Our next NACHMO interview comes from the very talented Alex Ketley. Alex is an independent choreographer and the director of The Foundry. He has worked both onstage and on film, in front of and behind the lens. Read on for some great inspiration and advice!
How did you first get interested in working with a camera?
The very first project I ever did involved a camera. Chris Burns and I had started a dance company (whatever that meant) and we had a tiny studio in our live work space and were making dances. Boring dances. At a point of crisis we wondered why we had left our professional dance jobs to just make another dance. So we had this idea we would buy a video camera (Hi8) and suits and drive to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, and improvise on the desert and film those studies. So that's what we did, and as we reviewed the footage we realized it was very silly watching two former ballet dancers leaping around in the desert. But we had driven all that way there so we didn't give up. Many days the dances were awful, and then eventually something unique started to bubble to the surface. I think this is when we finally let go of our notions of dance and just started to actually respond to the environment and the context of being out there. It set the stage for a years worth of work where we used film, improvisation, and the application of environment to see how it affected the generation of movement.
What was an initial struggle and how did you help overcome it?
No Initial struggle. I loved working with the camera. I loved that it was documenting experience but I wasn't necessarily "performing." My father was also a photographer, so I grew up looking at the world through his lens.
How do you find an audience for your film work?
Like many choreographers we did tiny group shows with 50 different small pieces in the program. With the video component people were intrigued in the dance world, but also some galleries wanted to support the projects. So we performed or showed the films pretty early on in traditional theaters, galleries, and raves.
What do you think is a unique feature of being able to work with a camera vs. working for the stage?
That it captures an actual moment devoid of the distortions that occur when we are performing. I danced for the camera not to create a product put just to see if anything interesting might bubble to the surface. 10 hours of footage for 10 minutes of video. Just capturing, or editing the most resonant moments.
What do you miss in live performance that you would like to see captured more on film?
Intimacy. I like watching dance close. Empathically experiencing what the performer is experiencing. So much of that is lost in huge spaces or distant seating. So much dance is then skewed to reach out across that distance, making the landscape the body expresses a bit garish. When the body is capable of such moving subtleties.
Who are the film creators you enjoy watching, be it with or without movement?
DV8, Matthew Barney, Bruce Nauman, Ultima Vez
Do you submit your work to festivals? Are there specific festivals choreographers can apply to?
I have in the past. Or sometimes I create film for other companies, and then they submit the films.
Any advice for budding choreographers/cinematographers?
Video is an amazing tool. Just do whatever your heart tells you is most right - and really explore that. Don't be precious with the set up - because with the tools we have now you can explore so much in post production. Have fun!
Alex Ketley is an independent choreographer and the director of The Foundry. Formally a classical dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, he performed a wide range of classical and contemporary repertory in San Francisco and on tour throughout the world. In 1998 he co-created The Foundry in order to explore his deepening interests in choreography, improvisation, mixed media work, and collaborative process. With The Foundry he has been an Artist in Residence at many leading art institutions including Headlands Center for the Arts, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, The Yard, the Santa Fe Art Institute, the Taipei Artist Village, ODC Theater, the Ucross Foundation, and the Vermont Performance Lab. The Foundry has produced fifteen full evening length works that have received extensive support from the public, funders, and the press, as well as a number of single-channel video pieces that have screened at international video festivals. As a choreographer independent of his work with The Foundry, Ketley has been commissioned to create original pieces for companies and universities throughout the United States and Europe. For this work he has received acknowledgement from the Hubbard Street National Choreographic Competition, the International Choreographic Competition of the Festival des Arts de Saint-Saveaur, the National Choo-San Goh Award, the inaugural Princess Grace Award for Choreography, the BNC National Choreographic Competition, three CHIME Fellowships, four Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography residencies, the Gerbode-Hewlett Choreographer Commissioning Award, and the National Eben Demarest Award. His pieces and collaborations have also been awarded Isadora Duncan Awards in the categories of Outstanding Achievement by an Ensemble, Outstanding Achievement in Choreography, and Outstanding Achievement by a Company. Through his long history with AXIS Dance Company, his work To Color Me Different was presented on national television through an invitation from the show So You Think You Can Dance and his film The Gift of Impermanence has screened internationally and won the 2015 Artistry Award at the Superfest International Disability Film Festival. With The Foundry since 2012, he has been deeply engaged in a trilogy of projects entitled No Hero which explore what dance means and how it is experienced by people throughout rural parts of America. The video projection Alex created for No Hero (West) was nominated for a 2012 Isadora Duncan Award for Outstanding Achievement in Visual Design. Deep South was the third project in the trilogy and was researched in the rural South in collaboration with Miguel Gutierrez and supported by the first Princess Grace Foundation Choreography Mentorship Co-Commission Award (CMCC), a MANCC Media Fellowship, a Kenneth Rainin Foundation New and Experimental Works Grant, and the Historic Asolo Theater. In addition to his Foundry and independent work he is a Lecturer at Stanford University’s Department of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) and is Resident Choreographer at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, a school that is deeply invested in students learning and growing though the engagement of contemporary choreography and methodologies. alexketley.com