. And it’s a town that is continuing to struggle with issues such as homelessness, mental health instability and drug use, and at the same time is a very flourishing artistic, social justice-aware community that is able to live simultaneously in all of these worlds.

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D: So that seems like it suits you really well, doesn’t it?

K: Absolutely, for both what I need to be fed as a human being, and the work that I’m doing as — I even hate calling myself an artist because that feels like it’s my role in this community and in society, versus, “I am a creative individual, etcetera etcetera…”

I’m going to interject before we get too far because something that feels important for me to vocalize is that I am beginning to embrace the non-binary gender that I have always felt and known to be true, and have been able to speak about to some degree, but also hid from myself. I am no longer doing that. [I’m] looking into the possibility of taking testosterone, but not making a complete transition, because I’m not a man and I very much embrace my femininity…

That has been met with a mix of incredible acceptance and care, and personally, in my family, a lot of rejection. So that’s something that’s very much shaping my current situation. And as I reflect back, of course, is changing my views on what I’ve been through.

D: Yeah, it’s an adventure. Is that what you said?

That's great, I am in full support and I imagine that it’s a very emotional time and a big deal for you. And so I think its wonderful that you’re feeling like you can explore and figure it out. I hope that you find strong people that support you because I imagine that must be so important.

K: I’m incredibly lucky to have that. The reason I'm able to embrace this at this time in my life is because I’ve worked hard, and also I’m lucky to have exactly the community that can hold that space and see for me as I really am, and want to encourage me to be my fullest expression of self. And it’s also just normal here too.

D: So, what pronoun now do you prefer?

K: It’s difficult because I’ve just accepted “she” my entire life, I’ve agreed to it. And they/them is something that makes me feel a lot more empowered. And so it’s a preference but I also want to say that I don’t take offense, it doesn’t affect my personage at this point when I am referenced in a different way because that is a part of who I have been and is a part of who I am. Does that make sense?

D: Yeah it totally makes sense, as much as sense as it can make to me.

K: And I also want to hold space to say that I recognize that this is a shift in perception and it takes time for people, and I want to honor that.

D: I think that’s a great attitude and perspective to have because, I find— I am very open and I want people to be who they are and proud of that— but I find that as somebody who’s always used he and she pronouns growing up and into my forties, it’s a challenge and I want to respect it and do it but I don’t remember it all the time. It’s not as intuitive as I want it to be and hope it will be one day. So I think that’s a really good stance for you.

K: Absolutely. I can even speak to, before we get into it —

D: We’re into it Katherine, we’re into it!

K: [Laughter] This past week, last Tuesday, I was speaking with my mother about all of this and, you know, I don’t need to go explicitly into all of that, but her reaction was to take down all of the photographs of me in the house…

D: She didn’t know what to do…

K: Yeah, and so that’s a part of all of this.I have a collaborator, his name is Joe Dulude, he’s a Broadway make-up designer. I’m very fortunate to have him as an equal collaborator for a lot of the collaborative work I do for immersive theater, and then as well we have a project of our own called Mr. Drag & Karl, he is Mr. Drag [bearded drag], I am his sidekick Karl, in the fashion of a silent, earnest and well-meaning but hapless sidekick a la Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton...

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He had photos, beautifully taken by Wheaton Mahoney and they were hung up in the center of town on an old bank that’s being turned into a black box theater. Last Thursday evening they were very violently taken down. There was plexiglass that was ripped off and they were on foam core, and they were ripped to pieces. So this was a very public and violent act.

I primarily work with a group called Eggtooth Productions, and they were really looking for us to make a statement and have a response. Joe was in London at the time, and so we waited until he got back. We decided that as an initial response [we’d do an] all night projection, we have nine high power projectors, and we used two of them project loops of all of the photos on to the bank.

So, thirty foot projections on overnight. I was holding space on the common, throughout the event over a hundred people came and went and continued to hold space with me. It’s become my job as a part of this community acts as a witness, and I draw the energies of that experience on paper, as a record. That’s not nearly like a photograph or words but an emotional record of the human experience as it transpires over this time. So I just did that last night so I haven’t actually slept…

D: Oh wow.

