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Natalie Kuhn Interview

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: .

David Byrne’s current tour has been subject to a phenomenal level of acclaim amongst critics and fans alike, largely due to Byrne’s supporting cast of performers. The expanded show includes a set of lively backup singers, an extensive backing band and a trio of modern dancers – everyone interacting with Byrne during throughout the duration of each concert. As the tour continues, Culture Bully’s Chris DeLine was able to get a few words in with one of the show’s dancers, Natalie Kuhn, discussing the choreography of the show, the selection process, and hot air balloons.

Word has it that you’re a graduate of the NYU theater school – how did you make the transition over to dance?

Natalie Kuhn: I graduated NYU with a BFA in Drama. During my training at the Atlantic and at the Experimental Theater Wing I took many different movement classes ranging from Suzuki and Viewpoints to West African Dance. But I wouldn’t say that I have made a “transition” over to dance because this is actually my first gig where I have been hired specifically as a dancer.

What was the selection process like during the auditions?

Natalie Kuhn: It was an invitation only audition held in July. The four choreographers and David were in the room the entire time. The choreographers are Sonya Robbins and Layla Childs who work as a team known as Robbinschilds, Annie B Parson, and Noemie Lafrance. Each choreographer would have about an hour working with us and at the end of each hour (or so) there would be a cut. By the second day there were nine of us that stayed the whole day doing different exercises and routines.

How long did you have to practice with the choreography team prior to heading out on tour?

Natalie Kuhn: We had one week with each choreographer (three weeks total) and on the fourth week, we spent three days putting all the elements together. We had three days in Easton, PA for tech/dress rehearsals and then off we went!

What have you learned about the creative process through working with this production?

Natalie Kuhn: I suppose I have begun to see how everything has the potential to affect your current creative project. For example, one of the inspirations for two of the dance pieces was a Japanese film that David saw and then lent to Annie-B. After one of our shows, a few of us ran down the street to catch the last bit of Deerhoof perform and their show in turn has inspired some movement in a new dance piece we are beginning to work on for the tour.

Jonathan Valania described the show for Rolling Stone as “modern dance for people who don’t like modern dance.” He continued by touching on one of the show’s highlights, “Midway through ‘Once In A Lifetime,’ one of the dancers literally vaulted Byrne while he took a guitar solo.” What role do you play in the show?

Natalie Kuhn: While I do not vault David, I do think we all have a similar role and that is to have as much fun as possible. At least that’s how I see it. I’m having a great time, I’m pretty sure all of us up there are, and it seems that the audience is as well. It’s a symbiotic relationship I think; you have fun – I have fun.

What is attempting to be communicated through the movements of the show?

Natalie Kuhn: I’m going to pull a lame high school English teacher move and ask you – what was communicated to you? A lot of people have asked me after the show, “what does the dancing MEAN?” And whether or not there is concrete meaning behind each dance piece, would it be any fun if I came right out and told you? I think the most important thing is how the dancing, singing, and music combine to create an overall experience. Hopefully a positive one.

David Byrne has been keeping his online journal up as the tour goes on, his 9/21 post adding the following, “The dancing element of the show really lifts everything to another level. At first, I was concerned that it would even ‘work’ and be a real integrated part of the show. It is.” How much does positive feedback like this drive you and the show’s other two dancers? How much interaction do you have with David, himself?

Natalie Kuhn: Positive feedback is certainly great to hear. I definitely want David to be happy with the work but I also trust David and the choreographers to tell us if something needs to change. It really is a collaborative environment, he throws out ideas and opinions and he asks for ours all the time. To answer the second part, I’m sure there are some headlining musicians who only see their fellow performers at the gig but that is not David. Often he is the one to put together a group hike or a bike ride. Someone will throw out a plan – like hot air ballooning – and whoever wants to go, “meet in the lobby at 9am.” David is always game. He is a real adventurer, athlete, and is very inclusive.

Were you a Talking Heads fan prior to the tour?

Natalie Kuhn: Oh yes.