Interview: Alex Ketley

The Brief


Alex Ketley is an independent choreographer and the director of The Foundry, a contemporary dance company based in San Francisco. Recurring themes found in his projects created for The Foundry include multimedia work, improvisation, collaboration, and the relationship between dance and place. Lost Line, for example, features video footage from a year-long trek across California, while the multi-year trilogy No Hero explores what dance means to people living in rural America. Ketley has received a number of fellowships and awards for his choreographic work, including the Gerbode-Hewlett Choreographer Commissioning Award and the National Eben Demarest Award.

Which non-fiction book would you recommend?
I was really moved by The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel, a book about a man who lived alone for over 25 years. I’ve long been fascinated with solitude, and liked the story of someone who had the courage to live and suffer for their own truth.

Which folk musicians would you recommend?
I listen to a lot of folk music; some of my favourites are Damien Jurado, JMB, Joshua James, J. Tillman (Father John Misty), Horse Feathers, and The Cave Singers. I like music that has patina to it and that feels evocative of the lost towns of the United States.

Which choreographic work would you recommend?
The work of Ralph Lemon, Pina Bausch, DV8 (Lloyd Newson), Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, and Miguel Gutierrez. Also all the amazing hip hop and krumping artists out there in the world.

Which journalistic work would you recommend?
‘Welcome Home’ by Craig F. Walker, a photo essay of a veteran suffering from acute post-traumatic stress disorder. Absolutely moving, important, and gripping.


The following questions relate to our Perspectives column, in which two writers respond to an artwork that they are experiencing for the first time.

Are art galleries detached from the real world?
I think our culture has become so compartmentalised that I would have to say yes. Galleries are in a particular conversation with the artwork and its patrons, which excludes huge swaths of the population.

Should art aim to bring people together?
For me, art it is about creating pieces that allow people to experience a particular flash in time as a collective. These fleeting moments of bringing people together feel important.

Rule of Three

The following questions relate to our Rule of Three column, for which each article includes a trio of artworks that share an association with a single word.

Which artwork associated with the word ‘Illumination’ would you recommend?
Nelken by Pina Bausch was one of the most illuminating artworks I’ve experienced. Symphonic in how it sculpted the audience’s emotions. Absolutely genius.

Which artwork associated with the word ‘Junkyard’ would you recommend?
I am an enormous fan of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s paintings. His works have the type of organised chaos (like a junkyard) that I aspire to as an artist myself.

Which artwork associated with the word ‘Quartet’ would you recommend?
I saw the Branford Marsalis Quartet perform John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. They played with such ferocity and abandon that it seemed like the entire thing could crash and fall apart at any moment. Truly mesmerising.

States of the Arts

The following questions relate to our States of the Arts column, for which each article includes four artworks that share an association with a single nation or territory.

Which Israeli artist would you recommend?
If you haven’t seen it already, seek out the work of Ohad Naharin. He pulled dance and the moving body out of the grip of abstract modernism and gave it heart again.

Which South African artist would you recommend?
William Kentridge, for the breadth of his vision and the magnitude of his skill sets. He is an inspiration in how he views expression as something not limited to a particular medium.

The art of discovery

The following questions relate to Silent Frame’s aim to celebrate the art of discovery.

For you, is artistic discovery a private or shared experience?
Both. My heart as an artist is about learning about myself. As a choreographer, I do this through my interactions with dancers and audiences, which teaches me more than I could ever learn alone.

What question would you like to ask other Silent Frame interviewees?
What is the most moving moment you have had while creating art?

More to discover

Alex Ketley: Visit the artist’s website here, and watch excerpts of his work on Vimeo here.

Today’s recommendations: The Stranger in the Woods (excerpt), Welcome Home (photographs), Nelken (excerpt from the Tanztheater Wuppertaler Pina Bausch’s 1994 tour), Jean-Michel Basquiat (the artist’s website), A Love Supreme (excerpt), Ohad Naharin (performance of George & Zalman), William Kentridge (excerpt from More Sweetly Play the Dance).

Also on Silent Frame