K: I’m fine, and I’m used to doing these durational works at this point this is my life. I basically live multiple lifetimes every day. I also did a four hour photo shoot yesterday morning which was with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in two years. Our first interaction was in front of the camera, he was relinquishing some of his masculinity and embracing his femininity so that I could assume more masculinity in his pretense.

That was one day. Today I am helping out with a theater piece with Miguel Angel Paredes who grew up here and who now lives in Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve been recording his story over the past two weeks and helping install a whole space with artifacts from his life and QR codes set up so people can discover, and listen with headphones, to his story. I’m just involved in a lot of really important work. And I feel very grateful that people trust me to be a part of that and then in my own personal work I am incredibly supported. I have a group of people who recognize that for me it is very much about a spiritual experience that necessitates holding space, having people view it as a public experience. I’m basically a conduit — almost a human tarot card. I go into a deep state of meditation that includes movement and then kind of bring back some information and questions.

D: It feels necessary somehow.

K: Absolutely. I don't really know any other way at this point to be.

D: It almost feels like you curate these experiences. Would you say that the focus is about gender equality, gender awareness that kind of thing?

K: Not at all. Which is kind of fascinating because at this point I am a very public figure in many communities, and including food communities… I’m involved with a lot of people. And I actually don’t make most of my work about that it’s just this natural transformation that’s happening and people really get to know me, the spirit, the me-me, and so the outside becomes superfluous.

But we do live in a world where that perception does matter. And so I’ve had to grapple with that and say where would I feel more comfortable in this world — just an example — I’ve always said I have a very hard time articulating myself. And I feel very inadequate with words and a big part of that is when I speak, my voice does not match the register that I feel inside. And so every time I open my mouth I’m basically dissociating.

D: Do you feel like, and I’m just curious, that it should be lower or higher?

K: Lower, lower.

D: Interesting, so interesting.

K: So, as I accept the fact that I am viewed as body, how am I going to be more comfortable inside of it? Because at the end of the day, I know I’m just this little ball of energy that’s just a piece of fire, or God that everyone has inside of them. Great! Cool we can move on from there, AND, we do live inside the veil of what we see, the reality of what’s in front of us.

D: So, this feels like a natural evolution for you and I feel like — we’ve crossed paths now, for ten years now, let’s say, and so when I met you in 2010?

K: It was 2009, because I was graduating from High School and about to go to college.

D: So you were 18.

K: Exactly, before I went to Utah.

D: That pathway, and so yes, we’ve seen each other many times over the years and I’ve seen you transition through a lot of different spaces.

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K: There’s been so much. I try to weave a clear narrative, but it’s difficult because I have been a shapeshifter. And you and a couple of other people — Scotty Hardwig is another one — have seen me and valued me, but really been with me at drastically different periods.

And I’ve always held you as a marker in some ways. You’ve known different iterations of me and I always feel comfortable that I am being seen and heard and valued.

D: It’s interesting how that type of connection happens because I feel like there are two things that have happened for me. I have these moments where [I think], wow, that was a very isolated lifetime. When I was doing musical theater. that was very isolated. I spent a summer with these people that were very impactful. College is like that, mostly. A few years with them, it was profound and now we move on with our lives. But, there are relationships like ours that I’m learning about the older i get. There are some people that come back into your life over and over again. Even this phone call, it’s an easy conversation. I’m comfortable, I’m not worried or cautious that we haven’t spoken in a while. There are just a few of those relationships in my life, but you happen to be one.

K: Yeah I feel very similarly. I hold you in my heart and my mind, even if I'm not in direct contact. I keep you alive in me and therefore you are in my life…

D: Exactly.

K: You know more and more now I am really able to look at my male role models and see how they have shaped me without me knowing it was okay to have these sorts of role models. And you’ve certainly been one. I remember in college literally writing one of the first papers I had to write, which, I question it’s value now…

D: It had value, you needed to do it then…

K: Sure, it was something like “talk about one of your favorite dancers,” and it was you!

