(Photo by Robbie Sweeny. ID: Photo taken from a low vantage point which shows Kathleen Hermesdorf and gizeh performing “Reckoning” by FAKE Company at FRESH Festival 2019. Both are low to the ground with their reflections visible on the dark floor.)
A conversation between ainsley elizabeth tharp and gizeh muñiz vengel, current curators for KHFRESH 2023-2024 and eternal fans of Kathleen Hermesdorf.
This is an intimate, casual conversation that happened over Zoom between two best friends with deep reflections on their experience with FRESH FESTIVAL past, present, and future…
gizeh muñiz vengel: I remember hearing about Kathleen when I was a dance student in Mexico, back in 2017. When I first visited the Bay I tried to take her class because everyone was like, “You gotta take her class,” but she wasn’t around that summer. (boo:())
Luckily, I came back to the Bay a year later and met her. My first FRESH was 2018 and it literally changed my relationship to dance and performance, like life changing!
How about you? How did you first hear about FRESH?
ainsley elizabeth tharp: So, after college I was au pairing in Berlin circa 2017. A friend invited me to this FAKE Company show which was Kathleen’s company, it was at the ex-Australian embassy. At the time I remember thinking, “Huh, this sounds cool,” very punk rock, you know? So, I am at this show, and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before, like seriously my mind was fucking blown.
(BLOWN__ away, into little tiny pieces of WOWIE!!!! woah) I remember being like, who the eff is this person, what are they doing, and how can I do that? It was at this FAKE Company show I met the late great Kathleen Hermesdorf and she told me about FRESH and she said: “You should come!” And well… I did.
g: Yah! were we newbies at FRESH the same year!?! I think it was 2018.
a: Yes Yes! It was 2018… awhh little baby us<3
g: Aww yah, FRESH 2018 was my favorite so far, I think.
a: Same because I met you. (gizeh and ainsley staring longingly at each other through the Zoom screen). Do you have a favorite FRESH memory?
g: I think FRESH was this meeting point and Kathleen was for sure a friendship godmother. Honestly, I met my most dearest friends there.<3 There are so many good memories and moments that literally changed my life: Kathleen and Albert’s class, OMG EPIC, there will never be a class like that, ((EVER)) I’m dead serious, by far the most empowering class I’ve ever taken. Performing at FRESH was also such a great opportunity, memory, and milestone in my career. You know, Kathleen and Albert were some of the first people that expressed how much they believed in me as an artist. I truly think that if it wasn’t for them, my path would have been sooooooooo different! [Text Wrapping Break] Another memory was when I was working with Kathleen in an arts admin capacity, I loved going to her house and just chatting, hanging out, and getting to know each other. We had some intimate and vulnerable moments together. It’s the last FRESH with KK (Kathleen) that I will never forget.</3 How about you?
a: Well first, OH EMM GEE Kathleen’s dance class was a straight up party at 10am. Like she had this superpower of making you feel like you were the most perfect, beautiful amazing body at that exact moment, like nothing needed to change, you are showing up the way that you are showing up, and that is a gift to this earth. I feel like her other superpower was bringing community together. Reflecting on what you said, all of my closest, dearest forever babes come out of this experimental FRESH community and, honestly, that is the reason why I stayed in the Bay. All these people swirled me into their lives and I was woven into the fabric of sweet, sweet experimental dance community of the Bay Area. Kathleen’s class, Kathleen’s FRESH space became such a hub for that magic to happen.
One more memory..Last year I was rehearsing for a Solo by Sara Shelton Mann for FRESH 22. It was the first year FRESH was coming back after Kathleen’s death; everything had to be moved online because of Covid, like such a mess. Abby Crain, last year’s beautiful FRESH Director, came in to watch a draft of the piece. And when the piece was over Abby said with tears, “Oh my god, you dance so much like her.” And this was such a tender moment. Sara, Abby, and I cried cathartically and felt so deeply into the influence Kathleen has in each of us throughout different generations and periods in her life.
Awwhh my heart aches for that sweet tenderness.
g: What does FRESH mean to you?
a: I feel like FRESH for me hmmm…. FRESH for me is this container of innovation and failure, it is this thing that is like: ——>lets try something so incredibly new, exciting, and terrifying. Maybe this really is not going to work out, maybe we fail (and fail hard), but there’s this generous beautiful space that is holding us ever so softly when we fall.
FRESH for me really is this experiment around community and sustainability. I think what is so beautiful is that we find ourselves asking these questions: where do we want to go in the field (of experimental dance)((dance,dance,dance))? And how does what we do impact larger social spaces? And what are our practices around organizing, coming together, being held, and being heard? And, and, and… AND, that is creating, dismantling, reconstructing, trying again, and again, and again to build new spaces outside of late stage capitalism. That for me upholds this Festival as an agent of social change… whatever that means.
What about you bb?
g: FRESH is a portal of magic, it is gathering and collectivity. It is a joy, and celebration, it is a ceremony, a playground of opportunity, and revolution. Kathleen had a vision that I truly admire and I am inspired by constantly.
