Checking in with Katharine Birdsall


What were you doing when we called? I’d just finished my morning sitting practice. I’ve been trying to meditate regularly for the past year. It doesn’t always happen, so I was happy to be able to do it this morning.


Local dancer Katharine Birdsall, a founding member of the Zen Monkey Project, lives on a farm with two horses, two dogs, six chickens, a cat and a gecko.

What are you working on now? Currently I’m working on a solo by a choreographer named Deborah Hay. I’ve been working with her since this summer when I went to Scotland to collaborate with her and 20 other people. It’s a pretty interesting project, and I’ve been interested in choreographers for about 20 years.

What music have you been listening to lately? I’m working with a musician from Mexico right now. When you work with somebody from out of town, it’s nice because they tend to want to spend a lot of their time working with you. When people actually live here, they have other things they have to do, so it’s harder to get them in the room. In terms of recorded music, I listen to whatever my son can come up with. He makes mixed CDs off of his iPod. I hit Pandora at home, but I’m someone who sadly isn’t very good at following new recorded music. One of my pet peeves is that live music is no longer able to be very present in dance studios. Growing up, from the time that I was 5, there was always a pianist or a percussionist in the studio on a daily basis, and it was such an important part of my training and my day to have music be a part of that routine. So I guess I’ve been feeling resistant to listening to recorded music, especially in the studio, where I’m either lucky enough to have somebody playing music with me, or it’ll be silent.

Do you have a favorite building? For me, it’s more the way things fits together than any particular thing by itself. I certainly love our Downtown Mall for that. You know, the landscape architect for the mall, Lawrence Halprin, his wife was a dance therapist and choreographer, and he designed the place to nurture the community and allow people to meet. This past summer, I remember we were struggling with the idea of rebricking the mall, and the issues of business versus having a place for people to be. I love the building I’m in, the Old Michie building, which is the site of my studio.

Locally, who would you like to collaborate with? I’d be interested in finding a local musician who would want to collaborate on a regular basis. My son takes guitar lessons from Jay Pun. He and his partner Morwenna Lasko are both beautiful musicians, and I would be interested in getting to spend some time working with them.

What is your first artistic memory from childhood? I’ve been in the dance studio since I was 5, pretty regularly. My mother is a visual artist, a painter, and she’s been one of those people who’s constantly designing her life. I remember birthday parties when we would put plays on and she’d have a part for every guest. I think my whole life, I’ve been involved in that. I can’t really single out a time when that creative light turned on, because I can’t remember it ever being off.

What piece of art do you wish were in your private collection? My parents have a beautiful painting by Dean Dass, and I’d love to have one of his pieces. We have a few of John Borden Evans’ paintings. We mostly collect local art, in fits and spurts. In terms of the greats, I love the great old Italian painters like Veronese and Tintoretto. All of that stuff is pretty amazing. But I live in a farmhouse; I can’t even imagine keeping one of those there.

Outside of your medium, who is your favorite artist? The sculptor Rodin. In a lot of ways, he’s been one of the most influential on me. He’d work with a rock, and he’d see the form in the rock, and he’d bring the form out of the element. So it’s not arbitrary in any way; it makes sense. It’s organic, yet his voice is present at the same time. In a way it’s a collaboration between him and his medium.