Posed and Answered with Alex Ketley of The Foundry
Alex Ketley is an independent choreographer and the director of The Foundry in San Francisco. Performed in national and international competitions and festivals, Alex’s work is acclaimed and anticipated. Some awards include; the National Choo-San Goh Award, the inaugural Princess Grace Award for Choreography, the BNC National Choreographic Competition, three CHIME Fellowships, three Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography Residencies, the Gerbode-Hewlett Choreographer Commissioning Award, the National Eben Demarest Award, and various Isadora Duncan Awards. He is a lecturer at Stanford University’s Department of Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS), as well as the Resident Choreographer of the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. Alex also frequently works in dance film both as projection for stage and stand alone films.
What do you look for when hiring a dancer?
Heart and conflict. For me the dancers I am really attracted to have a deep heart to really wrestle within the form, and with their own conflicts as artists. Matthew Barney in his series “Drawing Restraint” talks about how the artistic enterprise is born from resistance, or needing to push against something. I appreciate dancers who are looking for this edge within themselves – or a deep personal inquiry into what is possible, for themselves and the form. I am also obsessed with rhythm. All the dancers I work with have an exquisite understanding of how to frame time, regardless of if they have music or not. How performers interpret time is directly related to how one achieves a sense of presence. The dancers I love dig in deeply, and understand how to manipulate a viewers understanding of time.
What are you sick of in the dance world?
Fearful prejudice and the sometimes lazy lack of curiosity. The dance world, and its diversity is so amazingly rich to me, that sometimes I am very bewildered by what I see as a pervasiveness towards encampment. That people really follow the type of dance that they enjoy, with slight forays into other things, but mostly want to hunker down in the aesthetic they feel safe in or understand. At its worst, this can come across as prejudice, with people staunchly feeling a particular form is of more value than others. In every facet of the dance world there is really interesting work and also uninteresting work. It is not genre specific. I have felt so influenced and moved by such a range of styles of work, and am constantly intrigued by how movement artists so differently approach live performance. More openness and inquisitiveness would help our form immensely, both in its continued growth as well as educating audiences that dance doesn’t have to be perceived through a particular lens.
What is your favorite part of each day?
Now it is really a mix of being in the studio, and outside of that spending time with my wife and daughter (who is only six months old). Becoming a father has been monumental to me, and Amara is really this incredible light in my life. I feel like all my inner workings have shifted and are now realigning to accommodate this new person. It’s a total love affair! Amara smiles when I wake her up in the morning, and I feel like my world is filled with love.
Did you choose to live in San Fransisco or did your work and life lead you to live there?
San Francisco is an amazing city, but I have loved it most because it is my personal staging ground for my endless fascination with the West. I love the West because it feels young and tumultuous in so many ways. It feels like a place that is still finding its sense of self, unlike places in the world who have had cultures in place for millennia. It is also so geographically diverse, and I love the vast desserts, lost mountains, rugged coasts, and through all that a sense of loneliness and wonder. When I moved from New York, I realized I thrived on a sense of spaciousness artistically. California has allowed me to be part of a vibrant artistic community and escape and get lost on my own.
When was the last time you saw a work of art and were left speechless, in any art medium?
Things that come to mind immediately; “12 Years A Slave“. I thought that film was masterful, and it felt like art. It felt courageous. I thought the movie was hard to watch, but I was impressed by how impacting it was. One of the great performances I saw was the Branford Marsalis Quartet playing Coltrane’s “The Love Supreme” in San Francisco. That performance was amazing, in that it made the room absolutely electric. They played so close to the edge of absolutely having the whole thing fall apart, that it ranks as one of the most (if not the) most exciting performance experiences I’ve ever had. Also seeing Pina Bausch’s Nelken live was incredible. For me, there are great choreographers, and then there is Pina, who sits in a place like Beethoven. So much complexity and weight, just beautiful. I also love Ralph Lemon‘s work, he’s kind of a hero to me.
What are other passions and interests in your life?
All my life I have solo backpacked. A couple years ago, when I turned 40, I solo hiked the full 230 mile long John Muir Trail. Being saturated by that exquisite nature, and also having the fear and quiet of being alone for almost two weeks, I felt like I just gained so much. So as much as my busy schedule will allow, I am excited about getting out on my own as much as possible. Those experiences feel foundational in me understanding myself. I’ve also been a rock climber for the past 22 years, and that feels like a meditation to me. I actually started in Central Park, while I was at SAB, and was instantly hooked with this thing that blended my obsession with movement with my love of nature. Age is starting to slow down that passion a bit, but I’ll keep up the good fight as long as my joints hold out!
Why not follow the above passions? Why dance?
Dancing to me is far more interesting. I think about dance constantly, and it is really what keeps me grounded.
When you have an idea for a project how much do you leave open ended for your dancers to shape and how much do you prepare prior to rehearsals.
My process is usually me spending two hours or so before working with dancers just listening to my obnoxious trap music and improvising. It’s a way for me to wonder about movement, but also a way for my to get my mind focused for rehearsal. It’s a ritual to drop down into what feels most core in me (my love of dancing!). As people who work with me know, I teach movement really quickly. I do this because I want information to get lost as it moves from me to them, because I want dancers to artistically find how the information makes sense to them. I don’t want dancers to dance like me, I am curious how they inhabit movement and make it their own. In my favorite processes, the dancers and I are answering questions, and together wander into the reeds and swamps of not understanding things, and making discoveries together. The dancers I work with are the key for me, and I think they are brilliant. I tried to make a solo on myself once (in 15 years) and hated the experience. To me the best artwork comes from an intimate conversation with other artists.
Where do you and how do you find new music?
In rehearsal I stream Pandora. If something good floats by, I try and quietly bookmark it. I also sometimes go searching through iTunes, just following threads of things that seem like they might work for a project. Since I’ve worked a lot with video, I also feel pretty comfortable collaging music for new works. Mashing things together to achieve different environments. Also like working with composers, most namely Les Stuck, who I appreciate both for his music and as a fascinating collaborator. He has a great eye, and a vast knowledge of many different art disciplines.
What is the most intriguing part of the world, or a place your dying to visit?
What keeps popping into my head is Rome. I’ve choreographed and taught a couple times from invitations from Mauro Astolfi, and I’ve really loved my time there. It’s always been quick, so I’d love to explore the city more. And now, more than ever, I look forward to taking my daughter, so she can soak in the history the way I do!