What are you looking forward to; where is FRESH heading now?
a: We are arriving into a space that is so complex. We are arriving as people that have shifted, changed, evolved, transformed, burnt to the ground, and have been born again. We are resurrecting a space that will never be the same after Covid, after pandemic, after Kathleen’s death, after BLM uprisings. We are working to honor Kathleen’s legacy and the ancestral dance lineage of the Bay Area. I look forward to learning as we continue to change and think outside of a box that has been so generously held wide open for us.
I am curious in the ways that we can continue to play with structure, how we can embody more inclusive multicultural anti-racist practices, how we can move towards equity, not only esthetically or what we write grants about, but like truly work towards upholding a space where everyone can receive what they need and thrive in that.
Kathleen’s legacy touches so many people in so many places around the world. And that is being reflected by who we are trying to bring into the space, who we are trying to create conversations with, and who is on this line-up.. (hush, hush coming soon)[Text Wrapping Break]
g: I think FRESH has become a really important part of the dance history in the Bay Area. Kathleen impacted so many people all over the world through her art, and FRESH is now her legacy. I’ve had the honor to participate in FRESH as a student, performer, organizer, curator and soon-to-be teacher. Although I am relatively new to FRESH, I’ve had the opportunity to see how it has grown and developed throughout the years. I think KHFRESH is now heading towards a more horizontally and collaborative organizational dynamic, with the aim of building more fair and sustainable working structures.<<< so important!![Text Wrapping Break] This is really exciting for me, because we can feel the spirit you were talking about, not only in the result, but in the process of creating it. I believe KHFRESH will belong from now on to the present and future dance communities. There are so many brilliant minds behind this year’s festival, people that have been part of FRESH history for a long time, and new people that bring that innovative spark to the mix. We are taking risks, we are dreaming, we are trying really hard and I am really excited for what is coming.[Text Wrapping Break]
ains, could you give us some insight and spill the tea of KHFRESH 2023!!!!
a: ooohhhh eeeeemmm gggggggeeee. I feel honored.
So, you heard it here first folx: There will be glitter, there will be birthday cake, there will be some super cute dance parties, an amazing line-up of teachers and innovative makers. KHFRESH FESTIVAL will be hosted here in San Francisco, one week in January, 2 weeks in March 2023.
((a two parter!!!)) January, we will open with Kathleen’s Birthday party fundraiser extravaganza–please come and donate! Cake, did I mention there will be cake!
We are conjuring up exchanges, experiments, a line-up that screams Kathleen Hermesdorf FRESH FESTIVAL!!!!!!! We have Abby Crain, Keith Hennessy, and you gizeh teaching classes in jan!
This line-up honors Kathleen’s curatorial vision and that is what January KHFRESH is really about.
Then, buckle up baby cakes, because we have March!
MARCH is going to be January’s H_O_T part 2 queer gen z sister?.?.?
So, the hot gossip is:
Basically, March is throwing everything out the window, taking out the trash, dusting those pesky cobwebs in the corner and being like: “Ok, who do we want to learn from? Who’s class gives us tingly somatic pop rocks?”
This March iteration will be a little saucier, a little more, “Hmmm let’s switch things up!” Maybe we invite people that have never been to KHFRESH before? Let’s have some conversations that are raw and biting. What if we train really effing hard and also do some fun wacky experimental performative out of the box, out of body, in-body playtime? (ainsley sighhhs…) I can’t wait.
g: yesss! Check out the website for more info about dates, schedule and all https://freshfestival.org/
this has been fun.. Ok last last question:
How has Kathleen and FRESH impacted your artistic career?
a: mmmm… I just want to take a deep breath of gratitude. I feel Kathleen so deeply in my bones. I feel so grateful that I got to train with her for so long and perform with her in different capacities. I celebrate being a part of this legacy in so many ways. I feel her influence in the performance that I make, the class that I teach, and the space that I hold. Even the space that you and I are starting to create: an experimental class series outside of institutional barriers, a space without a pay wall, a space with the intention of paying teachers well, that all feels like a part of Kathleen’s family tree.
g: I resonate with everything you said, Kathleen is a big dancestor for this generation. FRESH has been a door, a portal, a place where things are possible. Where new ideas come together. It has fed my inspiration and taught me that things can be different. That it is okay to be different. It helped me realize that art is more than what I thought it was. FRESH was a party and celebration of performance and dance. I keep those moments in my heart all the time, and I go back to those moments to remember who I am, who I was and why I do what I do now. Kathleen has influenced the way I work enormously. I will always admire how generous and how intentional she was in making this happen. She was a powerful human and her energy was unique on and off the stage.
a: I just want to reflect on what you said: “FRESH is a door, a portal, a place” I love it.
ainsley elizabeth tharp is a Bay Area (Ohlone land) based alchemist+artist+activist.
gizeh muñiz vengel is a Mexicana artist who is also based in Bay Area (Ohlone land).