On Friday, July 24, ODC bid farewell to dancer Natasha Adorlee. Adorlee joined the company in 2011. Adorlee is such a fierce mover, it’s hard to take your eyes off her, even when she dances with the full ensemble. There’s a rawness to her performance sensibility supported by impeccable technical skills. Adorlee is a multidisciplinary artist — guitarist, songwriter, vocalist, music producer, dancer, and filmmaker. She and her partner, Max Sachar, have three short films coming out this year through her company Concept o4, and you can hear one of her songs in the 2020 Pixar Spark short Out, on Disney +.
During our Zoom meeting, Adorlee sat in her music studio, a tidy space with guitars hanging on the walls and two sleepy dogs lounging on comfy chairs. She graciously ignored my unmade bed and embraced my Zoom bombing children.
Sima: I understand you didn’t get to the usual farewell, replete with a final performance and flowers thrown at your feet. Coronavirus sucks.
Natasha: Yeah, that’s traditionally what happens. I feel like many dancers don’t get to really internalize that they’re leaving until that final bow because they’re still going through performance preparations. I had time to process the nostalgia, sadness, and also excitement about what’s next for me.
Sima: How did your journey with ODC start?
Natasha: KT and Brenda had seen me dance before I auditioned for the company in 2011. I’d been in Robert Moses’ Kin [2008–2011], and I’d been part of the Pilot program as a dancer. KT encouraged me to come to the audition. I was the last person to register that day; I almost didn’t go. I was working as a musician and DJ at the time. Dance was something I was doing for fun without professional aspirations. When I was 18, I planned on being a dancer, but this path led to a lot of sadness and injuries. I even took a year of not dancing just to heal. So I went to the audition not expecting anything. It was packed full of people. After four hours of learning repertory and creative exercises, Brenda and KT were like, we need to talk to you right now, and so my journey began.
Sima: Where did you get your early dance training?
Natasha: I went to the Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice. It’s in this tiny strip mall in Overland Park, Kansas [a suburb of Kansas City] but that school was an incubator. Most of my friends who trained there have gone on to be on Broadway, in movies, and in other dance companies. They pushed me to sing and I trained in so many styles of dance. They would bring people in to do master classes. It was highly unusual for that area and people still tilt their heads when I say I grew up in Kansas, but I had a really well-rounded performing arts education there. I had started performing professionally by the time I was 6, to the point where I got pulled out of school for a while to do theater productions. Dance and the performing arts have been my whole life.
When I came to SF it was really different. I was trying to navigate my place here. Am I a dancer? Am I a musician? Am I both? Can I do both simultaneously? I dealt with some nay-sayers. When I joined ODC, though I knew it was a dance company, I wanted to bring as much of my own creativity and knowledge to the table. And it clicked. Brenda and KT saw these other facets of me and let me fuse them with contemporary dance.
The first piece I ever helped create was Breathing Under Water [Way 2012], which is a music and dance piece with Zoe Keating. It was such an incredible start to it all. It opens with me singing “The Devil’s Nine Questions” acapella, in darkness. I still remember the thrill of opening night.
Sima: When did you decide to leave the company and why?
Natasha: I started thinking it may soon be time to depart after we completed Worlds on Fire at Dance Downtown with Kate Weare and Brenda last year. Worlds on Fire was immensely fun to be a part of but it also felt like the end of something. For those months that we worked on it, I was able to concentrate and calm my attention but this came right after the release of Take Your Time, which was a short film I directed. That film had a successful film festival and awards run. I recognized I was being pulled in many different directions, all of which were exciting, but taking their toll. I couldn’t keep straddling the line, but at the same time, I was reluctant to leave. ODC had become such a massive part of my identity. But, that ended up being more of a reason to go. I needed to get back in touch with myself.
Sima: Tell me about your last performance with ODC.
Natasha: In January, ODC was scheduled to perform KT’s Dead Reckoning at the Joyce [Theater in NYC]. My first year with the company I performed at the Joyce so it was a full circle moment. It ended up being the last performance for all of us in the company.
Dead Reckoning will always be meaningful to me because of the creative process. KT had gone on a sabbatical to Death Valley and when she came back it was like she walked in with this different energy and it was electric. On day one, we went outside of the studio to be inspired by the landscape of the Mission District. With its areas of wealth and gentrification and some of the most harrowing life experiences right next to each other, it’s a reckoning of what’s happening in our city.
My partner was Joseph Hernandez, who I had just been partnered with for Kate Weare’s Drop Down, an intense duet that pushed my body and soul to their edges. But it also started me down the path of exploring where my true power is generated from. Kate is an unbelievably inspiring creative force. Working with her taught me to get very present in myself and investigate work differently.
Joseph and I took that energy from Drop Down and kept vortexing it into Dead Reckoning. It was the perfect storm of music, people, energy, and the idea behind it — climate change. I knew something special had been created.
Sima: Tell me about the differences between working with Brenda, Kimi, and KT.
Natasha: I worked with Kimi on Two if By Sea. It’s this hilarious and heartfelt theatrical piece with tap dancing. Kimi has always tapped into the theater side of me. She creates these insane physical puzzles.
KT finds a way to transform spaces and the world around you when you’re dancing. Especially as a woman, she taps into some deeper ideas of sexuality and intimacy.
With Brenda, you get the ultimate producer. She knows how to bring the right combination of people in the room, give the right prompts, and while I’m still staring at my toes to see how they work, she has an outline of the entire piece on day one.
Kate is a different energy; she is powerful and humble. She asks the dancers what they see; she’s interested in differing perspectives outside of her own.
I’ve been lucky to work with all of these women. They’ve created a whole ecosystem of work at ODC that will be a part of their legacy for years to come.
Sima: What do you think dancing with ODC gave you that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life?
Natasha: I felt the transformation of my own voice happen. I entered the company in the pupil sense — give me a prompt, edit me, I will interpret that, and hopefully you’ll like it and use it. I got to a deeper place later in my time with ODC where I would speak up about ideas that I imagined would support the work creatively. Especially as a woman in dance, to say, this is my character I’m creating, it might be separate from your vision as a director, but hopefully we can align. I got to a place of inhabiting my own power and realizing that my perspective and life experiences also belong in the room.