GOLDIES 2011: Katie Faulkner

Dance as "a sense of looseness and abstraction"

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GUARDIAN PHOTO BY SAUL BROMBERGER AND SANDRA HOOVER

GOLDIES In 2005, in deference to the shaky ground we walk on, choreographer Katie Faulkner dubbed her new ensemble little seismic dance company. For an upstart, it seemed an oddly modest name — considering the waves she'd been making, something grander might have been more appropriate. But then that's not Faulkner's style. Her choreography doesn't shout; it grabs you because her dances are full of surprises, finely crafted, and have a strong sense of identity.

Most exhilarating about Faulkner's work is its sense of adventure. You never know what this North Carolina-born choreographer will dive into next. She thrives on intimacy — a solo physicalizing the process of dying in the Road Ahead — as well as the messy process of choreographing by committee. She created Terra Incognita, Revisited, shown last summer at the 2011 WestWave Dance Festival, with colleagues Kara Davis, Manuelito Biag, and Alex Ketley. For We Don't Belong Here, a recent commission for the Dancers' Group ONSITE series, she needed 20 dancers. So she held "very stringent auditions," explaining, "I needed people who could hold their own and also contribute to the process."

Perhaps Faulkner developed her appetite for the untried through an early interest in theater. An inspiring teacher in a playwriting class encouraged her to "take myself more seriously as a creative person." She never did finish that play, opting for what she thought dance would give her over the precision of language: "a sense of looseness and abstraction." But it's not by chance that she has worked so often with former ODC dancer Private Freeman, an intensely physical and dramatic performer.

Perhaps joining AXIS Dance Company straight out of Mills College (she earned her MFA in 2002) also created possibilities a more conventional company might not have offered. Not only did Faulkner's four years with AXIS challenge her to perform a wide range of repertoire, she also watched experienced choreographers step into what was for them virgin territory. It was at AXIS that Faulkner had her first taste of choreography. The intricate, yet crystal-clear Decorum looked at sibling rivalry within a constrained environment. In it she remembered having grown up in a community "where there was a right and wrong way to look and to be."

Faulkner, who calls her own work "imagistic," also has made intriguing dance films and will, if she has anything to say about it, do more. The duo Loom (2008) is set on San Francisco's rooftops; for the quartet High Tide (2006) she traveled to the edge of the continent. Up next is a still vague project about multiple perspectives. She might want to take a look at Rashomon.

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