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Artists Activated: Kate Ladenheim of the People Movers Talks About Her Latest Work "Glass"

Artists Activated: Kate Ladenheim of the People Movers Talks About Her Latest Work "Glass"
Trina Mannino/Follow @Trinamannino on Twitter

By Trina Mannino/Follow @Trinamannino on Twitter
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Published on April 9, 2018
A still from "Glass"

The People Mover’s Glass Premieres as Part of Triskelion Arts’ Split Bill Series

April 12 & 14, 2018

Triskelion Arts

Tickets: $18 in advance, $22 at the door; go to Eventbrite


Kate Ladenheim is like many in the dance field — her job title includes a litany of hyphens. In addition to choreographing for and directing her own company The People Movers, she’s also a performer, a graphic designer, and producer of the roving arts series Crawl. She appears to do all of these things with an elegant, effortless touch. Today, she even has her nails painted (more on that later). Ladenheim assures me that behind-the-scenes things look quite different. “I prefer to show the gratitude and joy [I have for my work online] instead of those late nights where I’m pulling my hair out pouring over budgets,” she says with a laugh.

The artist also points out that her wide-ranging work is the result of a reliable team, which includes her dancers, other artistic collaborators, and administrators. “No one exists as a DIY island,” she says. “I’d like to destroy that myth that we all can do it ourselves.”

A headshot of Kate Ladenheim. She smiles and looks down at the camera.
Kate Ladenheim; Photo by Whitney Browne Photography

Ladenheim and her team’s hard work is making people in the industry take notice. In 2018, she was named one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch. The People Movers was one of the few emerging organizations to receive Dance/NYC’s inaugural Dance Advancement Fund grant, and they were recently presented by New Zealand’s Performance Arcade.

Currently, she is putting the finishing touches on Glass, which will premiere at Triskelion Arts. The process began two years ago when Ladenheim and composer Peter Van Zandt Lane were at a residency on a sprawling estate that was surrounded by wrought iron gates. “There we talked about the distinction between a gate and a door — a gate being something you can see through, but that it’s still a barrier, nonetheless. One that you can’t get past.”

Four women in white suits sit on wood chairs and look at one another. Paper is strewn about the floor.
A Still from the film version of Glass. From L to R: Bre Short, Anna Reyes, Kristin Yancy ,and Shannon Spicer

The collaborators didn’t reconnect with the project until the following year. While apart, Ladenheim attentively watched the 2016 presidential election unfold. She describes being baffled by the amount of pushback Hillary Clinton received despite her extensive job experience and education. “I have complicated feelings towards Hillary Clinton,” she says. “But she’s a person I can relate to as a woman with strong professional ambitions. The attacks on her felt incredibly personal.”

When Ladenheim and Van Zandt Lane reconvened in 2017, their conversations about physical barriers returned as she realized her “gate” was, in fact, a glass ceiling. Hence, Glass was born.

Glass isn’t only a dance. Rather, it takes shape in four different iterations. The first is the theatrical presentation that New York audiences can see this week. The second is a five-part online video series, and the third is dialogue sessions that bring together women of all ages to talk about female empowerment and equity. Lastly, there’s an installation version, which Ladenheim had a chance to share in New Zealand in February. She and dancer Bre Short danced in a shipping container while viewers stepped on images of People Movers that were projected on the floor. They then had to cross a partition to get their nails painted by the performers.

Why nail painting? “We’re [the company] obsessed with nail painting. I wanted to integrate a level of personal interaction,” Landenheim says, "that they would then have to literally walk over people to receive complicated self-care.”

She was intrigued by the online discourse surrounding feminism, and how those conversations could play out physically. “The constant flux of camaraderie and the tear down is fascinating to me,” she says. “And who can claim an idea, and who will get attacked for claiming that idea.” In a recent Glass rehearsal, the constant push and pull is seen as three women in hoop skirts ignore another dancer. She repeatedly, persistently slaps her hands on her thighs, but she never gains their full attention.

A Woman lies on her back on a table. She has her arms behind her head and looks toward the camera. Lots of white paper is on the floor. A transparent screen hangs above her.
Kate Ladenheim in Glass at Performance Arcade in New Zealand

During her experience in New Zealand, Ladenheim realized that she was occasionally masking herself not only in performance but also in life. “My experience as a woman, at times, has been stuffing my own feelings and responses to seem less offensive in an environment.” One space that has been conflicting for Ladenheim, who studied ballet rigorously, is traditional dance education. “When I was training, the quieter you were and the more you looked like everyone else, the better your life would be . . .”

Ladenheim sees that experience inextricably linked to Glass. “We’re providing space for people to talk about how these spaces and our culture can change. . . Because in its most insidious outcome, shutting up and not saying anything, leads to abuse.  . . I would love to see that narrative torn up, stomped on and made into something else entirely.”

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