Arts Beat: Joanna Kotze at the Yard

Weekly thoughts from the inside.


As a dance audience member, I can never decide if I’m an equal opportunity cynic or an equal opportunity enthusiast. Probably the latter. By that I mean I’m not attached to one type of dance: ballet, modern, tap, street, ethnic, ballroom, theater. I’ve seen great stuff in all of these forms. The cynic in me says there’s too much work that is mundane, conformist, derivative, predictable, or worse. The common denominator in the good choreography can’t be bottled, but I know it when I see it. In pieces that work, there’s an internal logic, a world created as the curtain comes up (I speak metaphorically), a world that plays itself out in ways that surprise, provoke, or please.

As an enthusiast, when I’m about to see a new work, I try not to go with my own set of expectations. I don’t decide I’m not going to like it because it “isn’t” something, ballet or modern or what have you. I don’t attempt to re-write the work, as it’s happening, in my own voice. I try to allow the choreographers to take me on their own particular ride.

One thing’s for sure, when I’m on my way to a performance, hope springs eternal. I want something to happen. Something that moves me: emotionally, philosophically, viscerally, or maybe just a simple acknowledgment that the show was cool.

The Yard has a new multi-disciplinary collaboration on Thursday, June 13, and Saturday, June 15, among choreographer/dancer Joanna Kotze, dancer Omagbitse Omagbemi, visual artist Jonathan Allen, composer/musician Ryan Seaton, and Kathy Kaufmann with lighting. “What will we be like when we get there” was created during the aftermath of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, over the course of nine different residencies.

The work is collaboration in its truest form. A combination of the creative urges of the entire group, the piece goes places the individuals would not have discovered on their own. The musician making the music and the artist making the art are as active on the stage as the dancers making the movement. The overall effect, while physically complex in its individual, often fast-paced actions, and spatial structure, is contemplative. Yet, if you’re experienced in this genre (performance art, multi-disciplinary, post-post-modern), you may notice an artistic cheekiness that includes dance vocabulary references, transference of objects, and an amused self-regard, that humanize the non-narrative nature of the work.

David R. White, artistic director and executive producer of the Yard, puts the cutting-edge work in perspective: “I do think form can be political although not necessarily in a didactic or literal sense. In the case of this collaboration, one might say ‘the center doesn’t hold.’ The work goes from a kind of intimacy into a world where things fly out of control. One might see the politics — which are conceptually inherent in this piece — as being a reflection of the chaotic, tornadic times in which we are living.”

Kotze reflects on her process, saying, “My persistent questions are: how do we inhabit space together and how do we continue to create change? The ingredients are time, space, sound, physical materials, the human body, and what is happening in our personal lives and in the world during that time. The content, and therefore the work, emerges from the team of collaborators as we inhabit a specific space and time together. I don’t usually start with an out-of-context idea, but begin with the collaborators, following the path into the world we create.”

Kotze trained in ballet from the age of 6, and earned a degree in architecture from Miami University, where she also performed with the school’s modern dance company. Next she headed to New York City, dancing for 10 years with, among others, choreographer Wally Cardona. She believes during that time a lot happened, as she absorbed different ways of shifting movement into various parts of the body, and attention to the overall architecture movement, sound, and space. In 2013, she received a Bessie Award (NYC’s dance “Tonys”) and has toured throughout the U.S. and Europe.

The collaborators — Allen, visual artist/performer; Omagbemi, dancer; Seaton, composer/musician/performer; and Kaufmann, lighting design — bring a distinguished pedigree to the project, including multiple Bessie Awards, national and international tours, and work with many of the fields’ renowned innovative artists.

If you are interested in the artistic forefront of change, new vocabularies in dance, the organization of sound and the moving image, the architecture of space, the kinetic design of objects, and the transformative potential of light, check out the Yard this weekend.


Joanna Kotze at the Yard, Chilmark, takes place Thursday, June 13 and Saturday, June 15, 7 pm. Tickets are $25/adult, $15/seniors, students and military, $5 children under 12. Box office and information at or 508 645-9662.