Kate Hutter is co-founder of the L.A. Contemporary Dance Company (LACDC) and was Artistic Director from 2005 – 2015. She holds a BFA in Theatrical Design from University of Southern California and an MFA in Dance/Choreography from Purchase College, SUNY and has presented her choreography at prestigious venues throughout L.A. including the Broad Stage, Celebrate Dance at the Alex Theater, Ford Amphitheatre, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, L.A. Theatre Center, Diavolo Dance Space and Highways Performance Space. Hutter has been a visiting artist, instructor, and/or lecturer at USC, UCLA, California State U. Long Beach, Loyola Marymount University, Santa Monica College, Scripps College, Chapman University, Ohio State University and Wayne State University where she has taught and/or set new work. She continues to create dance experiences for LACDC, choreograph for theater and commercial productions, and teach at the Brockus Project Space in downtown L.A. (LACDA company photo by Christopher Malcolm)
Where did you grow up? What is your educational background?
I grew up in Carson City, Nevada. My parents work in aerospace engineering. I started dance classes at age 3 taking ballet and tap, and performed regularly up through my teen years. For high school I attended Walnut Hill School for the Arts, which is a boarding school in Boston, and then came back West to study Theatrical Design at USC. For graduate school I attended SUNY Purchase for an MFA in Dance/Choreography.
Did you always want to be a dancer?
I love dancing, but I knew early on that the New York City Ballet wasn’t for me. I knew other young dancers who were singularly focused on gaining a spot in a ballet company, but I preferred having more freedom with my performance trajectory. I was exposed to choreography in high school and really responded to that.
How did you choose your undergraduate college major?
I chose deliberately to go into technical theater—my emphasis for my BFA was in lighting design but I was able to gain a variety of experience in performance production areas. I also took coursework in areas outside of theater, which is how I met my business partner for my dance company. Michelle (Mierz Jolly, co-founder of LACDC) was a business major with a theater minor, and we met in an arts management class. Our final project for that class was to design a non-profit dance company serving the Los Angeles area, so LACDC was born.
You’ve been around dance, and Los Angeles, for a good number of years now. What does being a dancer look like now? Do you think that dance has been affected by social media and the digital age?
Dance has definitely been impacted by social media. There is much more emphasis on training for a performance on TV/film, vs. training for a performance in front of a live audience. More young dancers seek to be stars—social media and reality television have changed the face of public dance, there is much more of a cult of personality element. There is more emphasis on technical feats and selling the performance, and less opportunity to really delve into true artistry. Dance requires emotion and vulnerability, and it’s hard to generate that authenticity when you’re being told to “give face”.
Being a dance star is a bit antithetical to the craft. There are a few well-known dancers out there– Misty Copeland, for example, but even though she is extremely visible in her own right, she is still part of a company, she is still a part of a community. The dancers who win “So You Think You Can Dance?” still go on to dance with others when they go on performing tours.
“Dance is an inherently collaborative craft; becoming a Baryshnikov is very, very unusual.”
L.A. Contemporary Dance Company in a short film by Freedom 2K Films and Humanshapes Production
Choreographer: Kate Hutter with the dancers, Director & Editor: Benjamin Shearn, Director of Photography: Nathan Kim, Producer: Amanda Kramer, Costumer: Jillian Cainghug, Music, Mixer & Colorist: Eric Mason, Compositions by Arvo Part, Eric Mason with Garrett McLean, This Will Destroy You *This video is not for sale or profit of any kind*
What are some of your thoughts on earning money and having creative freedom?
Non-profit/for-profit scenarios affect artistry. As a non-profit, LACDC is a reflection of Los Angeles– it is of the culture and for the community, but also a place of exploration and chance, so it is appropriately a non-profit organization and receives funding as such. It would be a different situation if I ran a for-profit business, ex. a broadway show or producing agency, where creative considerations are made depending on your target audience and profit margins. No matter what, all types of dance production are valuable ones for young dancers to experience.
Dance funding has shifted in recent years. There is a lot more funding for shorter projects than for long-term sustainability. Short projects and funding for individual choreographers are actually quite useful for younger dancers because they allow up-and-coming artists to produce their own work, and provide opportunity to reflect upon your career trajectory before making a large investment in any one area of your craft.
While it’s always great to have your work funded by a granting organization, being funded by individuals in the community can be a blessing in disguise. Funding can be problematic because the funding source always wants a measurable outcome of success. LACDC performs often in intimate 99-seat theaters, and if we have a performance run that has four shows, that is a maximum ~400 people we are serving. To a funding source, that number is not really impressive in comparison to larger venues with longer runs, or TV programming, so then they don’t often see reasons for increasing their support, which in turn can be frustrating as you try to grow your organization. But, an individual who gives to support a production, often sees the tangible results in the performance and feels the qualitative – and not quantitative – impact of their donation. That’s also one of the main reasons why I’ve always kept other jobs besides the company… I want to be able to have a space for my own creative vision that is free from influence, financial or otherwise.
