On 27th March 2018, An Evening of Meat is launched at Waterloo Vaults. It is a unique and provocative dinner installation – described as a feast of femininity where expressive dance and indulgent food meet to thoroughly inundate all the senses. Having gained a cult following across the world, American director Kate March along with her all-female creative collective, I AM, brings her unique mixture of choreography, performance art and food to London for a limited run this Spring.
I’ll be going along in a couple of weeks to experience the fine-dining menu and dancers using a table as a stage, and I cannot wait to see what’s held in store for me. Before that though, I was lucky enough to speak to Kate about I AM, the show, and what is next for her and the company.
Playhouse Pickings – Who are I AM and how did it come about?
PP – What made you decide to create immersive dining experiences?
KM – My work tends to be unconventional and initially I felt in order to develop a wider audience, I needed to offer them an anchoring format which felt familiar – in this way, an audience could feel more open to experimentation with the art and entertainment side of the experience. I was extremely surprised to see how amazing the response was when I attached my aesthetic and choreography to a dinner.Additionally, I felt providing art in a dining setting is a truly multi-dimensional and sensory experience offering an array of ways to communicate with an array of personalities. I AM develops concepts other than immersive dining experiences in our repertoire, but I have to say, the dining aspect brings something special and complimentary to our work.
PP – What makes an evening of meat different to other immersive experiences?
KM – I don’t think words can explain what An Evening of Meat is or does or feels like – and often it’s the undefinable experience which is the most powerful. I think a lot of “immersive” experiences these days label themselves as such but aren’t really genuinely immersive or interactive or makes the audience truly feel a part of something. An Evening of Meat is a shared experience between the performers and the audience and its beauty and power come from the fact that it doesn’t fit into any box or label -this is what makes it unique.
PP – For who did you make An Evening of Meat? Who is the desired audience?
KM – Originally, I made it for the performers. I wanted to create something which gave the performers an emotional and athletic journey — something that would ultimately feel empowering and cathartic.
I guess I personally needed to feel this as an artist at the time. When I started thinking about other people watching the journey, this seemed equally as empowering and super engaging. I don’t typecast my audience, but I made it for anyone with an open mind.
PP – If you look online at the I AM website, an Evening of Meat looks quite risque. Do you expect people to be shocked by the show? Is it for the faint-hearted?
KM – In the past, we have experimented with costume variations so a lot of the imagery on the website at the moment refers to older versions of the show. I think the female body can shock and stir a lot of people in different ways.From my perspective, the show actually has so much irony and plays with the distortion of beauty that it is anything but risque. It might have moments of sensuality, but I think the athleticism and power dynamics are much more a part of the aesthetic when you actually are experiencing it live. I’ve never encountered a negativity towards the show after people have seen it for themselves. Art, in general, is not for the faint-hearted.
PP – What should the audience expect from the performance?
KM – Actually, it’s quite simple operationally to explain and yet emotionally different for each individual. Generally, people can expect an incredible six-course meal, great energy and music, performers dancing so close to them that they can see their muscles flex, new fashion designs by Lisa Von Tang, booze, and a feeling as if they’re a part of a movie. A world is created.
PP – Tell me a little bit about the food. Who has developed the menu and how have you created it together to complement the performance?
KM – The menu is available for people to see ( PR team can provide). Chef Chavdar Todorov is the Chef who developed the menu for this run of shows. He’s the in-house show at the Vaults and is incredibly talented. Chef and I are both confident in our respective expertise as well as the team as a whole. I feel it’s an important aspect of the concept as a whole to give the chefs, and Chavdar in particular with his immense skills, total freedom to interpret and explore the themes in the way he felt creatively inclined to do so.
I entrusted him to the development and when he presented the ideas for the menu, there weren’t many changes to be made. It’s brilliant and because he had the opportunity to see so much of the writing, philosophy, video footage, and past iterations of An Evening of Meat, he obviously understood how to tie his creations to the core themes of the performance. We wanted to give people an all sensory experience of true “tasteful” and we believe we will have accomplished that.
PP – I love that it is an all female company, why did you choose to do this?
KM – I think it’s important to elevate the female perspective in contemporary art. Historically, many female artists and voices have been ignored and I didn’t want to see that happen with my own work or so many other women who have so much to contribute to a global conversation. I respect the voices of all gender identities of course, but my real passion and vision has always been to provide a space dedicated specifically to women to share their narratives, emotions, viewpoints, and creative ingenuity. I also think it’s equally significant that I AM naturally arms its artists with entrepreneurial skills that aid in sustaining a career in the arts. If our vision of a project somehow includes men or transgender or not exclusively individuals who identify themselves as female then, of course, we collaborate in that way.
PP – You do work in America, Asia and here. How on earth do you plan it all from all over the world?
KM – I AM has a fantastic global team of collaborators. Siobhan Maire Dumigan, the Assistant Director of I AM is based in Asia –Mary Sherwin is the Associate Choreographer of I AM and is based in NYC. I am now based in NY but I travel almost monthly. We use words A LOT to describe the work. We have tons of Whatsapp group chats and Skype group calls. We send performers and associate artists (who are based around the world) many different briefs and videos before we start rehearsal processes. We are fortunate enough now to be able to be selective about the projects we prioritise. We are all trying to embrace technology as a useful tool in the creative process. Sometimes I resent technology because it often distracts us from being present and discovering authentic connection…. but in our case, it really does lead to more artistic collaboration opportunities and growth as a collective.
PP – Your work has been described as visionary, interactive, provocative, and powerfully bold. Obviously, that is amazing but is quite a lot of pressure. How do you go about creating the next big thing to continue meeting the standards which you have set for yourself and by people coming to your shows?
KM – I’ve just always naturally been super ambitious and self-driven so despite how anyone describes my work, I usually seem to put an unnecessary amount of pressure on myself! I feel passionate about innovating, pushing my own artistic boundaries, and challenging my own creative potential. I make sure I try to have some moments of total relaxation and rejuvenation where I can avoid the pressure — because yeah, it can really be exhausting. But at the end of the day, to make a living out of what I do is a real gift and I’m grateful for the opportunity. I want to inspire and impact people with my art and help as many people as I can see the value of art and creativity. The pressure is worth it.
PP – What is next for you and I AM?
KM – We tend to do a lot of very private dinners and events – we do have some public productions, but they’re generally not very long series. This series is exciting because it allows for more transformation, more evolution, more dialogues, and more experimentation in the creative process and for the public to absorb. I hope the future involves more longer-term projects open to the general public. I expect the unexpected…
Dietary requirements are catered for as well as vegetarian/vegan options.