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

By Kathleen Hermesdorf

January 1, 2019, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

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. 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…….

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.

This article appeared in the January/February 2019 edition of In Dance.

Kathleen Hermesdorf is an international dance artist, educator and producer based in San Francisco. She is the director ALTERNATIVA, with musician Albert Mathias, and teaches, creates and performs around the world. She was a member of Bebe Miller Company, Contraband and Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. Hermesdorf is the co-director of PORCH Training Program at Ponderosa in Stolzenhagen, Germany.