Colorado Poets Center E-Words Issue #7

Vortex Performance: An Interview with Katherine West

As part of the CPC’s exploration of “poetry plus” (performance, internet, combinations with visual art, and the like) in Colorado, we asked Katherine West of Green Fuse Arts Alliance in northern Colorado to comment on how she works in performance, particularly with the group called “Vortex Drive” consisting of Katherine, Jeff Finer, who plays the dobro (a slide guitar, not a steel guitar as is sometimes mistakenly thought), and Ixchel Whitcher, a dancer.

CPC: Do you do this ‘all at once’?

Katherine WestKatherine: Most of the time we are simultaneous – Jeff plays and Ixchel dances and I read – but not always. Sometimes Ixchel starts dancing all by herself and then I come in with a poetry and then and only then does Jeff come in and we all go together for a while and then Jeff can play in between the poems with Ixchel dancing and I am silent, etc. It depends on the piece and the poems. Everything is choreographed and composed, although some pieces are jazzier and allow for more improvisation than others.

One piece that we are working on right now is very tightly structured since it is for a dance festival, but we are also working on a poetry play, which will have some improvisation in it as well as tightly choreographed pieces with Ixchel as well as her student ballerinas. Synergy? We consider ourselves exponential.

CPC: How did this all come about?

Katherine: We started at the Mercury Café in Denver exactly one year ago and went on from there to perform at the Loveland Museum, Avogadro’s Number in Ft. Collins, The Loveland Unitarian Church, The Yellow Pine Reading Series in Boulder, The Cameron Church Sanctuary in Denver. Last spring we performed a part of a dance festival at the CSU Lory Student Center Theater.

Also last spring, our poetry/play “The Exile: Snow White in the 21st Century” was presented at the Loveland Museum and we led the Flower Communion at the Loveland Unitarian Church as well as performing at several senior citizen residential facilities in Loveland and Ft. Collins.

CPC: Does the poem come “first” or how does that all come together?

Katherine: Yes, the poems (usually, but not always mine, our dancer also is a poet) comes first, sort of. I work with Jeff first and read him the poetry while he picks out riffs, but he sometimes adds riffs that he has already been working on, if they fit, and modifies them for the poem, or he can go with something completely new.
We work together for a while and then record a CD and send it to Ixchel who works with the recording to choreograph the piece and when she is ready we all come together and rehearse—a lot! That’s where it changes and we all work together as equals to polish and pull together the set.
Therefore, although the music and dance might start off as interpretations of the words, they certainly don’t end up that way. I watch Ixchel and try to flow with her and so does Jeff and he listens to me to decide how he should pace and vice versa. Sometimes he is behind me, taking his cue from me, but sometimes he foreshadows with music what will come next in the poem—like Billie Holliday.
(Note: The URL for Green Fuse is