against the patriarch: A Feminist Approach to Creating Live Performance

by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Co-Director anonymous bodies || art collective

“While I am not making overtly “political,” work, my work certainly has a politic—one that values diversity, community, and transcendence--of idea, experience, and practice.”
- Kate Watson Wallace

In the summer of 2011 while having lunch, Kate Watson-Wallace and I decided to become creative partners and join forces as Co-Directors of anonymous bodies || art collective.  It made sense considering our history of working together on multiple projects and sharing many of the same board members.  As a result, we delved head-first into a performance dialogue that has become the crux of every project that we have created since our union. Quite openly we discuss issues of race and politics, history and sexuality, privilege and anti-privilege. We may spend an entire rehearsal discussing the ways of the world or trends we see in performance. These conversation are just as crucial to our creative process as the movement because the dialogue is what sparks and inspires the creation of new physical ideas.

We test out new ideas on each other’s body - sometimes with resistance and sometimes completely open.  We cry together. We laugh. We make videos and take instagram photos. We play.

Kate was one of the first artists I met upon relocating to Philadelphia. As a dancer, I have performed in all of her pieces, I know the work quite intimately. Kate’s practice as a performance maker, visual artist, and activist is based in a feminist ideology that believes women are complex, powerful human beings who each create their OWN version of what makes them powerful and relevant in society. Most known for her site-based work AMERICAN SPACES (a trilogy which included the intimate works HOUSE, CAR, and STORE), Kate pushes her performances against the traditional art factory approach most “successful” dance artists must take to create a living for themselves.  No matter the financial risk, early on she made the decision to follow her own trajectory and create work on her own terms.

As a means to counteract the traditional choreographer vs dancer relationship that many dance companies use, Kate’s process is highly collaborative or anti-hierarchical.  She fashions a rehearsal environment that aims to make the creative process an equal playing field. All voices are valued.  Many discussions occur in order to reach a collective consciousness and investment in the motivation for the work.

The recipient of nearly every Philadelphia-based award an artist can receive, Kate chose to make an immediate departure from academia early in her career to begin dancing and creating performance professional as early as 20 years old. She toured internationally with Group Motion, Headlong, and Myra Bazell. Today, nearly 15 years later, if you look closely at her movement inventions and improvisational structures, you may spot remnants of a Myra Bazell-inspired drop to the floor or a Group-Motion-esque spiral leap.

For Mash Up Body, Kate has refocused her version to the proscenium stage. Using an all female and gender-queer cast, she aims to delve into a deeper discourse concerning her  version of a feminist practice in rehearsal. She is not particularly interested in what some may consider a patriarchal form of making dance, where the choreographer teaches the dancers their movement, forcing the dancers to aim for an unrealistic goal of attaining a perfection that can actually only exist inside the body of the choreographer.

I value a process where my job as the director is to provide a space where performers can fully be themselves. I consider being an artist, period, an act of social change, especially a female artist. In a culture that over values commercial experience—and one that emphasizes product, creating experimental, site-based work, in a variety of communities is needed. My process is an act of social change, certainly. It pushes back against the normative, patriarchal structure of one director making movement asking everybody to look like him. I cast my work diversely—in gender, race, background—to create a space where difficult conversations can happen.

Kate and I, as anonymous bodies || art collective think heavily about the role of the audience in our work. Because we work with so many different kind of bodies, as a result we hope this kind of casting will attract a range of audiences and force them into the room together to converse with the art, the performers and each other. It is our collective goal to create the world we want to see, a space where people can be the freaks they want to be—in whatever form that takes, and be supported. We create non-linear worlds that don’t always follow the rules, trends, or choreographic systems found in most of the Western performance canon.  We invite you to take a seat, buckle your seatbelts, and enjoy the ride!