Director Marries Worldly Influences With Performance and Animation

Kathy Rose combines her training in Japanese, African, and flamenco dancing in "Cubistimenco." Walter Geiger, the musician responsible for the music in this piece, marries the film’s Japanese influenced dancing with his Arab-infused Flamenco guitar technique. Rose mixes her own body movements with heads of other people, forming a piece that is brought together by disjunction. 

Read and interview with Kathy Rose below:

You describe "Cubistimenco" as a dance with stylized personae. How would you describe your own stylized personae?

The figures in this piece, and in many other of my recent videos are constructed using different heads (sometimes my own), but always my own body in movement. I feel that this creates a surreality akin to puppetry. I always look for faces I consider to be unusual – not the “norm”. This whole process allows me to perform, in another way, in a video format.

Still from "Cubistimenco"

Did you find that the Kathy Rose who made the 2014 "Cubistimenco" had changed at all from the Kathy Rose who made the 1993 "Cubistimenco?"

There is an enormous change from the earlier and later pieces. I was training in African dance in the 80's, for about 6-7 years. Then I began to work with flamenco, and incorporated it into my live performance, often with a Japanese edge to it. That was when I came up with the name Kabukimenco – used for another piece, and for my email, and my company at the time.

I wished to re-construct or bend the Spanish form, into another genre. The music in "Cubistimenco," by Walter Gieger, was built on his own flamenco guitar practice, with an added Arab flavor, which I wanted to be part of this. In the original dance, an excerpt of which is on my website's performance page – I actually begin in a black tube costume. This reinforces the middle eastern flavor. The entire piece at that point was live choreography, designed with an eye to the visual, incorporating movement and costume.

Still from "Cubistimenco"

Later, in 2014 when I re-discovered the piece on a video document I had archived, I was stunned at the wonderful music, and wished to work with it, but with the video vocabulary I had been developing since 1999. I had done a number of video works, which really honed my language, and tightened my technique in the genre. So by then, "Cubistimenco" became an entirely different work. Live performance has a different type of timing, and expectation of the viewer. With video, it is less about the audience's feeling of suspense in the presence of the performer, and requires a very fluid, quicker series of events.

Your first pieces were originally straight animation. What brought you to immerse yourself into your work as a performer?

The last animation I did, as a work by itself, was Pencil Booklings, where I appeared with my “characters” in rotoscoped format. It seemed that I had gone as far as I could on that path, and the next step was to perform live, which was actually a return to what I had been doing concurrently with majoring in film as a college student. I had been studying and performing with students of Mary Wigman, also took a workshop at one point with Alwin Nikolais, who was also a follower of her work.

Then in 1981, I had finished Pencil Booklings, and wasn't sure what I would do. I became enamoured with the idea of going back into performance, but hadn't thought of combining it with film. At that point I received an NEA grant to do an animated film, and decided to create it as an animation with which I would perform. From then on I was pretty much ensconced in performance, which I still do today, and also teach performance. My most recent piece is "Opera of the Interior."

Still from "Cubistimenco"

How does a video compare to a live performance?

It took me a while to find that a video does not have the same time structure as live performance. The audience for a live piece is in a state of suspension, and is in more of a waiting mode. They are in the space, cannot really leave, and therefore there is more length in the work, not only involved, but expected.

But in video, we are usually free to leave, viewing online for example, we often scroll and jump to later points in the work, etc. You have to capture the viewer immediately and keep them. It was when I was working with Aftereffects, that I accidentally found myself creating shorter scenes (“compositions” in that program). I didn't realize I could lengthen them in the settings, and so found myself creating short scenes. Even after I found the settings correction, I continue to work with with briefer segments within a piece.

In addition, it is really difficult to videotape a live performance. They are two entirely different mediums, and you have to work in the medium itself. Therefore if you are videotaping a performance, some pieces do not document well. I find cheating helps. When I document my own work, which I do often, I usually favor the long shot so the context can be seen, creating closeups from those shots to vary the portrayal.

Your films have had quite strong influences, from flamenco, symbolist art, and Noh theater to Anna May Wong. What is influencing you right now?  

I continue to be influenced by Japanese art and performance – that is life-long. But I am also responsive to the flavor of the music – for example with "Cubano Bas," which was written by my partner Greg Boyer, I instinctively moved towards somewhat more retro figures. I plan to work with more flamenco rhythms in another piece, and that will influence the imagery.

Still from "Cubistimenco"

You’ve described the first iteration of "Cubistimenco" as “a lot like driving a race car.” Have you recently driven any other race cars?

The actual performance of "Cubistimenco" involved a lot of quick, unexpected turns, movements, etc. It relied completely on the body's own memory, which is very effective for absorbing choreography, and allowing one to perform in a more natural state. There was no thinking involved at all, there was no time. In current live performance, I like to have space and time to explore the piece. My favorite is in "Opera of the Interior," where I wear a mask on the back of my head. I am seeing and reading the imagery, which is mostly in front of me when I face the rear, and performing to it much like a score, with the privacy of the mask.

But in the video medium I find – especially where there is very compelling music, such as in "She," there is also a race car feeling, and I am racing to keep up with the audio in a whole other way, which is equally challenging. The most interesting experience for me was working on my segment of “Rite of Spring”, which was created for the Videodance Festival of Bourgogne, France – who were creating a collage of different video artists treatments of this piece. I found myself working with imagery in a way very much like automatic writing, suddenly finding I had created a folk dance of figures, because the music was so very powerful.

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