{Dd} Critical Conversation: Learning to CRAWL with Kate Ladenheim of the People Movers

 In Archives, Dd Exclusive

Kate Ladenheim created her Brooklyn-based dance collective, the People Movers, in 2012 to support her growing choreographic work. This winter, the People Movers take on a new endeavor with their performance series, CRAWL, which will showcase dance artists alongside an artist of a different discipline in exciting venues around NYC.

“If this is a cultural expression that people care about and want to invest their time in, and eventually their money,” Ladenheim says, “then we will progress.”

She spoke to {Dd} contributor Tara Sheena about her views on extending the meaning of dance presentation, the challenges and triumphs of self-producing, and lessons she has learned on navigating the dance field in an ever-changing, technologically connected, and high risk arts landscape.

Excerpts of their conversation are below:

Tara Sheena: You have your own collective under which you create dance work, but you also are launching a huge curatorial endeavor this fall called CRAWL.  How did the People Movers come to be and what made you develop CRAWL alongside your company?

Kate Ladenheim: I moved to New York in 2011, right after I graduated from the Boston Conservatory. I graduated in utter terror, like most dance graduates do, because I had no job, no prospects for a job, and no real connections and I just happened in New York. So, I did a number of gigs; I completely overdid it. I was in between Boston and New York for a while. A lot of the work I was doing in New York I was really dissatisfied with. I was not really stimulated. Oftentimes, I would be with someone in rehearsal and think, I could make a better dance. So, I finally was like, alright I am just going to make a better dance. I met my good friend Chelsea Lee and she was having similar feelings and we decided to produce a show at Triskelion Arts [in Fall 2012]. We rented the space and made a dance and made it happen. At that point, I was like, “I should have a company name.” And, I asked Chelsea [one day in rehearsal] if she could move across the stage like she was on a People Mover — and I was like ding, that’s it! It’s so literal in a ridiculous way, but that’s what we do: we move people and we are people who move.

After that, I got a commission to create Hackpolitik, a piece about Internet activism and about [hacktivist collectives] Anonymous and Lulzsec. That kind of focused the work I wanted to be doing and the kind of statements that I wanted to be making. I really believe dance only has power when it’s culturally relevant and that was not something that I had really thought of before doing Hackpolitik. The response that I got from that piece was completely overwhelming for me in a very exciting way. But, also, it was like, Wow people actually care about dancing now because we are dancing about something people care about.

The People Movers in Hackpolitik. Photo by Stephanie Crousillat.

The People Movers in Hackpolitik. Photo by Stephanie Crousillat.

TS: Did you know a lot about Anonymous and hacktivism before diving into the piece or was that an idea brought to you?

KL: That was an idea brought to me by the composer, Peter Van Zandt Lane. I was connected to him through the [Boston-based] Juventas New Music Ensemble, who I had done a choreography project for in college. And, they liked me because I could read music and I like music. Lidiya Yankovskaya, their director, approached me about doing this project and [Peter] came to me with this idea. He told me to read the book We Are Anonymous by Parmy Olson. I became very interested in the idea and I started following everyone it was about on Twitter.

TS: What is Anonymous’s stance? What do they think of Twitter [laughs]?

KL: Well, they love Twitter because it’s an awesome way to disseminate information.

TS: It’s kind of a more democratic approach to what we’re doing online.

KL: Exactly. Anonymous is basically a very loose collective of Internet activisms. They engage in discourse, in online protests in various things. They are very interested in net neutrality and keeping information free; also, in censorship and wanting to bring political justice [to the Internet]. The people I have spoken to in Anonymous are very passionate and very interesting and I really was pleased to get to know them and get to know what they stand for.

TS: Did they get to see the work?

KL: A few people did but, many of the people I was in contact with are not based in the United States.

TS: I don’t know what your composer culled from reading about hacktivism, but there are so many intersections with art making and these ideas about democratizing our space or, at least, claiming space that we feel should remain free and open and uncensored as a means of communication and expression.

KL: Also, the inherent performative aspects of an online activist group — to be heard and to be paid attention to — there is this almost a sense of grandeur and bravado that they need to portray. I was very interested in this, especially in the interpretation of our movement.

The People Movers in Hackpolitik. Photo by Stephanie Crousillat.

The People Movers in Hackpolitik. Photo by Stephanie Crousillat.

TS: What can you tell us about your latest performance work?

KL: This fall, we premiered something new called Not So Shiny, which is a hipster comment on the American Dream [laughs].

TS: There are so many jokes embedded into hipsterdom. What about that idea provoked you to make this?

KL: Maybe hipster isn’t the right term. I think millennial is better. Not So Shiny focuses on our ideas on success and how those ideas have changed in contemporary culture. Like I said earlier, I left college with absolutely no prospects for a job and no idea on what I was going to do, no connections and no clear pathway. I think most people have that experience. Most of my colleagues have had that experience. What the hell is a career these days? I don’t know if that word exists in a meaningful way anymore. The piece explores our emotional context around success and what success means. These are real concerns and relevant in the dance world, but also contemporary culture. Technology has made the world change so fast that our current constructs just can’t keep up with it. And it’s all kind of stewing in our generation because we are the ones who are taking the brunt of it. Also, we get a lot of criticism as millennials for being lazy.

