There’s a massive weather system slowly approaching. Now, I’m not a huge fan of thunder, but lightning I can handle. Well, at least from afar. If I happened to be hit by lightning, though, I’d probably quickly change my tune. This weekend, the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS) presents Catherine Galasso‘s “Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice” at the SOMArts Cultural Center. In “Lightning,” the young upstart expresses her creativity and intelligent vision through multimedia dance, theater, and video. Now that’s a storm I’d happily weather. In addition, Galasso’s added “Simmer,” a solo dance tribute to her father, composer Michael Galasso, to the bill.
What: Catherine Galasso presents “Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice” and “Simmer”
When: December 12-13, 2009, 8PM
Where: SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan Street
Tickets: 15 for year-round SFFS members/$18 general/$16.50 seniors, students and persons with disabilities; available online at www.sffs.org, by calling 925-866-9559 or by faxing 925-866-9597
This weekend’s events are part of SFFS’s forward-thinking KinoTek program, which “present[s] cinematic works that illuminate the ways in which burgeoning technologies alter the production, distribution and exhibition of media. The program highlights new technologies, cross-platform works and interactive elements and explores how these platforms help create new aesthetic and social experiences.”
Galasso’s been seen all over the Bay Area in the past few years, with works at CounterPULSE, ODC Theater, and the San Francisco Art Institute, and as a member of David Dorfman Dance‘s “Underground,” which played at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2006. I recently spoke with Catherine via email (with these last few days of prepping and such, she’s a very busy woman!), and learned a little more about her work.
Becca Hirschman: You were born in New York, grew up in Italy, and returned to the US to pursue a degree at Cornell. When and how did you become attracted to art, dance, and visual expression?
Catherine Galasso: Avant-garde theater and contemporary dance were always present in my life because I was surrounded by it growing up. My mom was a performance artist in New York in the 70s and my father composed music for dance and theater and film for 30 years (He is best known for his score for “In the Mood for Love” and his compositions for Robert Wilson). Before I began dancing, my training was in visual art and film. I attended an arts high school in Italy where I specialized in painting and art history. At Cornell I majored in Film with a focus on documentary. I started making dances in college as a visual medium, because it was a very immediate way to make art with bodies moving in space.
You’re a 2009 artist-in-residence at ODC Theater, and for the past year or so (correct me if I’m wrong!) you’ve been splitting your time between New York and San Francisco. How did this opportunity at ODC come about? And what does it entail?
I’ve been splitting my time between New York and San Francisco for the past two years. I do so to keep myself inspired. The ODC artist residency is a three-year engagement, and involves ongoing mentorship and fundraising support, in addition to periodic commissions and rehearsal space allotments. Last May, during my first year of residency, I created a new 45-minute work, “The Improbable Reign of Norton I” about San Francisco eccentrics, under ODC’s Artists-in-Residence Commissioning Program. In 2010, I will be focusing on grants and raising money for a longer-term project. I was offered the residency after I presented work through the Pilot Program, ODC’s emerging artist showcase.
You’ve created works based, among other things, in a bank vault, about organ transplants, and one centered on Elvis Presley. How do you even fathom beginning a new work or project? And what’s your creative process like?
When I have an idea for a piece, it starts with a feeling or an image. Sometimes this is inspired by a specific person, like Elvis Presley for example. Casting is the first priority – because I build my work around the performers. My creative process changes all the time, depending on the project. But mostly I like to sketch out a bunch of ideas in the form of images and situations with the performers, then once I have a certain amount of this material, I examine it as a world that I have to get to know and allow IT to dictate where it wants to go. The most exciting part of the creative process for me is when a work has taken on its own trajectory, and all I have to do is keep up.
“Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice” was selected to be presented at the 2006 Skena UP International Theater and Film Festival in Pristina, Kosovo, where it received the New Spirit award for most original outreach in theater. I’m a dance geek, so I have to admit, I don’t know what “original outreach in theater” means. Would you help me out, in layman’s terms?
I think the “original outreach” part was just a poor translation. It means, “Most Original,” I guess. There were awards for “Best Director” and “Best Theater Show.” I don’t think they had ever seen anything quite as cross disciplinary as our “Lightning” piece, but they really liked it so they gave it this special award. Brandt Adams, who plays the lead in “Lightning,” was awarded “Best Actor” which is hilarious because he doesn’t utter a single word during the entire show! Brandt is definitely a great actor and an exceptional mover.
You’re remounting “Lightning,” which is based on the real-life story of Roy Sullivan, a man who was struck by lightning seven times during his lifetime. What drew you to his story?
Originally I wanted to make a piece about a character that goes on a quest or journey. Roy Sullivan‘s story seemed to fit perfectly. There is not a ton of biographical information available about Sullivan, but based on what I’ve read, it seems like he had a really hard time being close with the people around him. We made up new characters that are to exist in Sullivan’s psyche. We use video sequences to tell the story of the real Sullivan, and to describe some of the medical consequences of a lightning encounter. The live sequences are an interpretation of Sullivan’s hallucinations, and his love for an imaginary woman made of electrical cords.
OK, gotta ask, have you ever been struck by lightning?
Remounting isn’t the same as just presenting the already completed version. You’re starting from scratch with the video components, right? How did that go? And what else will be different or tweaked from the original?
We call it remounting because there’s a degree of updating going on… Not necessarily making the piece more “current” in terms of trend, but bringing it up to date according to the aesthetic development of myself and the rest of the cast.
Three members of the original cast are reuniting for the purpose of this show, and one is brand new. Three years later we are different people, and it’s interesting to sort of go back in time, and examine who we were then through the lens of the piece. The reason I wanted the original cast is because I built the characters around their personalities. I enjoy working with different types of performers – friends who inspire me. Brandt Adams, who plays Roy, is an actor and teaching artist in New York City. Satya Stainton trained in ballet and modern dance, and currently administers a meditation center in upstate New York. Kathryn Shearman is an SF-based musician, visual artist, and performer under the moniker “Kazoo.” Jesse Hewit, the new member of the cast, is a director and performer, and a current artist-in-residence at CounterPULSE in San Francisco. Each member of the cast provokes and challenges me in different ways, which keeps the process exciting.
The videos are being re-shot and edited by local video artist Loren R. Robertson. Together we are looking at what worked in the original video in order to make slight improvements. With both the live dance and the recorded video, we’re trying to strike a fine balance between preserving the original vocabulary of the piece and going deeper with it.