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Dance Preview: Katie Griffin Solos at Motion Pacific

This year’s Incubator Artist celebrates a life in dance

Choreographer Katie Griffin’s first full-length solo show opens at Motion Pacific Nov. 4 as part of the studio’s Incubator Project. PHOTO: Yvonne M. Portra

Katie Griffin doesn’t like to let a lot of people in, she explains with a half-laugh. That, she says, is why her long-in-development new solo dance show evolved into a tribute to those she has.

“It’s an ode to the people who are closest to me and know me best,” says Griffin, whose show opens Nov. 4 at Motion Pacific.

Griffin was chosen to be this year’s Incubator Artist for Motion Pacific, an emerging choreographer program that offers resources, mentorship and advocacy. It was the perfect kick to get her into gear, and with it she fleshed out the final pieces of I looked and I saw you… theRedchairdiaries, a work that has been in progress for years.

“Three years ago I turned 30, and was like ‘Alright, you’re going to give yourself three years to do this,” she says.

Incorporating bits and pieces from her own life, and the lives of her friends and relatives—her mom’s red chair, her grandmother’s petticoats—Redchairdiaries is a gestural dance poured from Griffin’s heart. It’s sprinkled with some original music by Voidflesh, some rap, some classical, and “a bunch of Tom Waits.”

“For me, it’s important—a color, a piece of music, even one movement. It’s helped shape what this journey has become.” — Kate Griffin

“I had this thing where I started exploring performance art, bringing improvisation and props and more imagery into what I’ve presented,” she says.

The 40-minute show builds on works she’s done over the past few years: six installations in six locations that include bits she’s taken and put into the multimedia show, from one vignette with war paint to a photo series of everyday items to a duet series with local dancer Molly Katzman. It’s multimedia and multifaceted, building on Griffin’s desire to transform space.

The show is a culmination of a lifetime of dance; growing up, Griffin did everything from hip-hop to tap, and they all show up in Redchairdiaries, in a way, says Griffin.

The show’s title is a reference to those who’ve had an impact on her, especially Tony Brintzenhoff, who photographed her years ago. She’d brought a red chair with her for a photo shoot in his garage, and he ended up naming the series The Red Chair Diary.

“That really struck me,” says Griffin. “I emailed out a blast for a recent project, he was in my email list, and his wife responded that he’d passed away. That was really special that he gave me … almost an identity, in some ways.”

Sometimes we forget how people in our lives shape our experience of the world and development as people, says Griffin. Redchairdiaries is a way for her to say thank you to those in hers—like her girlfriend of 11 years, Yvonne M. Portra, who’s collaborated as photographer, and modern choreographer Keith Johnson.

“I’ve been wanting to commission him or work for him as a dancer for the past 14 years since I went to school in Long Beach [where he runs a company]. I’ve always been terrified—just, you know, self-doubt and not thinking I was good enough. But he also had one of the strongest impacts on me in my training in terms of aesthetic, how he approaches movement,” says Griffin. “For years I taught my classes modelled after parts of his. So I finally got the guts to ask him to be involved in this project.”

It was a dream come true, says Griffin, to collaborate with Johnson on the final piece of her show, which they did via internet. The process, aided by her friends, was a major growing up process.

It’s also changed what she wants her dance to mean, says Griffin.

“Originally as a dancer, I wanted to dance for companies, but that sort of shifted in terms of culture—that’s not really a realistic goal for me,” says Griffin. “I want to use dance as a way for healing and bring it to different audiences.”

And while the influences might not be immediately readable to the audience, says Griffin, she carries their stories through movement.

“For me, it’s important—a color, a piece of music, even one movement. It’s helped shape what this journey has become. I didn’t set out to make it a dedication, but they are why I am where I’m at,” says Griffin. “Through their histories and stories, why I’ve connected to them and carried them along with me, my life has become little bit more clear.”


Info: 7:30 p.m., Nov. 4 and 5. Motion Pacific, 131 Front St., Santa Cruz. gofundme.com/theRedchairdiaries. motionpacific.com.

Features Editor at |

Anne-Marie was 9 when she decided she would be a journalist. Many years, countless all-nighters, two majors and one degree later, she started as GT’s Features Editor a day after graduating UCSC.
In her writing she seeks to share local LGBTQ/Queer stories and unpack Santa Cruz’s unique relationship with gender, race, the arts, and armpit hair.
A dedicated pursuant of wokeness and turtleneck evangelist, she finds joy in wall calendars and that fold of skin above the knee.

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