What does it take to make a wave on the vast sea that is New York City’s dance scene? Some might suggest well-honed talent, a grand dream, friends in high places, or just plain luck. For emerging contemporary choreographer Kate Ladenheim, the answer is much more empowering: “I have the tenacity of a pitbull. If there’s a fence, I will bust through the fence to try to get to the other side.”
Ladenheim has certainly faced a fair number of fences since she made her way south to the big city from her hometown of Syracuse in 2011. True to her self-description, Ladenheim had barely settled into her new habitat when she began to create, rehearse, and apply to present her work at various festivals and venues throughout the Northeast. By January of 2012, she had formed her own project-based company, The People Movers, and secured a spot on the program for the REVERBdance Festival/APAP 2012.
“I try to get myself presented as much as possible. I send out applications, I see a lot of shows… The people that I admire — I see where they present and I try to get there. I fail a lot more than I succeed. I probably get into two out of every ten festivals I apply for, but each one teaches me something.”
Perhaps one of the most significant lessons she has learned since launching her professional career is to be prepared for unexpected opportunities. On December 8th and 9th at 7 pm, Ladenheim and several of her regular dancers will present an excerpt from Hackpolitik, a piece commissioned by The Juventas New Music Ensemble and composer Peter Van Zandt Lane, at Boston’s Museum of Modern Renaissance and Center Makor. Though extremely flattered to have been approached about the project — an honor unusually bestowed upon a 23 year-old choreographer — Ladenheim was a bit wary of the subject matter. The project centers on Anonymous, a group of young computer hackers who commit every kind of crime from minor mischief to large-scale political acts.
“When I was asked to do this,” Ladenheim recalls, “I said, ‘You want me to choreograph something based on people who never move, who spend twelve hours a day in front of a computer? What am I going to do with this?’ But thematically, there’s some really gooey stuff.”
Drawing from Parmy Olson’s non-fiction book We Are Anonymous, Ladenheim tackles subjects such as gender identity and political injustice on an international scale. In spite of her initial trepidation, the young dance-maker relishes the opportunity to delve deeply into a world entirely foreign to most, yet brimming with extraordinary intelligence, emotion, energy — with stories that are begging to be told.
“These are 16 year-old girls revealing CIA secrets with the click of a mouse,” she explains. “The person who took out the Tunisian government’s website is a 26 year-old high school dropout who has a history of criminal misdemeanors, has two kids, and lives in the projects on the Lower East Side. He’s a nobody, but he can be this other person online.”
Similarly, Ladenheim seems to discover a new version of herself, a new interest, a new desire with each new piece she brings to life. Choreographically prolific as she is, she has little interest in what she calls the “recycling” of work — her own or anyone else’s. Ladenheim recognized her desire to generate rather than to recreate during her time in the undergraduate dance program at Boston Conservatory. “Ultimately, I want to create more than I want to do,” she says. “I’m much more interested in performing things that I’ve had a hand in creating.”
As to her own forward-looking artistic philosophy, Ladenheim feels strongly that her work is very personal and very much of the moment. Thus, rarely will she consider restaging a dance with new bodies. “My choreography really relies on the dancers I have for each individual project,” she explains. “When I choreograph, it’s a collaborative process; my dancers really have their hands, and feet, and brains involved in what they’re doing — it’s theirs as much as mine.”
This intimate style of creation comes across with resounding clarity in her other current project, Pillars of Salt, a video clip of which I recently viewed. The poignant duet evolved from an amalgamation of two ancient tales: the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the biblical story of Lot and his wife. Ladenheim’s partner for the piece, fellow Boston Conservatory alumnus Andrew Trego, has served as a sort of muse for her over the history of their friendship, and their powerful creative connection is evident in their work together. The duo will perform an extended version of Pillars of Salt, which previewed earlier this year, at New York City’s Dixon Place on April 2nd, 2013.
In the meantime, Ladenheim continues to propel her company and herself ever further into the endless realm of artistic possibility she sees before her, all the while maintaining a steady, optimistic, admirable resolve: “I hear ‘no’ a lot. I hear ‘no’ and ‘that wasn’t good’ and all kinds of things. It used to really affect me and now I’ve just developed a thicker skin. This is something that I really want and no matter how many people tell me ‘no,’ I’m still going to want it and I’m still going to want to work for it.”
To see Ladenheim and The People Movers in Boston this weekend, visit http://www.juventasmusic.com/current-season/act3.