These are the ideas Katie Scherman (BFA ’10) thoughtfully offers when asked to describe her LINES Ballet BFA Program experience in a handful words. Ideas that have guided her in the decade since graduation, leading Katie to her current adventure in Tokyo, Japan.
A member of Alonzo King LINES Ballet BFA at Dominican University of California‘s inaugural class, Katie continued her higher education with a MFA in Dance from the University of Oregon. In recent years she has returned to LINES as a choreographer for the BFA and Summer Programs, challenging students with her research deeply-rooted in vulnerability and collaboration. This month we caught up with Katie to hear more about her college experience and what she’s currently up to across the sea. Read on for her reflections on working with Alonzo, Japanese culture, advice to students, and more.
Q&A with Katie Scherman
What drew you to the BFA Program?
The language of the LINES mission statement, the philosophy of Alonzo, the environment geared toward finding your unique voice, and my early communication with Marina [Hotchkiss], all woke me up to what I was yearning for. At the time, I was dancing with a ballet company and had lost my love for dance. I had grown tired of pleasing everyone. I remember so vividly that day in my apartment reading about the program on the LINES website… just reading it gave my goosebumps. It felt meant to be.
What is one skill that you developed in the program and continue to use today?
The inner composer: the infinite possibilities that come with how I can hear a combination.
Transitions: the seamless art of transitions, whether they happen intuitively, or are crafted with such intent that they look completely in the moment.
What is one of your best memories of student life?
Oh there are so many! The bus rides, ferry rides, the in-betweens of rehearsal and class. Our cohort laughed a lot, the kind of laughter where we were all crying. We also shared all the firsts of the program together.
Is there a particular faculty quote that has stuck with you?
Each faculty member left an imprint on my heart. I sincerely believe I channel each of them when I teach and/or create. If I had to pick one quote, it would be this:
Alonzo said this to my class early on in our BFA experience. After years of believing whole heartedly that I was only perfect if I had the right legs, face, arms, stomach, I wept when Alonzo said this. I think it was during plies. Just hearing him say it made me believe that I could dig deep within and believe it for myself.
What are you up to nowadays?
Teaching, improvising, performing, choreographing, learning, and observing. I live in Tokyo with my husband and our dog. I’m teaching for Studio Architanz and the Japan International Ballet Festival, and working on a solo show, a love letter to Japan, that I hope to present in Tokyo within the next year. I’m collaborating with my friend, composer Mike Wall, on a ballet class album to be released next year. I’m also studying Butoh, and had the honor of taking class from Yoshito Ohno before he passed away.
Can you speak more to what it has been like to study Butoh? Has it left an impression on your movement impulses?
My first Butoh class with Yoshito Ohno, 81 years years old, son of Kazuo Ohno, reminded me of my first class with Alonzo.
There were moments where:
1. I had to accept that I could not find the answer by looking at anyone else
2. I had to feel ok with being uncomfortable, and ask myself why was it so important for me to do it “right”?
3. I cried
4. I was reminded why I love to dance
My time studying Butoh has gifted me with the sublime feeling and self reflection that comes with moving with intense concentration… dancing the darkness and the lightness. Today, due to social media and technology, it seems our ability to stay concentrated on one thing is fading, or becoming alarmingly difficult to sustain… therefore the study of movement, the art of being completely transfixed in the moment, just you and your body, feels like the world’s greatest and most important gift.
Are there any major differences between the dance scene and teaching etiquette of the US versus of Japan?
In Japan, there is a saying “Otsukaresamadeshita” and it means “thank you for working hard”. We say this to each other after class, in the dressing room, and as you leave the building. It is a constant reminder that we are all striving toward something… and we acknowledge each other for that. That acknowledgment and appreciation for craft creates camaraderie and respect for one another that I’ve never felt anywhere else. It takes you from “me” to “we”.
In terms of teaching, I have found that the art of demonstrating is as sacred as verbal cues. In Japan, because I haven’t perfected the language, I have utilized my body as the ultimate communicator, demonstrating with a renewed sense of the care of movement… knowing that with each small movement, students are looking at my body with laser focus trying to see and hear what my toe/foot/elbow are trying to say.
I am beginning to see that the only way we know what it means to move big, is to know what it means to move small. These opposites in movement give us the perspective and fullness to give entirely to textures, size, and rhythm. Teaching in Japan has opened my eyes, immensely.
What drives you to create work?
There are two things that drive me to create. Music and my experiences.
I create about what I am going through and/or the collective challenges that the dancers and I are battling. I told someone recently that the creative process to me feels like a life span, the day you walk into the studio to begin, the piece is born…and when it gets to the stage it begins to die. The performance is the celebration of the life that was just lived and created. So each creative process is and can be absolutely transformational: challenging, cathartic, and enlightening.
Music is the romance that allows a piece to even begin. I’m especially drawn to piano, as I find it to be the most haunting and alluring musical instrument.
Take Liszt’s “La Campenella in G Sharp Minor”, for example. In a mere five minutes, he provides a playground where you can go inside the notes, against the notes… how loud he plays gives you instruction, how fast, when he pauses, when he repeats, it is all a playground… to me the relationship with the composer is essential to the life of the work. When I listen to this score, I hear precision and contemplation, ecstasy, care and mastery… I hear life.
What advice would you give current BFA students?
Relish the uncomfortable… it is a gateway to transformation.
Believe someone when they give you a compliment. It is a gift they are giving you.
Document every workshop, performance, and opportunity you experience on your journey so you have a record of your experiences.
Journal after class, and/or jot down reflections in between combinations. I have stacks of journals from my BFA experience… quotes from Alonzo and the faculty, observations on myself and my classmates. Rereading these journals helps me time travel back to moments I miss with every grain of my being.
Put in the effort to connect with each person in your class and in the program. It is a mere four years, and many paths will cross in the future… those years are your chance to build relationships and grow together. Who knows when and where you will meet each other again.
It is ok to disagree with people. Finding your voice and owning your voice can feel scary after years of trying to please people. Making space for your voice to be heard is vital to your journey as a student and as an artist.
Ask for help when you need it, whether it’s personal or professional, ask for help. You are never alone.
LINES Ballet | BFA at Dominican applications are open! The program seeks highly motivated, creative dance artists eager to be challenged. If you’re looking for a deeply personalized, one-of-a-kind college program designed to cultivate your artistry and catapult your career, this is for you.
Photos: © Mark McCambridge, Christopher Peddecord