I remember watching you at Jacob’s pillow with Natalie [Desch], I think it was one of your last performances with Doug Varone and the two of you did the Home duet. And just feeling a sense of — I wasn’t seeing a dance, I was seeing communication…

D: Wow, I’m flattered—

K: That spoke to me in a way that nothing else had. And also having worked with you as a choreographer, the way you approached things wasn’t ever about the steps or the moves, but about the experience inside of it. Izzy Heltai, a folk singer/songwriter has this lovely phrase, he says “words are a tool to communicate shared experiences.” And I think that’s absolutely true, but I think they’re by no means the most effective. They’re the easiest in some ways. The language of the body, enables us to speak at a depth we can’t always articulate through words. But rather than focusing on the technique or the editing of choreography, and this is something that speaks to Doug’s work as well, as your own, it’s this innate ability as well to speak the language of humans through the body. Versus “I am choreographer” or “I am a dancer."

D: Yeah. Totally. It’s a different thing.

K: I think through Summer Stages you were one of the first people who opened my eyes to that.

D: That’s amazing. Thank you for that complement. Summer Stages was such an interesting time, I remember that group so well. It was one of the first times that I kind of ventured out of New York and was commissioned to do something. But I remember that group just gelling. I remember there was this one young woman who, maybe her level was a little bit lower than everybody else’s. But everyone just embraced her and took her along for the ride and it was just such a rich, meaningful experience. I learned so much from that one snapshot moment and I remember you as a part of that group.

K: Yeah. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s part of what has made our orbits continue to collide. That there was this sense of shared experience. I don’t know. Not to get too wrapped up in fate, or those types of words which can get dangerous, but it doesn’t surprise me that having a singular experience that found us in the same way is rare.

D: Summer Stages makes sense and then here I am moving to Utah and oh my God here you are! We keep running into each other and it almost becomes expected like, okay, at some point, we’ll connect again.

K: I loved seeing you on the street in New York before that show because, I went just because I wanted to [Varone’s] work. And to be honest, I don’t know if I knew you were a part of it. But again it just seems very natural to me that I would have run into you [and Natalie] on the street. Of course!

D: I was thinking today, okay, I am going to talk to Katherine, I’m going to conjure some memories and look back –– Wait, so do you still like to go by Katherine? Or what do you prefer?

K: It’s an interesting thing. I have always maintained that I feel comfortable having a name that others feel comfortable with, so I know you’ve always called me Katie, even in the midst of others calling me Katherine and that’s how you know me. And so it has a certain quality in a person’s mouth when they’re comfortable calling me something. A very natural nickname that has developed over time that I have not created but others have ascribed to me is Kat, which does feel very accurate if I am to be dissected into this little name. I just received my German citizenship this year and will eventually be changing my last name back its original which is Schwartzadler, and I’m considering, not legally but colloquially going by Katze, which is German for “cat”. But really anything is fine, and thank you for asking the question.

D: Yeah you’re welcome. I keep thinking about your parents because, in a lot of ways to me — and it was interesting to hear you say that about your mother — I always perceived them as being so supportive because everywhere I was, everywhere we saw each other I pretty much always saw them too. It resonates with me. And of course, I’m looking at it from a surface place and maybe you were all supportive and getting a long and you made it happen, and once this comes out it’s a big shift, I’m sure for a parent to cope with. But that’s something that I was thinking about was, wow, it felt like a really close family to me and I remember your parents so much and feeling friendly with them, and I guess I’m just making that observation, that they feel a part of all of this to me too, in a strange way.

K: Yeah and I really feel that’s a really accurate in some ways and there is light and dark to all of that. They always have been very supportive but in terms of their narrative. They’re very fond of you and they talk about memories that we’ve shared. Like when we went out to lunch when I was considering transferring colleges. There are times when it’s like, oh, it’s less about my connection with you than “oh, well, he has connections and he can make it happen for you. And if Daniel says you can be a professional dancer then we trust that.”

They consider what I do as a hobby and that’s very difficult and upsetting, but, they did pay for my dance education growing up, they paid for these summer workshops and my college... we pay for this product and we expect this outcome. I think if anyone knows me that’s not who I am at all…

D: Did you know that going into it, when you were a freshman in college?

