An Interview with Choreographer Kate Wallich

Written by Anne Lawrence and Kate Wallich

(Kate Wallich and dancers. Photo by Tim Summers)
Kate Wallich is only 22 years old but is arguably Seattle’s most acclaimed emerging choreographer. In June, two different curators for the Seattle International Dance Festival independently selected her work for inclusion in the festival, an honor accorded no other choreographer. Reviewing Wallich’s in-progress showing of Room with Themes at Velocity Dance Center in September, dance critic Michael Upchurch wrote that “Wallich’s work—both her choreography and the performances she’s conjured out of her collaborators—feels like something big coming over the dance horizon.”
Wallich is presenting the completed Room with Themes in an independently produced dance concert at Velocity Dance Center on November 18–19, in collaboration with fellow choreographer Allie Hankins (tickets at Brown Paper Tickets). SeattleDances contributor Anne Lawrence recently talked with Wallich about her background, her choreographic process, and the challenges of making work as an independent emerging choreographer.
(Kate Wallich and dancers. Photo by Tim Summers)

AL: Tell us about Room With Themes: the impetus to the work, the process you are using, and how the piece is progressing.

KW: The work is a commentary on relationships that we reside inside of: personal, social, psychoanalytical, governmental, etc. It comments on the dynamics of these relationships through raw emotional play, precise execution of movement, and energetic pulls in space. The work also explores the space between two points: for example, the point where you are about to forfeit, exploring the moment where a decision has to be made; the place where contemplation could go on for hours, but action takes place in an instant. 
The process for this piece has been very informative to my growth as an artist and has given me deeper insight into my process and the work that I am creating. This work started in an image-based, social relevance sort of place. Throughout the past few months, more and more I have been realizing how personal the work has become. I am seeing how often the work changes, because I am changing, day-in and day-out.
AL: This summer, two of your works, A Wood Frame and –frequency (pronounced “negative frequency”), were independently chosen for the Seattle International Dance Festival—a huge honor for a young choreographer. A Wood Frame, selected by curator Erin Doughton, had been shown at the Boost Dance Festival in March, where it had been enthusiastically received. But –frequency, selected by co-curators Tim Lynch and Julie Tobiason, was your BFA graduation piece at Cornish. How did they know about –frequency?
KW: Honestly, I’m not really sure they did know about –frequency. I do know that they wanted me to be in their program. I received a phone call asking if I had another work that could be shown or if I would be willing to make another work. Since my BFA performance, I had wanted to re-set –frequency, and it seemed like this was the perfect opportunity to do so. The piece changed quite a bit, but definitely still stayed true to the original work. 
(Dancer and choreographer Kate Wallich.
Photo by Tim Summers)

AL: You have studied classical ballet intensively throughout your life. Do the aesthetic and technical values of classical ballet still inform your work, and if so, how?

KW: Ballet has been a huge part of my life. I attended Interlochen Arts Academy when I was 15 to study and train in the form. At Cornish, I studied under Pat Hon, Lodi McClellan, Steve Casteel, and Timothy Lynch, all amazing ballet teachers. I love the lines, the articulation of the feet, the challenge, but also the freedom in the technique. Although my work has been influenced from beyond ballet, I think there are certain ballet aesthetic values that clearly show up in the work. Choreographers in the community with whom I have trained (Zoe Scofield, KT Niehoff, Tonya Lockyer) have also had major influences on my work. I think that my history is seen in my work, and I am proud of that. 
AL: Two of the dancers in Room with Themes, Lavinia Vago and Matt Drews, are former or current Cornish students who danced in A Wood Frame. Lavinia also danced in the original version of –frequency. Why do you like working with these dancers, and what qualities do they bring to your work?
KW: Lavinia is a huge part of creating work for me. Since I started making work, she has been right next to me the entire time; we push each other physically and intellectually. As a dancer and concept designer, she is always shaping and informing the work, asking me questions and making suggestions while inspiring me through her brilliant artistry. Matt Drews has a rawness to his movement that we both love; he is invested in the process and is a giant receptor to all movement and feedback.
AL: The other two dancers in Room with Themes, Allison Jacks and Erica Badgely, have not performed in your work previously, as far as I’m aware. How did you come to know them, and why have you chosen to work with them?
KW: Allison and I met while at Cornish and we have performed together in the past, plus she performed in a piece of mine called Ahi Ahi at 12 Minutes Max last year. She has a fierceness to her; she is a mover who won’t stop until she gets it right. She has been exposed to many different dance scenes and she brings something new and important to rehearsals. Erica and I met at Molly’s Café, where we were both working at the time. We found out that we were both dancers and had the same mentor, Tonya Lockyer. Erica is brilliant, a former Lines Ballet student and UW graduate with refined technique and the sensibility to be wild. Working with them both has been such a pleasure.
AL: One of the challenges of mounting Room with Themes is that Lavinia Vago now resides in New York City and Allison Jacks in Las Vegas. How do you plan to overcome this challenge?
(Lavinia Vago and Kate Wallich after rehearsals in New York)
KW: This has added a whole other layer on top of the work and its dynamics. Choreographing while only X number of dancers are in rehearsal has been tough. In some ways, the piece has been shaped by who is in the room, but I have tried to stay true to the way I envisioned the piece. I spent 10 days in New York rehearsing with Lavinia and Allison. Being in New York was great, but it made me so thankful for the space and time that is available in Seattle to create and explore. Lavinia and I have also been having phone rehearsals, if you will; we call them our business conference calls. And thank God for Vimeo!
AL: Lena Simon is creating the music for Room with Themes; she also created the music for the central, unison section of A Wood Frame. Tell us about Lena, how you came to work with her, and what you like about her music.
KW: Lena and I started working together about a year and a half ago. She is a multi-instrumentalist who plays in three bands in Seattle (Pollens, Tomten, and Annabel Lee). We became friends, she expressed an interest in dance, and we started to go to performances at On the Boards, PNB, and Velocity together. At the time, I was beginning the process of making A Wood Frame, and I asked her to write the score for the piece. We have formed an approach to creating music together—she is present for much of the rehearsal process, shaping the music as the piece progresses. The movement and score are interconnected, and I believe that this adds to the wholeness of the work. They cannot be separated; they were created hand-in-hand.
AL: As an emerging independent choreographer, what are the biggest challenges you experience in creating work and presenting it to an audience?
KW: I am young and striving to present high caliber work with dancers who can invest their time both mentally and physically, yet I am still struggling with paying my own student loans and rent. This is normal in our field, but I am very thankful to have mentors in the community, organizations like Velocity to call home, and a beautiful studio space at RED in which to create. The dance community is small but very encouraging. Funding is always a challenge, and I’m learning how other choreographers find their way to sustainability. As I am building a donor and support base, I am taking the steps to nourish my career: teaching, presenting, and hustling jobs on the side. I am realizing how hard this career path is, but also accepting how fulfilled I feel as a dancer and person inside of it all. 
AL: If SeattleDances readers would like to learn more about your choreography, where can they see videos of your work on-line?
KW: My website is wallich.tumblr.com; and on Vimeo, search under “Kate Wallich.”