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Q&A: Kate March on 'An Evening of Meat' at The Vaults

Launching at The Vaults in Waterloo on the 27th March 2018, An Evening of Meat is a unique dinner installation where expressive dance and food meet on a dining table that doubles as a performance space. Having gained a cult following across the world, American director/choreographer Kate March tells us about her work and her travels through the world of performance.

Eli: An Evening of Meat was devised several years ago and is now being brought to the Vaults following successful international runs. Could you tell us a little about the performance?

Kate: I first thought of the concept when I was doing my MA in Choreography 8 years ago. I was exploring the "on all fours" position and all the different meanings in which that particular posture can relay to an audience or the person in the position. One of the interpretations I thought of was that it simply made the body into a table and I thought, well what if I put a table on a dinner table? And it all kind of fell into place from there. The concept itself is pretty abstract and more than anything else it's about the unique interactions that unfold between performers and performers and audience through improvisation and inspired exchanges.

With a squad of all female performers, it naturally provokes an atmosphere that champions body positivity, female sensuality and the disruption of male gaze, but it is also more than this. For me, the piece is about breaking hierarchies of power and rebuilding connection through empowerment - it's about human strength (physical and emotional), vulnerability, boundaries, and intimate human connection. Because of the amount of improvisation, the experience evolves night to night depending on the energy and dynamic between the audience and performers. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be both playful and inspired.

Eli: Would you describe the work as feminist?

Kate: My intention is that it empowers the performers (who are women) and that through witnessing these characters' journey towards empowerment, all the audience members may vicariously feel a sense of connection and inspiration. So in that sense, yes it's feminist through and through and it's also humanist through and through. 

Eli: There is an emphasis on An Evening of Meat as a dining experience. Tell us about the menu and why food is important to the work.

Kate: My work tends to be unconventional and initially I felt in order to develop a wider audience, I needed to offer them an anchoring format which felt familiar - a meal format. In this way, the audience feels more open to experimentation with the art and entertainment side of the experience. Additionally, I feel providing art in a dining setting is a truly multi-dimensional and sensory experience offering an array of ways to communicate with an array of personalities. I AM develops concepts other than immersive dining experiences in our repertoire, but I have to say, the dining aspect brings something special and complimentary to our work because it's intimate to share a meal with the audience.

Chef Chavdar Todorov who created the menu, was given free reign to create and experiment with the menu. We provided him inspiration from past meals through text, previous menus, photographs, and videos and he developed an exquisite and innovative menu that excites all the taste buds. The meal is just an explosion of taste and goes way beyond how one would normally interpret meat.

Eli: How do you decide with a performance how much emphasis to put on entertainment and how much to provocation?

Kate: I never really aim to provoke, I just aim to express and find ways for the performers to draw out presence and moments of connection from the audience. I think the level of provocation depends on the individual audience member and their own set of aesthetic interests, cultural background, values, and experiences. My team and I just strive to create something in our own unique voices, sharing potentially new viewpoints through creative expression. I also never really go into a project thinking, ok, I need to entertain these people. However, I do always go into a project thinking, ok, I really want to keep this audience's attention and engage them in unexpected, surprising ways so that they are constantly curious, intrigued, and inspired. I think there's a difference. When artists/performers/directors really think about how to connect and engage with their audience, that's when magic happens. Most of my work is organically entertaining because it taps into human behaviour and I guess it seems to "provoke" too - I'm glad it's stimulating otherwise I wouldn't be doing my job well. 

Eli: You studied in London. How does it feel to bring your work back to the city? 

Kate: When I left for Asia in 2011 after being in London for two years, I never had the opportunity to return. In my time away, I have gained an immense amount of artistic and cultural depth. I've also gained an appreciation for my time in London as a pivotal point in my professional development as a performer and a creator. Coming back to London now is an opportunity to show my respect and admiration to the city and culture that helped me find voice and to share all the wisdom I have picked up in the 7 or so years away. It's so meaningful to return; it makes the journey full circle.

Eli: You've worked in some unusual venues. Could you tell us about some particularly memorable spaces and how they've helped shape your work?

Kate: I AM has performed in tiny whole in the wall spaces in Hong Kong where we literally had to squeeze the audience in and people were sitting on top of one another - true meaning of intimacy! We've performed on a sandbar at low tide in the middle of the Indian Ocean in the Maldives. My team has performed on various rooftops in Asia where skyscrapers surround you while you dance in this little city oasis. I've danced underwater and on a stage over water in Miami. Basically, they've all been impactful because through the range of spaces, I always come back to wanting closer proximity to the audience without the conventional boundary of a proscenium stage. I just think as an artist I can create such unique memories by adding my art to a place where people might generally have the opportunity to see it. I think about how much more we as performers can convey when we can see the audience's eyes meet our own and they can feel the wind of a dancer's leg lifting in the air next to them. Having performed in so many places and spaces, it has emboldened me to know my team can make our choreography work for any space big or small, over or underground, natural or industrial. It's very liberating.

Eli: Finally, describe your perfect last meal.

Kate: Didn't see that one coming! Haha. A last meal? Well in that case, I would probably keep it simple. I had this one meal in Cambodia where it was in a villa without any wifi so I couldn't use my phone; there was no music so I had to sit with my thoughts as my soundscore; and I was dining alone. It was such a stripped down, zero sensory meal and it made me focus solely on the food and my sense of taste. I think there's a time for multi-sensory and a time for reflection and focus and the last meal seems like a meal I would want similar to that night in Cambodia. Last meal, nothing but the food and good wine on a table for one. a nice chinese soup with fresh vegetables and nourishing broth; New England Lobster followed by a NY Strip steak and Eton Mess - representing all the places I have called home : Hong Kong, Connecticut, New York, and London.

An Evening of Meat at The Vaults

27th March – 22nd April 2018