I graduated from IU Bloomington in 2002 with a degree in English and Musical Theater. Most of my friends headed to Chicago and other parts unknown, looking for auditions and jobs and couches on which to crash. I came back home to Indianapolis, where I faxed out my resume ten times a day in the vain hope of trying to find a day job that would pay the bills without completely sucking my soul dry. I did a musical over the summer for a local community theater. It was fun, it turned out okay, but my issues with the director and the way the production was organized made me very happy to see the final curtain. Rehearsal until midnight is one thing when you have class at 10 the morning, it’s another thing when you have to be at work with a smiling face at 7:30. Besides, there was wedding planning and house searching and a car that always dying and a lay off and a new job. For about a year, all I did was work on those things and I didn’t miss making art.
An actress friend from college was also living in Indy with her composer husband. We had all collaborated on a musical in school, with me performing and doing choreography, my friend writing and taking the lead role, and her husband writing the music and handling the musical direction. We’d had a great time together, and her small production company had bankrolled the adventure. After life had settled down a little bit, I was feeling frustrated in my day job and I wanted to make a dance about fighting. The last Matrix movie had just come out, and I had visions of kung fu on the brain. I mentioned this to my friend and halfheartedly joked that maybe I should start a company, since there wasn’t any way I could make these visions take shape by myself in my kitchen. She was enthusiastic about the idea and I started playing around with names. I decided on Motus, from the Latin for motion, because I wanted something versatile. I didn’t know what would come of this adventure, and I certainly wasn’t confident enough to create the Katie Kasper Dance Company. (Thank God!) My friend and I talked some more, her husband volunteered to write some music, and eventually Loose Cannon Productions offered to produce a show.
We put ads in the paper and around town for auditions on two dates, and in the end we had one person show up.
Emily Bhatti turned out to be not only one of my dearest friends but an amazing choreographer, dancer and administrator. I would have awkwardly shown combinations to one person for a year to get one person worth Emily Bhatti. Paige Prill Craigie, a dance educator at IUPUI, heard about what we were trying to do and offered us one of her modern classes as an audition. She auditioned herself, performed, and then opened her costume closet to us. Heidi Keller Phillips found our IUPUI audition notice and gave me a call. She wanted to know about every detail of the company, what it was going to be, who I was, and where we were headed. She said, “I just want to know because if I commit to this I’m going to really commit.” (Guess we all know how that turned out.)
We put together a cast of dancers with varying abilities and backgrounds, and managed to find space to rehearse in the Mavris building downtown. Back then, it wasn’t refurbished and beautiful, but that’s why we could afford it. We danced through polyurethane fumes more than once. I did all the choreography, but I asked at every rehearsal if someone wanted to lead warm up. I got a few takers. We laughed. I tore my hair out. LCP handled the marketing and set us up with a December performance date at Marian College. Visual artists were recruited to fill the lobby with their work in our first efforts at collaboration.
It wasn’t our lowest attended show, and I didn’t keep track of any of the money or ticket sales. LCP lost money on us, naturally, and when we found this out we somehow rallied everyone to do another weekend in hopes of making some more money. In December! There were a few cast changes but every piece was there. In the dressing room I there were lots of questions about what was coming next. Would we still have class? Would there be more shows? I didn’t have any answers. I honestly had been so focused on this one show that I hadn’t given any thought to what might happen afterwards. We had a meeting after the holidays and my dining room was full of people wanting to be part of something… something that we created together.
The next few years saw us struggling to get incorporated, countless 3am emails, financial impossibilities that somehow worked themselves out, studio spaces appearing at the right time and the right price ($0), an amazing board and volunteers and a group of dancers who just really, really loved working together. I have never had a better group of friends.
After six years and new motherhood, I was called to a career change. I had to step away, and it was the most frightening thing I’ve ever done. I had always wanted Motus to be independent of me. Like my firstborn child, I wanted to see Motus grow and change and become something even more beautiful than me. My choreography wasn’t very good. I couldn’t put in much stage time while producing, directing and spreadsheeting. My career inside of Motus wasn’t very impressive. I couldn’t take the company to where it is now on my own, but letting it go so I wouldn’t hold it back was wrenching.
I like to think that my real art was creating Motus itself. Creating a space where others could create and grow and flourish, where respect was essential and collaboration deeply valued. That’s where my energy went, where my heart was. In some ways, being completely removed from what’s happening with Motus now is the peak of my success. I built it. It stands on its own. The company is doing things beyond what I ever imagined.
Happy Birthday, my darling. I couldn’t be more proud.