Author Archive | Kathleen Hermesdorf

SPEAK: RECKONING: A decade of FRESH Festival and 20 years of ALTERNATIVA

Reckoning with time.

There is something thrilling about a new year, a fresh start, the beginning of another cycle around the sun. There is also the reckoning it invites, to acknowledge the past and set things right or free to make space for change. As I prepare for FRESH Festival 2019, a celebration of a decade of FRESH and 20 years of ALTERNATIVA, my company with musician Albert Mathias, I’m noticing what of the past lingers, what has impact on this moment in time, and what reflects into the future. As I collect and connect the years leading up to these anniversaries, I see ripples in a body of water created by a stone thrown long ago, and find myself in a boat made of my own body, throwing more stones to make more ripples.

Two dancers on the ground with legs in the air.

Monique Jenkinson and Mica Sigourney / photo by Robbie Sweeny

The need to create. The need to connect.

I am an artist in the field, professionally nomadic, working outside of and in collaboration with more formal institutions. From this position of relative freedom, I want to create alternative situations and structures for dance to develop within, and to connect people and places, joining forces and generating situations for artists, including myself, to deepen our focus, expand our range and widen our exposure. One of the first events that Albert and I produced was OPEN FIELD, an improvisation swap/meet in which we brought together an idiosyncratic group of dance, music, spoken word and performance artists. FRESH Festival has become the fulfillment of those initial impulses to create and connect, to gather the brilliance of synergistic artists, to cultivate collaboration of mediums and communities, and to create contexts for experimental art.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

FRESH is an ARTLAB, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’ aspect of ALTERNATIVA that satisfies two of our main missions – the sharing of creative resources and the expansion of what art can be. The Festival became possible because of sublime timing, affordable spaces [co-sponsors Kunst-Stoff Arts from 2010-14 and Joe Goode Annex from 2015-19], and substantial community support. With this triangulation of time, space and effort, we have been able to construct an immersive arena for collective, diverse and inclusive energy and exchange. FRESH has changed shape and size over 10 years, expanding from a week of training and informal performances to 4 weekends of mainstage performances and 3+ weeks of Practices and Exchanges. This has only been possible because of the ongoing, invested energy of FRESH artists, participants, audiences, volunteers and funders.

FRESH 2019 extends our curatorial reach, mixing local artists with guest artists from Mexico and Europe. Co-curator José Navarrete has attracted Regina Evans and Nicia De’Lovely, Juan Manuel Aldape, Byb Kongo Bibene and a cast of 20 dancers, Antoine Hunter and Ayisha Knight-Shaw, and EastSide Arts Alliance, and will share new work by NAKA Dance Theater with Debby Kajiyama. Chrysa Parkinson, Amara Tabor-Smith and Sherwood Chen are back, along with Festival regulars Sara Shelton Mann, Abby Crain and Keith Hennessy. All of the participating artists are fantastic and the entire list is in the box on the right-hand side of this page.] We’re hosting a cohort of collaborators from Ponderosa, near Berlin, Germany, including FAKE Company, an eclectic group of international performance artists. I have been spending my summers at Ponderosa since 2000, collaborating with Stephanie Maher on projects and programming, and am overjoyed to bring so many folks from there to here. We’re also engaging in cultural exchange with artists from Mazatlán, Guadalajara and Mexico City, Mexico. By inviting our colleagues from beyond borders, and representing generational and aesthetic lineages from different regions of the Bay Area and wider world, we’re instigating an embodied, articulate exchange of cultural contexts, current considerations, and creative propositions.

One performer making a C with her arms with a multi-colored screen and a live DJ/percussionist in the background.

ALTERNATIVA Kathleen Hermesdorf Albert Mathias by Robbie Sweeny

Reckoning – facing the music, figuring the math.

The theme of FRESH Festival 2019 and the title of ALTERNATIVA’s 20th Anniversary piece is Reckoning. We are in the thick of it, facing the music and figuring the math. What is fake and what is fact? Who needs to talk and who needs to listen? Where is the balance, the justice? How are we accountable? In response, we gather close to 100 artists to share their art practices, processes and projects, as well as their perspectives on somatics and society, art and culture, the personal and the political, and individual and collective responsibility.