Catherine Yaeger of the People Movers. Photo by Chelsea Robin Lee.

Catherine Yaeger of the People Movers. Photo by Chelsea Robin Lee.

TS: There is a lot in the public consciousness about that. We were the first generation to grow up post-Internet. On the one hand, we don’t know any differently. I am not making any sweeping statements, but I actually think all of the public discourse around what a millennial is and what they aren’t and what they’re doing and what they’re supposed to be doing is actually kind of fascinating. You can’t help but feel like, I am part of this really, really obscure, unique generation of human. By the same token, you don’t want to smash the facade of what being an artist creates for an audience. You’re right in saying there is no clear career trajectory and much of what we do does not usually operate on monetary income, but psychic income.

KL: As a dance community, we’ve been making dances and doing this for years and years and years. And, everybody seems to have been stewing in this problem for this long. This is not a way to sustain a community. I think we owe our community more. We owe our audiences more.

TS: I think a lot of people would argue dance was never meant to be sustainable and never meant to be something that supports someone financially. It’s an interesting argument and coincides with your own visions and motivation to establish the People Movers. But, how do you know what you’re doing is really making an impact? How is it different than what you were doing before as a performer?

KL: I certainly don’t think I’ve discovered the way out. I would love to be the one who figures it out.

TS: I am sure a lot of people would love that.

KL: I hear a lot of people [say], “There’s no money in the dance world, there’s no government support, there’s no public support.” And, I think, “What are we doing to garner that type of support? What kinds of dances are we making? Why do we have to drag audiences there kicking and screaming? Why aren’t they interested?” There’s a more important question than “Why isn’t there money?” I think the more important questions are, “Why don’t people want to see our work? And, how can we change that?” If this is a cultural expression that people care about and want to invest their time in, and eventually their money, then we will progress.

Lydia Zimmer is one of the choreographers to be presented by CRAWL. Photo by Michael Seamans.

Lydia Zimmer is one of the artists to be presented by CRAWL. Photo by Michael Seamans.

TS: I think there is this new push for models in dance and maybe CRAWL is an answer to that. How did it come about and what can we expect?

KL: It’s definitely a reaction to all of these things I am feeling. Also, I am really interested in dance as a community-building endeavor. The whole concept is that we have a multidisciplinary performance event in different areas throughout New York City. We’ll always be going to a different venue, to a different neighborhood, something that is pushing it outward. We feature three artists at every event: two dance artists and one non-dance work. The first event is launching December 6th at Whitebox Arts Center on the Lower East Side. It will feature artists Lydia Zimmer and Enza de Palma, who are both dance artists, and also Christine Jaeger, who is a visual artist and is showing a series called Infinity Rises. All of these artists are dealing with detail: subtle, feminine detail. Also, all of the artists have taken an interest in playing around with light. I am really interested to see what is going to happen.. [For future CRAWL events], I am working with choreographers Brendan Drake Kendra Portier, Greg DolbashianDante Brown and Grace Courvoisier. My company will present something as well.

TS: How did you introduce this project to the artists you’ve curated?  And, how does that work with the spaces you are coordinating with?

KL: What I want is for people to come and see something cool that they maybe haven’t seen before. And, I think that a space that’s different — that they maybe haven’t been to or seen before or thought dance could not exist in — is a very essential part of that. Our first vision of CRAWL was actually an evening-length performance for each artist across the span of ten months. But, [that idea] wasn’t actually addressing the problems I wanted it to address, which was that you’re still inviting an artist whose friends will come and see them. It’s not breaking any boundaries. It’s not sharing any resources. It’s not sharing any audience members. It’s not sharing that experience. So, it became longer events. But they became more multifaceted events. It’s definitely developed over time.

The work of Enza de Palma will be presented by CRAWL. Photo by Bill Hebert.

The work of Enza de Palma will be presented by CRAWL. Photo by Bill Hebert.

TS: What has been a big learning curve for you in this process?

KL: Fundraising. I imagine I will learn [more] as things come about. In the last show I produced [Hackpolitick in New York City in July 2014], my biggest surprise was how hard it actually is to get audiences there.

TS: It’s hard to get butts in seats. It’s not even as hard to get people to buy ticket or donate to Kickstarter. But actually showing up…

KL: Actually showing up is really hard for people!

TS: What do we do? Blame Netflix? [laughs]

KL: I don’t think we can blame Netflix because, for example, people go to sporting events. Thousands of people go to sporting events; thousands of people go to concerts. There is something about the collective energy of those kinds of events that dance doesn’t generate. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing about dance, but I think that’s something that we have to think about. How can we create some kind of energy around this that makes it unique to come here?

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