Katie Faulkner is a San Francisco Bay Area choreographer and teacher. It is an honor to have Katie write the first artist profile for the blog.
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
Current city: Oakland, CA
College and degree: Hampshire College, Theater & Playwrighting
Graduate school and degree: Mills College, MFA in Dance Performance & Choreography (grad school from age 25-27)
How you pay the bills: Teaching and choreographing
All of the dance hats you wear:
Teacher: administrator, advisor, mentor
Choreographer: administrator, grant writer, fundraiser, website design and maintenance, marketing, scheduling, press contact, company manager
Describe your first 5 years post-college: I didn’t study dance as an undergraduate. I chose, instead, to study Theater & Playwrighting, a path I fell into accidentally after being utterly floored and inspired by a playwrighting teacher. After school, I fumbled around for several years enlivened by my theater training but with no real desire to fashion a career as a playwright. I worked in several service industry jobs and non-profit organizations in entry-level positions. I moved back home to NC to raise money and regroup and wound up taking classes back at my home studio. It was there that I rediscovered my love and hunger for dance and the particular community it provides. Soon thereafter, I decided to apply to Mills College in Oakland, CA for graduate school to study dance more rigorously. I entered graduate school 3 years after finishing my BA to pursue a two year Performance & Choreography MFA.
Describe the first 10 years post-college: Soon after receiving my MFA from Mills I got my first teaching job as a modern teacher and choreographer for a ballet school called Marin Ballet in San Rafael. I supplemented this work for some time by working as a server and hostess at a restaurant. I also did small dance projects of my own and with friends. About a year later, I auditioned and was hired to be a dancer with AXIS Dance Company, a nationally touring repertory company that integrates dancers with and without physical disabilities. This was a very inspiring time that enabled me to work with and observe the working processes of several incredible choreographers commissioned by the company. As I had aspirations of becoming a choreographer myself, this was a very eye-opening experience. While working with AXIS, I continued to teach at the Marin Ballet and was able to pick up more teaching work at Santa Clara University for a quarter and at small local studios. I spent my days driving from taking class to teaching class to rehearsing to teaching and back. I did this for almost four years until I decided to start a company of my own, which I did in 2006. I call it, little seismic dance company.
Describe your dancing life in your 30s: I stopped dancing for AXIS when I was 31 as I had begun to feel an increasingly strong pull to dedicate more of my time and focus to my own choreography. I had begun to support myself almost completely by a number of teaching jobs by then though I lived very simply and in a tiny one-room apartment. My company performed their debut season at CounterPULSE, a small but wonderful San Francisco venue, in the summer of 2006. Since then I have choreographed consistently on my own company as well as on other companies and numerous student groups at local colleges, universities, and pre-professional dance training programs. I have chosen to perform less myself as the demands of teaching and choreographing (and my decision to make them a priority) have made it difficult to maintain a training regimen of my own that would keep me injury free and performance-ready.
Major influences: My first dance teachers Lemma & Glenda Mackie, who sought to train the whole person and saw the creative potential in everyone, especially those of us who were very young. Because of them my training from the beginning integrated improvisation and choreography; an experience I never knew to be so rare for young dancers until I left and went to college. From the age of four I had been asked to think creatively, to problem solve, and to contribute to process. Ongoing practice in these areas forever shaped the way I think of myself as a choreographer and as an educator.
On teaching: I find deep satisfaction these days in the creative process of generating movement material, images, and ideas for choreographic work and for teaching. To do either of these things well, I find that I am in constant dialogue between the outer, shifting world of performance, (with its evolving technical and aesthetic values and cultural commentary), and my own internal world – my evolving artistic concerns and the actual nuts and bolts of my own anatomy. My aging and growth require deeper and often different physical and expressive possibilities. Bringing this reality into the classroom asks me to think about movement (whether choreographically or technically) in a way that is both rigorous and flexible. I don’t profess to know how to do all of it well. I only hope I can model a practice of curiosity and change that encourages my students to find ways of training that nourish and challenge them.
Current curiosities: How will I go about making the next dance? What is “a dance” anyway? Who best to make the work with? How do I balance simultaneous interests in theatricality, movement invention, improvisation, music, physicality, simple imagery, media, and humor? How do I structure a technique class in a university setting that is relevant year after year? How do I preserve my own body? How can I get my work or myself out of the Bay Area? How do I have a life outside of dance so that I have a life to make dances about? How can I pursue professional development and pay my rent at the same time?
Setbacks: There will be setbacks. This is true for any profession or pursuit. In dance we are working with our bodies, which are breakable, bruise-able, and sprain-able. We are met with financial constraints, scheduling constraints, and the divide between our resources and our ambitions. These realities inevitably make us feel set back, periodically. Though not without the requisite hand-wringing and occasional despair, I try to approach these roadblocks as opportunities for problem solving, invention, or deeper information. For me, ongoing injuries and physical difficulties have forced me to learn much more about my body and how to use it safely. For others, the inability to afford a theater rental might prompt them to create site-specific work in a public space or in their homes, for example. Cast in the right light, setbacks can be full of transformative potential, but it takes a lot of work and perseverance to approach it that way. Surround yourself with people who are making sustainable and nourishing choices so you can better support each other when the going (inevitably) gets tough.
% of time each week you spend on your company/choreographing: It depends on the project and the funding. It can be anywhere from 2 hrs/week to 9 hrs/week.
What you look for in a dancer: Someone who is smart, skilled, inquisitive, open, brave, mature, and a collaborator/team player at heart.
Advice to young dancers: Remain open, nurture your relationships, and take care of your bodies.
Advice to aspiring choreographers: Make a lot of work, go see a lot of work, surround yourself with other people who are making a lot of work, find peers whose insights you trust and have them talk to you about your work, be suspicious of mentors or teachers who lead you to believe that any one methodology is the right one, and know that everyone is at least a little bit scared. Bravery is not about not being afraid, it’s about being scared as hell and doing it anyway.
Books, websites, blogs, shows that serve as inspiration: A short list of things I’ve been reading and marveling at in the last month:
Art & Fear – David Bayles & Ted Orland (rereading for the umpteenth time)
Hiking the Horizontal – Liz Lerman
Art Without Compromise – Wendy Richmond
TED – lecture series
Oblique Strategies – Brian Eno & Peter Schmidt
Future career goals: Keep going, try new things, be braver.
If you have further questions for Katie Faulkner, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Tuesday, a "postscript" will follow this artist profile, with discussion questions for college classes, related to today's content.