As FRESH goes into double digits, and ALTERNATIVA heads towards 25, possible futures unfold. Will we expand or contract? What must change? Who will join us as production partners, community allies and curatorial collaborators in the Festival? How can we create more exchange, equity and accessibility? Where will this new cycle around the sun take us? And the ripple effect of this rising tide? I invite you to celebrate with us and reckon with what is next.

The need to collect. The need to recollect.

I need a time machine. Reckoning 10/20 is an installation, event horizon, gathering space, community library and live archive that inhabits Space 124 in Project Artaud for the entire 24 days of FRESH 2019. Surrounding and permeating it, a collection of images and video shares the work of hundreds of artists who have participated in the company and the Festival. I might live there. Come visit me. I’ll tell you stories…….

A person standing on a chair on top of a table with their head in the ceiling. A stuffed animal (maybe a rabbit) hangs from the ceiling with it's head inside as well. A demonic mask rests on another chair near the table.

NAKA Dance Theatre / photo by: Debby Kajiyama


ALTERNATIVA, directed by dancer Kathleen Hermesdorf with musician Albert Mathias, is an apparatus for deeply integrated contemporary dance and music. Active in San Francisco since 2000, the organization supports the creative work of the directors alongside programming which includes an annual January FRESH Festival, classes and workshops in the Bay Area, and residencies and commissions at universities, festivals and studios worldwide. la-alternativa.us

SPEAK By Kathleen Hermesdorf

“This is the beginning of the future” I thought, as I awoke this past January 1. 2009 is the year of the Ox in the Chinese calendar, a year of hard work and fortitude. It has brought harder realities to us all and demanded us to realize and manifest what really matters. Now it is late August. I just spent two months in Europe after the economic crash and the pandemic. The world is discombobulated. Everyone is worried. I am worried, but I keep chewing on my thoughts of beginnings, futures, hard work and fortitude.

I believe that these are times that can change your life and dreams. The event horizon demands new tools and insights of more necessity and potency. Touchstones are disappearing, creating gaping holes in our systems of consistency, control and comfort. This transition and transformation is uncomfortable, ugly, hard and relentless, yet I’m convinced that it is crucial to not only survive, but find new ways to thrive. Passion contains suffering and faith contains fear. Go for it now if you have the means and imagination and adrenals. Now is a time for seriously creative thinking.

To dance is to investigate, synthesize and manifest the full range of the experience of being in a body—shaping physics, psychology, physiology, breathing architecture, ancient patterns and things that can be conveyed in no other way into expression and communication. To dance is to investigate, synthesize and manifest the full range of the experience of being a human being—shaping philosophy, practice, personal, public, political, professional and the ineffable into expression and communication. Dance demands a higher threshold for sensation and articulation of the human condition. To dance is to move and be moved.

Dance matters to me. It has shaped my body, my choices and my life. I, with my partner, musician Albert Mathias, am attempting to manifest future in the face of the void. We are in the process of shifting from a dance company, MOTIONLAB, to a production company, La ALTERNATIVA, expanding our mission to investigate, create and instigate work of deeply integrated sound and motion to include collaboration among mediums and cultures—locally, nationally and internationally—to bridge art forms and communities and bring the fruits of these connections home to San Francisco.

We are at work on four long-term collaborations with dance, music, video and light/visual artists from San Francisco, Mexico, Cuba, France and Germany, and are also introducing the Alternative Conservatory, a joint effort with Stephanie Maher in Europe and Sara Shelton Mann in San Francisco. The Alternative Conservatory is rooted in, serves, and conserves the fruits of the field by collecting and disseminating unique bodies of knowledge and bodies in motion that are shaping art in contemporary culture. It includes a training program based in practice, experience and interaction for professional-level engagement in physical techniques, improvisational forms, creative and performance endeavors, discourse, theory and critique. Modular and mobile, it offers immersion in a variety of cultures and communities, as well as direct access into the field.

I am, and La ALTERNATIVA is, in the process of deep internal and external change. I feel extremely challenged, but driven beyond the shadow of a doubt to realize dreams and shape the future. It is quite a time; I can barely breathe, but I know that this is a radical shift, a real beginning, and that it requires clarity and vision, hard work and fortitude, movers and shakers.

I am beginning to shake.

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