Kate Speer: dancer, choreographer, writer

"The point of my kind of writing is to empower the powerless, to give voice to people who have no voice, but also to educate readers in what I call the moral imagination. And that is the ability to understand the world from other people's points of view."
Mary Pipher, PhD

I firmly believe in maintaining a balance of creation, performance, and scholarly research in my art. Active criticism and analysis helps to keep artists and the public informed of art's intelligence and relevance. In addition, analysis also encourages the arts to be socially and culturally responsible during this age of globalization.

However, criticism cannot live on its own. Art is at the root of criticism. Art makes history about which criticism writes. I see creation, performance, and scholarship as linked in a positive feedback loop. The three areas are so interconnected they cannot be separate. They inform each other and catalyze future inquires.

Topics of interest for me are globalization, post-colonialism particularly in Francophone African countries, the dialogue between tradition and contemporary, and cultural appreciation and appropriation. Currently, I am investigating the power of physical potential and kinesthetic empathy to ignite audiences towards social change in regards to the works of American choreographer David Dorfman.


Active Citizenship: The activation of community through the processes of Kate Speer and David Dorfman Dance

My overarching research question is how to create active citizens, a term that combines a sense of presence that is engaged (active) with a sense of responsibility to reciprocity within the community (citizen). From the research perspective, this paper examines the interaction and values that cultivate active citizenship through a qualitative ethnographic study of David Dorfman Dance, an American modern dance company. Choreographically, I have incorporated these themes into my own process as well as pursued my own artistic interests to create active citizens who are responsive to community generation and combating apathy in the performance work Space Within These Lines Not Dedicated. Finally, I situate my work within the landscape of tanztheater, the artistic movement that merged dance with theatrical elements to create narrative-based works, and “scholartists,” the synthesis of choreography, performance, and scholarship in artistic production.

Speer_Active Citizenship_2014.pdf


Transcendence, Testifying, & Funk: The Resistive Strategies and Spiritual Communities in David Dorfman's Prophets of Funk

David Dorfman's most current work, Prophets of Funk (2010) follows the rise, demise, and redemption of Funk composer and musician Sly Stewart using a collage of hits from his band, Sly & the Family Stone. Invested in this loose biographical narrative are the culture of the black Pentecostal Church, the tradition of transcendence and testifying, and the creation of Sly Stewart as a charismatic prophet. Prophets of Funk uses charisma both spiritually and politically to enhance the audience-performer connection, successfully creating active audience citizens. By using the rhythms of Funk, Dorfman and the cast can draw upon Pentecostal practices of testifying and transcendence, which are modes of receiving God on a personal level and also act as resistive performativity. As a result, Prophets of Funk both comments on the construction of racism and re-writes the discursive texts by proposing a universal funkativity. Thus the construction of Sly Stewart as a charismatic prophet is a tool to transfer charisma to the audience and an aid to reach Higher Ground.



The Edge Between Apathy and Action: The Role and Creation of Active American Citizens in David Dorfman Communities

Since its formation in 1985, David Dorfman Dance has become one of the leading American modern dance companies known for politically relevant and community based works. By analyzing the choreographies of Disavowal (2008) and underground (2006) through the lens of activist art and protest theories, Dorfman's work reveals a set of beliefs that are distinctly US, including democracy, individualism, and activism. Additionally, his works strive to encourage the audience to begin dialoguing, effectively employing democracy within the concert stage environment. Consequently, David Dorfman's work aims to create active American citizens who are more critical of their actions in the world, perhaps even inspired to act after leaving the theater.



The Spectacle of Globalization: Increasing Cultural Sensitivity in Order to Conserve Artistic Integrity

With the increased globalization of dance forms and touring productions, the presentation of the body and movement rest precariously between "dance" and "spectacle." The high transfer of images and cultural knowledge risks misinterpretation, objectification, and exotification as it transforms into spectacle when presented outside its cultural context. Choreographers Faustin Linyekula and Cynthia Oliver, among others, have maintained a heightened awareness to cultural specification and a sensitivity towards the presentation of images across cultural contexts so that the integrity of their art work is conserved.



The Edge Between Apathy and Action: The Different Shades of Violence and Personal Choice Presented in David Dorfman's Underground.

Inspired by the release of the 2002 documentary of the Weather Underground, underground tackles American choreographer David Dorfman's mixed feelings towards the domestic terrorist organization. Dorfman's underground stages both the Weather Underground's choice of violence and today's choice of apathy which allows the audience to reflect on where their choices fit within the spectrum. Consequently, underground establishes more than just a social awareness, the piece's activist agenda also energizes the audience, empowering them to act on their choice for a solution.

Speer_Dorfman's underground.pdf


The Globalization of Contemporary Dance in Francophone Africa: Embodying Cultural Identity While Discovering the New

In this globalizing world, art and culture are no longer isolated to one geographical location. The cultural exchanges between Francophone Africa and France are particularly promising and problematic. Due to France's colonial history of domination in several African countries like Madagascar and Burkina Faso, there is still a power dynamic visible in the mutual exchanges that currently take place. This paper investigates this relationship by discussing close readings of African contemporary dance performances and the insight of artists engaged in this discussion such as Salia Sanou, Seydou Boro, Faustin Linyekula, Flora Théfaine, and Odile Sankara. Companies such as Salia nï Seydou and Studios Kabako are developing their own definitions of contemporary dance by incorporating influences from Europe, confronting stereotypes associated with African dance and the black body, and utilizing their own cultural heritage as choreographic material. Contrary to the Eurocentric notion of contemporary dance's birthrights, African contemporary dance is not a sub-genre of contemporary dance, but a product of the contemporary thought process of discovering the new. The global exchange taking place now is resulting in the amassing of multiple identities that are recontextualized to present new meanings, new interpretations, and a new projection of self through the dancing body.

Speer_Discovering the New.pdf