The Foundry

The Fleshing Memory


Created for The Foundry (2002)

Choreography by: Alex Ketley, Christian Burns, and members of The Company

Videography and Sound Design: Alex Ketley and Christian Burns

Costumes by: Rita Dilorenzo

Performed by: Alex Ketley, Christian Burns, Andrea Basile, Summer Lee Rhatigan, Nick Yagoda, and Marina Hotchkiss



San Francisco Chronicle

"Fleshing out ideas in dance Foundry's latest is a powerful piece about loneliness."

“A lot can be said about The Foundry’s latest piece, but this above all: It is a success. It is called “The Fleshing Memory,” and its sold-out opening Friday night in the Forum of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts brought great news for modern dance.

The look of the piece by Christian Burns and Alex Ketley was both simple and impressive. The Forum’s vast floor space, with the audience on risers against the four walls, bore large video screens in two corners. Under each screen was a mountain of crumpled pink paper that from a distance looked like a field of poinsettias past their prime.

There was a tiny bench somewhere off-center, with a microphone nearby. The music, uncredited in the program, ranged from simple plucked strings to what sounded like a hand organ, from unsettling piano arpeggios to gentle rock’ n’ roll. Winds whispered between movements, and electronic rumblings added a hint of threat near the end.

The first episode had Marina Hotchkiss in an ecstatic diagonal progress toward the light, interrupted by her own enigmatic gestures. Ketley then appeared, looking like a wounded harlequin, his grace never dimmed by unpredictable and quite sudden changes of direction and speed.

There were dance fireworks, in the battements on sneakers, in the virtuoso turns in the air, perhaps most of all in Ketley’s moments of staggering stillness. But for all the classical bravura, there was always something new here, a different postmodern entity from the classical steps on view.

Nick Yagoda , in a cross between Jerry Lewis’ trademark toddle and a newly disabled man’s struggle to walk in braces, was heartbreaking as he tried to cover the stage with a heroic effort that seemed almost too private for the world to see. Spoken text, always used by the Foundry as one more color in the dance palette, here was limited to a powerful scene for Summer Lee Rhatigan , a dancer with a very seductive voice. “They want me to beat you down, to find the chink in your armor,” said Rhatigan to the audience as much as to Yagoda .

As “The Fleshing Memory” evolved, Ketley’s eyes were covered by pink paper and masking tape. The serenity of this blinded Tiresias informed the rest of the piece, as Ketley’s moves were echoed by Hotchkiss and later by Andrea Flores. Burns appeared, applying to his body scrap after scrap of pink construction paper with masking tape. His labor became a process and the process grew into a solo: more fluid and less surprising than Ketley’s, less vulnerable but just as gripping. Only the finale, as Burns ripped away his paper fetters, seemed somehow incomplete.

“The Fleshing Memory” is about memory, about loneliness. Its narrative is no less powerful for being anything but linear. “The Fleshing Memory” is also dazzling choreographically, calling for bravura dancing as well as extraordinary concentration.

Burns and Ketley, but also Hotchkiss, Flores and especially Yagoda , were given distinctive, demanding and immensely moving solo work. A duet for Ketley and Hotchkiss carried the desperate sensuality of an early William Forsythe dance. The chaste look and clean lines of the piece brought to mind the best of Robert Wilson. There was more than mere steps and effects here: The work’s emotional impact lingers well after the curtain’s fall.

Burns and Ketley created “The Fleshing Memory” as Yerba Buena’s Wattis artists in residence, and in the process made a persuasive argument for this sort of visionary funding of emerging artists: This is the Foundry’s most impressive work to date.

“The Fleshing Memory” is in many ways a culmination of choreographic and dramatic explorations begun elsewhere, with particularly strong touches of the intriguing “Kid Thunder” the Foundry unveiled at the Headlands Center for the Arts last fall. Yet there is much that is new here, and even more that is daring.

Perhaps the best news about Burns and Ketley’s work is the conviction embodied in their project. Merce Cunningham’s revered abstraction for the hell of it has been left behind as a glorious aesthetic of the 20th century. In the dawn of the 21st, dance is returning to meaning, to important themes, to drama and musicality as well as to renewed technical virtuosity. The Foundry is at the vanguard of American dance.”

