Interview with Soulskin Dance Choreographers Adrianna Thompson & Barbara Koch


Premieres on the Bauhaus, Relationships and Aloneness

Now in their sixth year, San Francisco's Soulskin Dance Company next month presents two works new to the Bay Area. Parallel Dialogues is a west coast premiere choreographed by Soulskin Dance artistic director Adrianna Thompson, and Golden Mean, a world premiere choreographed by Thompson and guest choreographer Barbara Koch. Recently Adrianna and Barbara talked with's Michael Phelan about their new works.

Barbara Koch & Adrianna Thompson
Barbara Koch & Adrianna Thompson

MP: Parallel Dialogues premiered in Boulder earlier this year. Tell me about it.

Adrianna Thompson: Parallel Dialogues is based on relationship. Not just regular relationship, showing how different types of relationships grow. Honesty, communication, desire, fear, and how we're brought onto the planet being alone and with the desire to be not alone. Finding the necessity of human contact in relationship, of being in a relationship, it doesn't have to be romantic, people who are in our lives. I think that in a lot of my work one of the things I focus on is, it's not just because of our political climate and change that's happening in our society.

The idea that we're being pushed to be more absent in a relationship is something very interesting to me because that's what we're losing more and more of. People are on their phones or they're on their computers, and there's no real touch. There's no real connection.
So Parallel Dialogues is based on relationships. You have five different couples, and each couple has a certain story. The story that's threaded is the film that Jaco Strydom did for us. We filmed it for a few months at different locations in San Francisco with each couple. But it's not like your typical dance film. It's more theatrical. My husband is an actor, my father was a drama professor. I grew up in the arts. I find staging theater and scenery and environment very interesting on top of dance. So the film is like my set design. Right?

MP: I see. Have you always incorporated other artistic elements into your choreography?

Adrianna: I've been choreographing for over thirty years. I had a company in New York, MEFTAS Dance Theater, and I started Soulskin Dance when I moved here eight years ago. So my interest varies. I'm a typical choreographer, meaning I don't like to stay just one way. I like to challenge myself as an artist, which means I love to work with collaborators, different types of artists, not just dance artists, but film makers, designers, lighting designers, DJ artists, and musicians and composers. I like to challenge the fabric of creating a story, a narrative ballet. Most of my work is based on the human condition, and I like to work in a narrative form.

MP: Your world premiere is Golden Mean, based on the Bauhaus, the 1930's German design movement.

Barbara Koch: The piece we're collaborating on, Golden Mean, is a celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Bauhaus. There's a lot to the Bauhaus movement, but we've chosen four different topics or ideas to research and delve into. The golden mean is a mathematical structure that occurs in nature. The Bauhaus took that idea from Aristotle and kind of made it their own. You see the golden mean in nature, in the nautilus, a fern, a pinecone. We kind of took that concept on for the whole piece.

One of the four ideas we're dealing with is color. The Bauhaus color wheel is connected with different shapes and elements. For example, one of the Bauhaus shapes was a triangle, and the triangle was yellow, fire, and a horn. They broke it down very specifically.

The second section is harmony, which is basically the golden mean. That section is spirals, the nautilus. It's about flow, natural flow.

The third section is about man and machine. The Bauhaus wanted to simplify concepts of space so humanity would have an easier way to progress and move forward, using the machine as a way for us to move forward. But at this point the machine may actually be shutting us down, which is a thread that runs through Adrianna's work. Last year our piece Hero dealt with what it is to be human. We took visuals from Oscar Schlemmer's stick dance. A Bauhaus dance. It's linear. That's the machine.

The fourth section is about humanity, and how we encompass art now, and how do we encompass and celebrate the ideas of the Bauhaus. Their ideas are still current. It's been really challenging, but also really magical. Once you go through this process, it's like giving birth. It's not easy. It's multilayred. If you know about the Bauhaus, you'll see it. But if you don't, it's a beautiful structure. The music is incredible. Roxy Roller created the music, and it's very layered.

Adrianna: I love original music. I have two original scores for both ballets. Roxy Roller and Noah Solomon's group Noh. Their music is just incredibly inspiring. And our dance artists are incredible. I have nine dancers, five men and four women. They work so well together. I find it challenging in the dance world when you have a unique group of people who like dancing together. They're excited when they're in the studio.

Barbara: It's a very good group. We enjoy each other and we enjoy moving together. When Adrianna creates, she listens to everybody. She listens to the group, sees and listens. It's a great process. We are all in this kind of amoebic flow together. And all of a sudden, it happens. That's it!

MP: Why the Bauhaus in particular out of the whole universe of things you could choreograph?

Adrianna: For me, I like to be challenged. We found the Bauhaus so interesting because it affected art on so many different layers. It wasn't just the architecture design, painting, dance, music. It was a full movement that's still being carried on even to this day. And many people don't know about it. For me, it's how can you create a story within abstract conversation, within the four movements that Barbara and I are creating and have a very clear, structural experience where you see these amazing dancers creating these patterns in space. It's not all shape driven.

My style has a flow. I was trained classically as well as in a modern way: Cunningham, Limon, Falco, Jennifer Muller, Lester Horton. When I work with Barbara we give each other little tasks to see how we can use the space. When you ask that question about why, I think it's the 100th anniversary, I think it should be celebrated. I think it was a very interesting movement. I'm surprised there aren't a lot of dance companies doing the same thing I'm doing. Because it is hard. This is not an easy subject. If you look at the Bauhaus ballet, you see they've got really crazy costumes, and they're just basically standing there and turning around. It's very minimal.

Barbara: They were trained dancers, but they didn't do much. It was about the costume and the structure.

MP: They didn't dance.

Adrianna: So I thought, wouldn't it be cool to have that concept, but move?

Barbara: We had to deconstruct and break it down to make it flow in some way. It was almost like taking their idea of simplification. We had to simplify things to bring it around to where we are now in order to actually create.

Adrianna: That was last week. This week I'm seeing triangles, and everybody be a triangle. Everybody be a square. And my dancers are looking at me like, what's going on?

Barbara: She creates very differently. She creates way more juicy, not stark and linear. So we've been able to make the stark and linear flow.

MP: Adrianna, you were a guest teacher at Martha Graham. When I think of 1930's modernism and dance, I think of Martha Graham. Do you think there was a Graham influence on the Golden Mean.

Adrianna: Not really, although that's an interesting question. When I was with Battery Dance Company, the Graham Company was having legal problems, and a lot of the dancers didn't have jobs. So the artistic director of Battery, Jonathan Hollander, hired a bunch of principals from the Graham Company. So I was heavily influenced by Graham during that time. And even the work I do with Gyrotonics, the spirals and so on. I was influenced, but I was not a Graham dancer, even though I was asked to audition for the Graham company. I was interested in being a choreographer, not only a dancer. The genre of modernism, to me, understands the gut, of either movement or visual, but it's the gut.

MP: What are you working on next?

Adrianna: I'm working on a new project with filmmaker Joco Strydom for next year called Beauty, based on Sleeping Beauty.

Soulskin Dance performs September 6 through 8 at Dance Mission Theater in San Francisco.

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