This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Kat Roman, founder and Artistic Director of Copious Dance Theater. Founded in 2009, the company name is derived from the Latin adjective “Copiosus”, meaning plentiful or abundant. Ms. Roman shares the company philosophy and technique, based on the modern technique of Lester Horton, with students of all levels through regular classes and workshops. The Swiss native received her BFA in Dance from California State University Long Beach and holds a Horton pedagogy certification from the Ailey School in NYC. She currently teaches Horton Technique at Alonzo King Lines Dance Center in San Francisco. As the Artistic Director of Copious Dance Theater, Ms. Roman is charged with broadening the company’s reach by connecting with new audiences interested in dance. “My main goal is to make modern dance accessible to people,” she says.
1. Conference of the Birds was inspired by the Persian poem of the same name by Farid ud-Din. How did you discover this poem and why did you choose it as the basis of your new work? How do the central themes of the piece translate into choreography?
Four years ago a producer in San Jose approached me asking me “Hey can you choreograph to this story?” At the time I was very busy and involved in a different production so I couldn’t do it. I liked the story very much, and when I did some research last year, I found that there were many theater performances of this story but rarely any that were dance. I jumped on the opportunity hired a few more dancers in September and started to choreograph.
I chose it for the following reasons:
• A Story about Birds. Birds have interesting movement patterns on the ground and in the air. I thought it would be interesting to research them and included the specific bird mannerisms into our choreography: So each Dancer was assigned a character from the story. I embellished them by giving them some attributes. For example: The Hoopoe bird is the wisest of them all and is the “leader bird” of the group and also quickly gets annoyed and impatient when his flock of bird doesn’t follow directions or things to go her way. The parrot is cheerful and silly and the owl is our “goth chick”… dressed like one and acting like one and a bit slow overall. Some of the attributes are I made up, some are straight out of the original poem. I think they add depth to the story. It’s almost like placing an “easter egg” in a video game. If you look closely at the characters dancing you might figure out an entire new backstory about that bird.
• I like that it has many sections/valleys. In the story the birds must travel through many valleys to get to their ultimate destination. Here I have the potential to keep the audience engaged by changing the moods and environments the birds travel through constantly. Unlike more traditionally danced stories like Giselle where you look at peasants dancing for the first hour and the second hour one looks at the same forrest (no offense Giselle is a beautiful ballet). I am working closely with the lighting designer to create moods such as the scary valley of fire or a beautiful garden. In terms of music the audience will enjoy as similar roller coaster as well.
• It’s a beautiful story. I believe it’s the story of all of our lives. We all search for something bigger, fulfillment and happiness. Some travel, some go do drugs, some buy expensive things to find happiness. Yet, the ones who realize happiness and fulfillment is a choice they make every day… those are the richest people on earth. I realize this is not what Attar (the Author) wanted me “to get” from his poem. But the fact that I understand it this way and someone else might get something else that is valuable for them, makes this such a beautiful story.
2. Can you tell us a bit more about the high fashion costumes?
Ok, not sure how high fashion they are after all (I am smiling while writing this). I handcrafted and designed each and everyone of them even though I am not a costume or fashion designer but I like to sow and be creative. Instead of dressing all the birds into feathers and bird outfits, I chose to dress them like well dressed fashionable adults who have clothing attributes that point to what kind of bird they might be. To keep a common thread – I chose to dress them in military style coats and dresses – (do a google search for military style fashion images – so I am not talking about camouflage pants and boots here
By dressing the birds like humans, who experience human things and desires but still carry out their bird mannerisms in their movements I blend the fine line between human and bird. Just like the original poem: It’s a parable about birds but it really tells a story about humans. By not dressing them in bird costumes I also feel that the work is less likely turn into a children’s circus act.
3. Part of the mission of Copious Dance is to connect new audiences with dance. What are the most effective methods you’ve found? What do you hope audiences will experience?
I hope the audience won’t get bored. I want them to understand what they see on stage and be able to enjoy watching modern dance. Now days, “regular people” – meaning non-dancers, are often alienated by experimental modern dance. They don’t understand whats going on on stage. By adding fashion, lots of scenery changes, a clear story line and (of course) good choreography, I am hoping to keep the audience engaged. For those audience members who are not familiar with the story, I will have it printed in the program to follow along for those who like. I firmly believe it’s not good to let the audience walk out the door confused. I hope of course they that they will enjoy my work, but even if they don’t, at least they are not confused.
4. Anything else you’d like to share?
The story is for adults. Kids are welcome but they might not “get it”. If they are able to sit through a 90 minute program with only one intermission then by all means bring them.
Copious Dance Theater’s 2nd Home Season will headline the world premiere of Conference of the Birds and new work by Erik Wagner entitled, Glass Slippers. The evening will also include a reprise of the 2009 hit Taka and an energetic piece from Roman’s Horton Technique students entitled Bleuphoria.
Conference of The Birds
March 27-29th, 2015 at Z Space in San Francisco.
tickets and information at www.copiousdance.org.
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