Dance Magazine

"There were wide-open spaces and claustrophobic corners in The Foundry's new multimedia modern work The Fleshing Memory— suggestions of freedom and darker hints of isolation. Intriguing elements, which didn't always mesh, contributed to the work's spare, enigmatic appeal.

Alex Ketley and Christian Burns, who met as students at the School of American Ballet and danced together in Alonzo King's LINES Contemporary Ballet, founded The Foundry in 1998. In this piece, done for their artists' residency at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, they engaged Ronald K. Brown/Evidence apprentice Nick Yagoda (who has worked with The Foundry since its inception), and three former LINES colleagues: Marina Hotchkiss and Andrea Flores to dance and Summer Lee Rhatigan to speak. The work was set in Yerba Buena's Forum, a big, square room where risers bracketed the dancing in the center of the floor. Film screens hung at opposing corners, above small hills of crumpled pink construction paper.

The piece, which incorporated both natural and urban settings and a soundscape of plaintive piano music combined with the rustle of wind through trees, opened with video footage of a man running slowly past dilapidated buildings and vacant lots tufted with dry grass. At a similarly deliberate pace, Hotchkiss entered in a shaft of light along a diagonal, with air-carving port de bras and balances. Her partnership with Ketley, under within a pool of light, bore traces of King's choreographic influence in its mercurial directional changes, while the birdlike scoop and arch of Hotchkiss' back was well attuned to the chirp of birds and crickets that emerged over the loudspeakers. Here, the piece did evoke memory, of seasonal shifts and changing relationships.

The dancing triumphed over other, less successful elements of the performance. Rhatigan's spoken word was barely audible and was intruded upon by music that faded in and out abruptly (Jimmy Scott's rendition of "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"), and there were moments of video projection which echoed, without necessarily strengthening, the live action. Loneliness was abstracted in the extreme with video footage of an older character who went about his household chores in a pink-construction-paper suit, and as Ketley, live, taped up in that same paper, made his way around the periphery as the other dancers folded and flew paper airplanes above his head.

But the dancers, dressed in street clothes and sneakers, brought crystalline technique, serious focus, and an emotional heft to the piece, even when the intent wasn't always clear. Partnerships were tender, with physical connections as intimate as they were odd: hands cupping heavy heads, or teeth tugging at shirtsleeves. In a mesmerizing solo, Yagoda became a disabled man fighting to control his spastic limbs and twitching fingers–as he lurched stiffly across the floor, knees and elbows akimbo, he stopped to kiss his own hand or touch his chest, with glimpses of breath between steps. This short piece ended as it had begun, on the diagonal, with an exit to John Lennon's "Mind Games" and the refrain "Love is the answer." Despite some baffling moments in The Fleshing Memory, The Foundry is onto something that feels both real and true.”

San Francisco Chronicle

Critics’ Picks

DANCE: Christian Burns and Alex Ketley, the dynamic duo better known as the Foundry, plan to unveil their latest fusion of dance, theater, sculpture and video this weekend: “The Fleshing Memory.” The multimedia extravaganza promises an art installation, film taken during the Foundry's residency at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and, if Burns and Ketley’s previous work is any indication, some of the most original modern dance anywhere.

United States Department of State Journal
April 2003

"Dance: A Constantly Evolving Tradition"

“Some of the most interesting modern dance anywhere is being created by The Foundry, a dance collective founded by Alex Ketley and Christian Burns whose electrifying performances and theatrical use of avant-garde video techniques contain much that is new, and even more that is daring.  Perhaps the best news about Burns and Ketley's work is the conviction embodied in their project: Cunningham's revered abstraction for its own sake has been left behind as a glorious aesthetic of the 20th century and, in the dawn of the 21st, dance is returning to meaning, to important themes, to drama and musicality, and to renewed technical virtuosity. The Foundry is at the vanguard of American dance. Dance in the United States today is unique.  From classical and neoclassical ballet to the frontiers of modern dance, it is safe to say that there is nothing quite like New York City Ballet, the American Ballet Theater, or the Paul Taylor Dance Company, like the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company or the Joe Goode Performance Group, like Robert Moses' Kin or The Foundry. These are only some of the best examples, but more could be cited. Dance in the United States is a kaleidoscopic art form that reflects a wildly varied, multifaceted culture. Dance after new dance appears like so many reflections in a living mirror, their lights adding up to a constellation of optimism. American dance reflects American life.”