Katie Meehan’s senior piece

Katie Meehan’s senior piece

K: I knew that I didn’t want to be in a repertory company, I knew that pretty solidly. Really working with you at Summer Stages was life-changing because I realized dance could be more than I’d been told it could be. And then when I moved to Salt Lake I had such a difficult time in the department and what really ended up shaping my experience was working with people who were a little bit on the fringes. At first, Sam[uel Hanson] and Katie Meehan were among the first to do crazy experimental dance with me. And then it was about getting involved with Ashley [Anderson] and Mudson and then Kitty Sailer, who was a grad student at the time and doing work that was interactive and beyond what I was told dance could be.

I really reject a lot of what happened to me, but I value what the department is now…

D: You know Natalie just got a job there. We’re so happy, so excited. She’s an assistant professor, she’s tenure track.

K: That makes me so happy, fantastic. My plan B is that I’m just going to say “Fuck it,” go get an MFA at the University of Utah and to make it about what I want it to be about.

D: Maybe that’s like a kind of closing of a chapter that you need one day.

K: I’m thinking about it – really, to work with Natalie and Molly [Heller] would be — I mean— come on!!

D: For sure. Well, one thing about you is, if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen, if there’s time for it, the time will kind of present itself and it will find you, I think.

K: You know what? It’s so crazy, a big part of what I’ve worked on over the last three years is that sense of deep listening. Ever since I’ve been back here I’ve really wanted to bring back Dylan Dances. And every time I’ve tried to dip my toes back in the universe has pushed back and I try to listen to that. 

D: That is epic!

I’m involved in this incredible theater [the Shea Theater] about 15 minutes north of me that is doing very important curatorial work in terms of bringing big acts and support local art as well, and some people involved with the theater have asked if I’d be interested in putting up Dylan Dances later in the Spring. 

So now the universe is coming to me and saying this is what we want from you and I am ready to reciprocate and say, yes, I am ready to take on this challenge, versus me trying to plow through with something no one wants at that time.

D: I feel like that’s an evolution for you. Because I feel like at a time you would have done the plow through. I feel like you’ve arrived in a different groundedness I’ve always appreciated your thoughtfulness. You don’t really make decisions like lightly and there are always a lot of things you think about before taking action.

K: Thank you!

Something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and then manifesting is this ongoing project I have called Artifacts of the Ephemeral, and I did a version of this last Spring, this past April. It’s a thirty-hour durational work, each hour is set with a very specific meditation, prayer, score, prompt, whatever you want to call it...

K: Yeah, so I would respond in movement and the artifacts of that ephemeral experience I would also draw, so you could come in at four PM and see what was done at five AM. It was wildly successful. I just got a grant to do a 24-hour version in Northampton in November. And my goal is for next summer, to approach Mass MOCA and Jacob’s Pillow, and just say hey, I’m a local artist, just give me some space, you don’t even have to pay me and I’ll be for twelve hours and I’ll provide your guests with some free work.

D: That’s amazing.

K: I’m never going to get into those arenas by being discovered, because I don’t match a lot of what they’re looking for. But when they actually get to see and experience it and see the response of the audience [I think they’ll respond.]… I will even say, and I try to say this without ego, but just being honest, there’s people who come see my work and have spiritual experiences that they would not otherwise have. Some people who want to connect on that deep energetic level but don’t feel comfortable in religious spaces, the guise of art brings them in to knowing the God within me and therefore themselves. This is all reiteration of feedback and personal conversations I’ve had with people gifting me their experiences. 

D: Wow.

K: What I mean to say is that if I am given this opportunity to have space in those larger venues, I know that I will have those deep connections with those people. And so I’m not going to wait until I’m forty to try to be discovered. If I want to do something, I’m going to find a way to do it and be recognized for the work.

D: Yeah that’s amazing. I’m very proud of you. It seems like you’ve had a great evolution and  I’m sure it’s trying at times, I must imagine that’s true, but it sounds like you’re doing well and I’m very proud to see you at this place in your life. It kind of makes sense in some ways to me. It feels like you’re in the right place at the right time.

K: Thank you. I really appreciate hearing that and value the time you’ve taken to hear that.