Katie Rose McLaughlin grew up in Minneapolis, MN and studied ballet under the direction of Bonnie Mathis. She then attended the Joffrey/New School BFA program on full scholarship before falling in love with contemporary dance, theater and going to clown school in Switzerland. As a performer she starred as Esmeralda in Redmoon Theater’s HUNCHBACK (New Victory Theater), with Tony-awarding winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune, as well as in Anna Marie Shogren’s post-post-modern exploration of death (Walker Arts Center/Southern Theater). In addition to her extensive work in both theater and musical theater, her own choreography has been presented by the Chocolate Factory, Catch, the Invisible Dog, Dixon Place, Little Theater, AUNTS, HERE Arts Center, Movement Research at Judson Church, Center for Performance Research, Dance New Amsterdam, Triskelion, 9×22 DanceLab, Links Hall, Red Eye Theater, newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the International Festival of Art & Ideas. She was an artist-in-residence as part of LMCC’s Process Space (2017), Kaatsbaan International Dance Center’s UpStream (2017), Barn Arts Collective (2015 & 2016), a 2013 LMCC’s SPARC program (2013), and a Chashama artist-in-residence (2012). She was recently associate choreographer to David Neumann on HADESTOWN at New York Theater Workshop & Citadel Theater directed by Rachel Chavkin. Katie Rose is the Artistic Director of Designated Movement Company. designatedmovement.org
We recently sat down with Katie Rose, to discuss her process and the ideas she brought with her to BDL. Read a transcript of that conversation below.
BDL: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you became interested in choreography?
KRM: Looking back on it, I think my interest in choreography came from my ballet teacher Bonnie Mathis. She was a principal dancer with ABT, but also danced with Paul Taylor, Netherlands Dance Theater, The Lar Lubovich Company, as well as performing with the Met Opera Ballet and in Hello Dolly on Broadway. She was always hiring interesting choreographers to come in and work with us – trying to get us all out of our bunhead mentalities. I was always the dancer who knew all the counts and picked up the steps quickly, and would always be looking at the whole picture that was being created, not just the steps.
I decided to move out of ballet and into modern dance because I wanted to have real relationships with audiences. Not many people have the ability to see ballet and when they do it doesn’t always make sense. I wanted to do something a little more pedestrian and “of the people.” That’s when I discovered Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer and Pina Bausch, and their work made me feel less alone in the universe. For the first time I was like, “someone else sees movement and bodies like I do!”
Around this time, I was also performing as an actor with Tony-award winning Theatre de la Jeune Lune, and studying Lecoq-style physical theater. It was from them that I learned how to truly tell a story with the body. After going to clown-school in Switzerland, I started to get asked to choreograph more and more (being the only actor in many productions who also knew how to dance). The rest is history!
BDL: What three words would you use to describe your choreographic style?
KRM: “Common-place virtuosity,” “inquisitive,” and “layered.”
BDL: You’ve described yourself as working in the world of “physical theatre” – how do you define that and what does it mean to you?
KRM: I come from the world of physical theater, though I don’t work in it as often now. Physical theater requires the body to become another tool in telling a story, so it’s not just the words or the songs that allow a character to tell their story but also the way they move across the stage, the way they sit, the way they fold their arms. I use these tools in all the movement work I do, from concert dance to musical theater to straight plays. I’ve always been fascinated by other people’s unconscious idiosyncrasies of movement – how they navigate through life. Using the tools I’ve collected from all the various training I’ve had allows me to help shape the physical world of the shows I work on. I feel like movement opens people’s hearts, whether they like it or not. I try to use movement as a way to connect with audiences – to draw them in.
BDL: What is your favorite part of the artistic process?
KRM: I could create movement all day every day and be a very happy lady. Being in a studio with a group of openminded dancers, taking risks, doing experiments – that’s pretty wonderful. I also love the editing process, when you have many pieces of material and start trying to fit them together, allowing the piece to dictate the order of everything, and the movement qualities that need to be tweaked to get a cohesive idea across. Also coaching – I love that step – once everything is together and you just talk to the dancers, getting them all to live in the same world and to try and tell the same story, That is always thrilling.
BDL: What have you been working on in the Lab? Did you bring any specific goals with you?
KRM: For BDL, I brought in my frequent collaborator Dan O’Neil, and we’ve been working on ideas for this new dance-musical called Oblivion Falls. It centers around the idea that Oblivion is a place – a physical landscape – that you can go to where you will forget everything. It is not a happy place. You forget all your sorrows, but you also forget all your joys. So people can choose to go, but they can rarely return. Our show centers around a woman who needs to go to Oblivion Falls to try to bring her mother back – something that’s never been done before.
My goal for the Lab was to do something I would never dream of doing on the job: walk into the studio without a single step written down on a piece of paper. It was completely terrifying, but also surprisingly liberating. Josh hired such incredible dancers who were open-minded and open-hearted. It was so fun to just be in the moment and explore.
We also brought in text, although we’re not going to use it in performance as of yet. There is a mother and a daughter, but everyone else in the text could be played by a person of any gender. This aligns with our recent company work within Designated Movement, in which we are exploring what it means to use the words “radical inclusivity,” both with regard to our collaborators background, age, identity, and race, but also looking forward to what that means for an audience. It’s a new way of saying what I used to say in a lot of grant applications – that I make work capable of being watched with “no dance vocabulary required.”
So in line with all of this, another major goal of mine was to attempt to break down some of the most prevalent gender stereotypes in dance – that men lift women and that is the way it is. The dancers worked so hard to master some pretty intense partnering and everyone got a chance to lift someone, and also to be lifted themselves. The dancers dedication to breaking down these barriers made my heart sing – watching a 6’4” man being pressed over the head of a 5’4” woman was pretty thrilling!
BDL: What has this week taught you?
KRM: Oh my goodness, I learned so much. First, I feel like I learned more about creating a safe space for dancers to fail, which was huge. I expected them to really push themselves and in turn I had to create a space where they could talk to each other, to be encouraged to learn from each other, while always knowing that I had their backs. I also learned to trust myself a little more. I loved the movement that came out of my experiments with not preparing any choreography beforehand.
Lastly, I feel like I learned that everyone is stronger than they give themselves credit for. It’s our job, as choreographers, to nurture our dancers to push themselves father than they think they can go without worrying about repercussions about being perfect every time. I can’t tell you how many mistakes in the studio this week led to major break-throughs. Without that space to fail we could have never learned to succeed.