Dancers’ Studio West’s 35th Annual Alberta Dance Festival is underway, and we recently spoke with choreographer Kathleen Doherty about her solo piece Arriving at the End, which was presented during Week One of the festival. The subject of Doherty’s piece is famed aviator Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart is also known for her mysterious disappearance over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
“The mystery behind her disappearance is so intriguing, it’s hard not to become interested in her story,” said Doherty about Earhart whose final flight has been the subject of much speculation over the years.
Doherty’s work, however, is mainly inspired by similarities she recognized between herself and Earhart, including qualities that have resonated with her.
“In my research around Amelia I discovered that she worked endlessly, in many different aspects that were directly, or semi directly involved with aviation,” said Doherty. “She did all of these extra jobs which included lecturing, public appearances, clothing design, book writing (just to name a few), simply to have the financial ability and proper experience to support her flying. I quickly made a parallel to being a dance artist, particularly in a small city like Halifax, in which I work so many semi related jobs (arts administration, teaching) simply to support my artistic career.”
“I feel connected to Amelia within the work, but not in a narrative sense. I feel I’m channeling her energy, knowledge, self trust, her grounding abilities and her passion,” said Doherty. “These personal connections are a much deeper way into the work for me, and I’m happy about the way I’ve framed the piece, which allows me to deepen and explore this relationship, both to Amelia, and to myself.”
On creating work inspired by a real person, Doherty says there is “definitely some added pressure” choreographing around a historical figure. Doherty approached the work by reading a biography on Earhart and researching theories about her disappearance, adding that she even came up with a theory of her own.
“I did start with a narrative approach in choreographing my piece; trying to be her, or trying to tell a part of her story, but I always ended up hitting a wall, nothing quite felt right,” Doherty explained. “I still needed to be able to find myself within the work, and so identifying similarities between myself and Amelia, and imagining what might have happened to her plane for myself was a much better entry point for myself into working with her story.”
Doherty says the creation process was also “quite different” since she was not only creating work around a historical figure, but also creating a solo for herself – elements “[she] had not worked with specifically before.”
“When I started working on the solo I was really trying to get used to being alone, I realized I’m not alone very often in my life,” said Doherty. “Amelia was alone often, including when she was flying, and I think these were the moments when she felt like herself the most. I worked with this idea of being alone, and being able to truly be yourself in those moments.”
Amelia’s final flight path also inspired the work, says Doherty.
“I looked up a map of her final flight path, and used it as a guide in moving myself through the space,” said Doherty. “Things have shifted and changed from then, but I do still work with traveling to and from specific points in space, and finding a sense of arrival when I get to a certain point on the stage, or within the material.”
Doherty says she plans to continue working on her piece in the future.
“I would love to have music composed for the piece, have a costume designed, and find a time to perform it in Halifax,” said Doherty. “The life of this work is unknown, but certainly will continue to develop with new discoveries along the way, much like Amelia’s disappearance.”
Dancers’ Studio West’s 35th Annual Alberta Dance Festival runs Sept 8 – 10 & 15 – 17 at the Pumphouse Theatre. This year’s theme is Bold Moments in Time. Kathleen Doherty’s Arriving at the End was presented during Week One of the festival. Click here to see the full festival program, including choreographers in Week Two.
About Kathleen Doherty
Kathleen Doherty is a dancer, choreographer, improviser and teacher based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She attended Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ Professional Training Program in Calgary from 2009-2011. Upon returning to Halifax in 2012, Kathleen co-founded Votive Dance, and has worked as Artistic Director since its inception. Kathleen is a founder and co-director of VERGE, a music and dance ensemble. She has worked with Mocean Dance as a dancer, emerging choreographer, and mentee. Kathleen is Administrative Director with Kinetic Studio and General Manager for suddenlyLISTEN Music. She is the primary jazz instructor with The Maritime Conservatory in Halifax. Recently, Kathleen’s choreography has been presented by: TD Halifax Jazz Festival, suddenlyLISTEN Music, Votive Dance, Kinetic Studio, and Connection Dance Works. Kathleen is a member of the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists, Ontario Chapter.