In its upcoming repertory concert, L.A. Contemporary Dance Company takes on the theme of "Modern Myths and Monsters." In addition to artistic director Kate Hutter, guest choreographers Mecca Vazie Andrews and Nichol Mason will contribute original pieces which build on the common theme of reinterpreting history, predicting the future, and exposing the myths and monsters that have shaped our physical and emotional evolution. I caught up with Kate Hutter to talk about the showcase and the company.
Rachel Levin: How will the theme of modern monsters play out in the show?
Kate Hutter: There [are] not really grotesque costumes or images. It's mostly peeking inside something that looks very much like us. The movement might be something that of course the body is capable of but has these characteristics that are a little bit more challenging or awkward. The images aren't quite beautiful but really make the audience question a visceral idea of movement and a visceral idea of history.
RL: So each of the choreographers interpreted the theme of monsters in their own way?
KH: Yes. Mecca Vazie Andrews' piece "The Wagon Train is Divided" is based in the late 1800s, early 1900s…on the idea of the movement west and pioneering. In particular, [it examines] what the land provided for man and what the oppressed—the immigrant workers sowing the earth and building the forms of transportation—afforded opportunity- wise for the development of the country. She says it's a "contemporary existential Western." Nichol Mason focuses on the personal monstrosity, those inner dialogues that we have with ourselves that brew up very primal instincts and things that might be only experienced by the individual or make us more prone to act against others. [It's an] interior or psychological interpretation of myths and monsters.
RL: What about your piece?
KH: Exploring what we would evolve into as human beings, I kind of pictured the future. [The piece is] looking at human beings and how we will live a life that is overwhelmed by images and sound and multimedia—an onslaught sometimes of our senses. And I feel that through time our senses will become more sensitized, will become more on the surface. Things will affect us more and more and more and we might take on…hypersensitivity to surroundings and the manufactured ideas of sound and light. Over time we may develop into these creatures or these monsters. [The piece is] "A Clockwork Orange" type of situation: fluorescent light installations, a lot of music that has synthesizers, coarse and industrial.
RL: There are three choreographers but four pieces. What is the fourth piece?
KH: A duet with my partner Kevin Williamson called "Clippings" [about] how we digest the myths and the monsters and the information of our history and of current events. Literally it's the idea of how we look at a newspaper. On the same page you see these snippets or these fractions of people's lives, highly potent images. [The piece examines] how we look at that piece of paper and how we see all those juxtaposed. The piece is read very much like that; we cut between phrases and different emotional states very quickly, almost portraying how you digest this information on a piece of paper. As characters or as people, we start to juxtapose it and relate it to how we create our own personal histories and how we start to look at information in our own minds. [The idea is] breaking up our personal histories and looking at them as if they were just newspaper clippings, fragmented idea of stories.
RL: After each performance, you hold Q&A sessions with the audience. Tell me more about that.
KH: We love to offer the opportunity to have the audience interact with the artists and ask questions and really involve themselves more in the process of making the work. We enjoy creating work interfacing with the audience; we want them to be immersed. Sometimes we have the composers come if they're available as well. I see a lot of Q & A sessions held by other companies and they usually seem a little bit more formalized. Because we're in the Diavolo space, I feel like it gives us an intimacy with the audience that is very hands on. They're sitting right at the edge of the stage space. So when we have the Q & A it's very relaxed and we want them to feel very open to asking anything that comes to mind. Because it can be an intimidating process as an audience member to say, "Hey, I really want to know about this" or "Hey, I really don't understand this choice." We try to make it very open.
RL: What kinds of questions and comments do you get?
KH: We gather on stage and have an open forum and usually the questions that come back are how did we start our process or as choreographers why did we choose a particular piece of music or a particular way of moving people on stage. Usually our younger audience members are interested in how we became dancers or how we became choreographers looking toward developing a career themselves. I think that's one of the best things for us. It's so rewarding to hear what the audience is experiencing and reflect on that as performers and make small changes throughout the performance run. Eight performances gives you time to grow within the piece and be affected by the audience. As performers we really do react to audiences being like, "I could feel you, I could sense you." Or "you seemed very cold at this point." It can affect the growth of the performer over time.
RL: For both Thursday performances, you're reserving the entire theatre for a free performance for youth. Tell me about the groups that will attend.
KH: We invite at-risk youth from shelters downtown and as well as high school students. We bring students and younger audiences to live performance because we feel like this is really integral to continuing to have the arts and continuing to have dance available to these audiences. And even though it's not a money maker for us, it's going to create longevity in the dance community as well as the performing arts. We can tell from the feedback, it has a lasting effect. It's visceral. It's not like going to see a movie, seeing something on the computer screen. It's very in your face, we're sweating, and we're all over the place, and it's exciting to know that that's leaving a lasting impression, bringing something to their lives as well. Sometimes kids have very innocent and potent reactions to what we're doing, and sometimes it doesn't follow what you would call theatre protocol, which is awesome. They'll laugh at something, they'll call out for something, and you're just like, "Oh my gosh! This is awesome!" This energy is so different and interesting.
RL: You wrote a blog about choreographing your piece. What was that experience like?
KH: It was great to put some initial ideas out there. For me it aired out some ideas that maybe I hadn't even put into a more formal dialogue, and by doing that I think I actually worked through some of my blocks or my worries about ideas being clear enough or strong enough. I think for the choreographers it was a great way of starting that process of connecting with the audience and connecting their work with outsiders.
RL: With your audience discussions, free shows for at-risk youth, YouTube footage, and your blog, it really seems like the company is offering audiences multiple ways to connect with the performance, not just watch it passively.
KH: You can't have an image of what audiences want and how audiences are going to react without really listening to who the audience is. You have people that have grown up now with YouTube, email, and many, many different ways of accessing the arts and information in general. Why not open up those avenues? Our investment and focus is of course on the stage. But we want to give everyone every possibility of coming to that place and sharing in that experience. If reading more about it or having a free opportunity to see it or talking with the artists is something that's going to bring that experience full circle, then by all means, let's do it! Let's try it out. It'll be interesting to see what else the audience suggests as far as how to get in touch and how to keep developing this relationship. We are a facet of L.A. culture. We're not going anywhere and there's not one person that represents this company. It is an entity in itself and we want audiences to feel that this is very much theirs as well.
RL: What are some highlights that will make the audience excited about coming out to see the show?
KH: I can't say there's any pyrotechnics. No one's doing back flips. The real deal is that these are young choreographers, we're all in our 20s, overall we're a young company, but we're going extremely professional work. We're not creating pretty dance just to amuse or just to entertain. It is both of those things but it really is also taking steps forward in developing new ways to communicate with people, communicate ideas that are very relevant to our current states and our human condition. As an audience member, there's something about that energy that is transferable, is intoxicating in a way, and hopefully exciting to be around. Dance isn't just for dance audiences. If you're questioning whether you would like dance or not, I think we're a very safe group to come and see what's going on, what's happening at the Brewery, what is the downtown renaissance, what is happening in dance and its collision with contemporary movement and music and overall lighting and costuming. All of those elements could be very interesting even if you're not a dance lover.
For more information, visit lacontemporarydance.org
Paulo Alcedo, Michael Crotty
& Kate Hutter
Photo © & courtesy of David Schwep
Jamila Glass, Nichol Mason
Tiffany Sweat, Marisa Jimenez
Photo © & courtesy of David Schwep