BWW Interviews: Kate Adams-Johnson, This Dancer's Life
Over the past few years, I've often referred to Kate Adams-Johnson as the busiest director/choreographer in Nashville and, clearly, she has the resume and press clippings to claim that title without reservation. In January, she was recognized at Midwinter's First Night as one of the best theatrical choreographers in 2010, for her work on both Swing! and Titanic.
Here's what I wrote about Kate at that time: "Swing!, the energetic and high-spirited dance musical now onstage at Donelson's Senior Center for the Arts is an entertaining romp certain to delight audiences during its three-week run. Directed and choreographed by Kate Adams-Johnson, the Nashvillian probably best suited to take on the job, it's a loving tribute to the Swing Jazz era and offers audiences the nostalgic opportunity to remember when."
And about her choreography for Titanic, I wrote: "Tim Larson, in tandem again with choreographer Kate Adams-Johnson, has beautifully staged the musical, capturing all the spirit and pathos of the actual Titanic story, while giving an artfully conceived mounting of the musical."
It seems as if Kate always has a show in the works. This week (on Thursday night, June 9, to be specific), she opens the holy grail of musical theater for serious dancers, A Chorus Line, at Donelson's The Keeton Theatre, where she is artistic director, then she moves into rehearsals for Circle Players' production of Fame Forever. After that? She'll be choreographing the opening number for First Night, The Nashville Theatre Honors (to be presented Sunday, September 4, at Belmont University's Troutt Theatre). How she finds the energy to do all of this is beyond me.
However, you'll find some possible answers in the following interview. Somehow, in the midst of rehearsals, dance classes and administering a theater company, Kate found time to answer our questions and to give us a glimpse into "This Dancer's Life." Read on and enjoy...
What was your first introduction to dance as an art form? My parents took me to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform Swan Lake when I was seven and I stood up through the entire performance because I wanted to "see the feet." That was when they knew they had to get me into dance class.
What was your first real job as a dancer? The Nutcracker. I danced in the junior company of the Metropolitan Ballet Co. of St. Louis (now defunct) beginning at age 10 and was taken professional arm of the company at age 14.
When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in dance? I always knew that was what I wanted to do as soon as I knew that there was such a thing as a career in dance.
Who is your dancing idol? When I was younger it was Gelsey Kirkland, but now, I don't know. There are so many amazing dancers on the scene now, and the level of skill and technique that dance requires now has been raised so much higher through the years that I am continually stunned by what dancers can do today. There are tricks and steps being executed that we had never even imagined when I was dancing.
Why do you pursue your art in Nashville? What are the best parts of working here? When I first moved here in 1998, I definitely did not plan to stay. But now, my home, my husband, my friends are here. I have such an amazing group of people that I get to work with, I feel so blessed. My support system here is second to none, and we have an incredibly level of talent in Nashville. Why wouldn't I stay?
What is your dream role as a dancer? If you could dance any role...what would it be and why? When I was younger this would have been an easier question to answer - because I would have immediately said Copellia in Copellia, but now that I am older I look at roles like the Girl in the Yellow Dress from Contact and wish I could still tackle something like that. Honestly right now, I am getting ready to dance the role of Iris in Fame Forever and just getting in shape for that has me in enough pain for now.
What is the brightest spot on your resume...what role/work is your most favorite? As a dancer - If we are talking strictly in a classical dance sense, then it would have been the lead girl in Graduation Ball - that was so much fun. On the theater side I would have to say dancing the role of Iris when I was in one of the workshop productions of Fame was a definite high point. Also, I have danced the role of "Dream Maria" in West Side Story several times, but the choreography Jim Christian did for the production for Utah Musical Theater was so brilliant I am still in awe of it and use it as a standard to judge my own work by. As a choreographer then probably Swing! was a big high point. I felt like I was finally able to really show off what I could create given great dancers and wonderful material. I'm pretty excited by A Chorus Line.
What's the biggest misconception people have about dancers? I think some people think dancers can only dance. I know a lot of highly intelligent dancers who are incredibly book smart and/or business savvy. Don't underestimate dancers' intelligence.
Who would play you in the film version of your life story? I have no idea. Probably some old, retired dancer.
What's your favorite work created for dancers to perform? I worship at the altar of Susan Stroman. She is one of the most brilliant, innovative choreographers working today, and the fact that she also directs brings her near and dear to my heart. Anyone who can create a work like Contact and then turn around and come up with walker choreography for The Producers and a monster tap number for Young Frankenstein gets my vote.
If you could have dinner with any three figures (living or dead, real or fictional) who are a part of the world of dance, who would you choose and why? Susan Stroman - because she is brilliant and I worship her. Graciela Daniele - the opening choreography for Ragtime left me speechless the first time I saw it, I was sitting in the theater in New York wishing for a rewind button so I could see it again. Mia Michaels - what she has created in her contemporary form of dance has revolutionized an entire dance form.
Imagine a young person seeing you onstage or seeing a production in which you played a major role coming up to you and asking you for advice in pursuing their own dream...what would you say? I actually answer this question on a regular basis, because I work with so many young dancers. This business is hard work. If you don't love it, if you can imagine doing anything else than dancing, do that. If you eat, sleep and breathe dance - if it is your drug of choice, then pursue the hell out of it.