“I might not have an elaborate set or costuming at times, but I have my body and my imagination, and that is meaningful to me.”
What are some of the challenges that you think young dancers face today?
When dance is popular– and it is right now– that popularity can be disingenuous. Commercial dance is highly visible and extremely compelling, but there is always a place to learn performance and technique for live performance and company work. Don’t write off either; there is a validity and worth to both avenues.
The popularity of dance means that there is more of a demand, and sometimes young dancers can find themselves in challenging ethical situations. You have these highly trained and energetic young people with sensitive souls who have some really important things to express, and when you are offered amazing opportunities it’s hard to see past face value. I was once contacted by some people who told me that they were making a “small documentary”, and needed dancers and choreography. I sent them some specs and a budget and they had me develop the piece. When we arrived at the film site, I noticed that the set advertised a major corporation. It turned out that the filming being done that day was for the major corporation, who had sold the job to me as a small documentary-style shoot, and I had therefore budgeted the job with this understanding. What can you do in that moment? Do you take all of your dancers and storm out, because maybe you don’t want your name and work attached and possibly co-opted by the major corporation? Do you take a deep breath and do the work that you came to do, because you and your dancers are being paid and that’s your livelihood and networking opportunity? What do you do when you aren’t given all the facts, and what are your rights?
What would you say to a student who loves dance, but who doesn’t quite know what direction to take?
“A career in the arts is a tapestry. Don’t get stuck on what “real” dance is. There are so many ways to approach your craft.”
I’ve taught for a number of years at the college level, and the freshmen are so different from the seniors. When my students are freshmen, all of them talk about performing as a career. When they are seniors, I’d say only about 10% are still very invested in dance as a career path. The other 90% still have a great love for dance and still are participating, but they have seen ways how they can put their skills to service in different areas. Their interest in dance has led them down other, unexpected paths, and those journeys are just as important.
Working other jobs is okay. In addition to teaching I’ve always had multiple sources of income from various administration jobs, some of them in the arts, but currently I am Director of Corporate Communications for an aerospace manufacturing company.
“Even if you don’t dance professionally, you will take your artistic experience with you into any job you have. All industries need people with perspective on the arts as well.”
Artists are kind of like astrophysicists, because we both believe in things without having proof. We know that there is substance out there, though, and we faithfully dedicate ourselves to finding it.
If a student wants to go on to dance professionally, what is some advice that you would give to help them be competitive?
It is important to see what the world looks like through other people’s experiences. Learn to be direct in your constructive criticism, and to take direction and critique with grace. I’ve been in rehearsals where dancers are whispering and talking while someone is trying to show and teach, and then they get upset when the choreographer calls them out. Those experiences are uncomfortable but learning is uncomfortable: you must take responsibility for yourself. Being critiqued and making mistakes help you overcome mediocrity. You get past the BS—your own as well as everyone else’s—and you do it in a safe place. The classroom is the best place to fail and pick yourself up again. As artists, we get lazy sometimes. In those moments you need your community to hold you accountable.
“Learn your history. What I’ve noticed lately are these workshops with “master teachers” who are 19-20 years old”
The workshops focus on performance, but lack technical rigor: these dancers just show you how they would do it, and expect you to mimic them. This can be helpful in gaining real time skills for the market, but is not a source of in-depth training. I love working with older, experienced mentors and dancers, because they’ve seen and lived it all and they know how to give you space, since they are so sure of their own space: they know where they stop and where you begin. Knowing dance history—the era of MGM musicals which influenced the rise of dance for camera and MTV, and now reality television — to tracking your roots from Denishawn to Horton to a mix of modern and street forms to produce contemporary styles that run the gamut — whatever your dance heritage and lineage may be, all of this is part of the rich history of dance. Understanding your roots will inform your practice immeasurably.
Lastly: what is a fun fact about you?
I ride rodeo! I grew up with horses and have two of them living in the barn behind my house! Both riding and dancing remind me to remain an improviser, and be excited about change, evolution, and process.
LACDC’S 8TH ANNUAL SUMMER INTENSIVE – REGISTRATION NOW OPEN
Join LACDC Co-Founder Kate Hutter, Artistic Director Genevieve Carson, Company Members and L.A.’s top contemporary artists for advanced classes in contemporary modern and jazz technique, improvisation, partnering, composition, body conditioning, and LACDC Repertory.
This two-week program is for college and pre-professional students (Ages 18+). Students can choose to attend the first week only OR both weeks of classes. All students will be able to attend our annual audition for free. The students taking the full intensive will perform in a showcase for the LA community on the last day. DATES: JULY 11TH – 22ND, 2016