NEW VIEW: Karl Cronin

By Karl Cronin

November 1, 2014, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Karl Cronin sits by a tree, his eyes are closed, a cello sits across his lap.
Karl Cronin / Photo by Carl Tashian

What’s your gig(s)?
I am the Managing Director of AXIS Dance Company and a cellist performing original music with string quartets and

What brought you to the Bay Area?
My partner Carl Tashian came out to San Francisco in 2010 to build things for the sharing economy, and I followed him. I was making dances in New York City, and had a hunch the move to SF would harbor a creative burgeoning. Immediately after the move, my art life imploded. Instead of being faithful to my studio dance practice, all I wanted to do was study the morphology and movement signatures of plants and animals. I questioned the culture function and purpose of dance. I began translating all my movement research into scores for string quartet. I finally resurfaced, about two years later, with a body of work for solo cello and string quartet. That’s when I realized what had happened. I had morphed into a dancer who shares movement research as music instead of with his body. I am still blurry about how it all happened, but I’m rolling with it. Creative unfolding is a process.

Where were you born?
Bedford, England

The Bay Area is… part of the Hetch Hetchy watershed and home to hundreds of native species and thousands that pass through to chillax in our estuaries.

What’s your neighborhood?
I live in the lower Mission (SF), close to the Brava Theater, in a rent-stabilized fl at, which means I can never move. I spend most of my days at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland or serenading the trees in my garden.

What’s your secret spot in town?
Land’s End. A couple of times a year I march on down to the water at sunset. If you sit in the right spot, you can’t see any sign of civilization whatsoever. I’m reluctant to use the ubiquitous San Francisco “m”-superlative, but I will say it is quite enchanting.

What event(s) will we find you at this Fall?
AXIS Dance Company’s Dance Access Day – November 13 and 14. For more information: works for solo cello and string quartet by Karl Cronin at the Women’s Building on December 5 (FREE performance – RSVP at

What’s your favorite Bay Area institution?
AXIS Dance Company! After that I have found consistent inspiration from Michelle Tea’s Radar Series, Kitka, New Century Chamber Orchestra, the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival and anything Magik Magik Orchestra does. Oh, and Philip Huang. His bedroom (and its role in birthing the Home Theater Festival) is one of my favorite Bay Area institutions.

First dance memory?
It was a work by Ulysses Dove. I was sitting in the dance studio in my high school in Wichita Falls, Texas. Our dance teacher had brought in some tapes for us to watch. I was glued to the screen. I had never seen contemporary dance, and was incredibly moved by the kinetic velocity and precision of the dancers. It sealed my commitment to dance. I was also reminiscing today with Judith Smith at AXIS about the first time I saw Bill T. Jones’ Still Here. It was screening at the Boston ICA, and I remember going back four times and dragging a different friend with me each time. That work showed me what dance theater could be.

Favorite dance move/term/style?
I’ve become quite enamored with physically integrated dance, and its potential to dislodge habitual appraisals of virtuosity in favor of kinetic possibility. My favorite dance terms are sounds we make in the studio when we are trying to convey vectors, rhythm and intent with other dancers – “dun chika chika,” “fwwooooosshhh.”

Dance idol?
Katherine Dunham, Emio Greco, Pina Baush, Deborah Hay, Kazuo Ohno, Daniel Leveille and Martin Pisani.

Guilty dance pleasure?
Dancing slow at a dance jam when everyone is dancing fast.

Inspiring people?
In 2007, choreographer Deborah Hay taught me how to use my body as an instrument of inquiry. I signed a contract to rehearse her work daily just before embarking on a two-month road trip. I danced her score on riverbanks and open fields in national parks across America, and had a creative awakening. I discovered that my body could harvest information of life beyond my human-centric experience. I struggled to find a platform to share what I had experienced, eventually arriving at a blend of storytelling and concert music, returning to my primary instrument, the cello, to share my story. Music has become the best approximation I can make to how it feels to dance with aspens, moss and sand hill cranes. I am deeply compelled by the vast and unfathomable beauty of nature, and am dedicated to sharing its wonders with others.

Current artistic obsession?
Writing tone poems for cello and string quartet. I’m also getting a kick out of studying the line drawings of Henri Matisse. His lines are so clear. He’s refining my understanding of gesture.

Money’s no object, what’s the next place you might travel?
I’ve never been to the French summer festivals (Montpellier Danse, Festival d’Avignon), and I’m saving up my pennies to go next Summer. Anyone want to join me?

What’s heaven to you?
Radical generosity, collaborative sharing of resources, concerts and salons where we offer our greatest discoveries for the benefit of others, and a long nap.

What’s hell to you?
A place where we hold our cards close to our chest.

This article appeared in the November 2014 issue of In Dance.

Karl Cronin is a cellist, composer and arts manager. He performs original works for solo cello and string quartet inspired by movement research he conducts in nature, and is the Managing Director of AXIS Dance Company. He has shared his work in concert halls and theaters throughout the country, including the DeYoung Museum (CA), Mill Valley Public Library (CA), ODC Theater (CA), Boston Institute of Contemporary Art (MA), Movement Research @ Judson Church (NYC), Dancespace (NYC) and the Santa Fe Art Institute (NM). As an arts manager, he has served as the General Manager of The Equus Projects, Artistic Director of the Americana Orchestra, Managing Director of Misnomer Dance Theater, and the Program Coordinator of the National Dance Project. He mentors dance artists through Pentacle’s Help Desk program, and is a 2014 participant in DanceUSA’s Dance Institute for Leadership Training.