Kat Sullivan_small


My Life in Pennies

I met Kat J. Sullivan through meetings for thINKingDANCE, where we are both writers. She has performed with Trio C, SKI BALL, Antonia & Artists, and Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Co, in addition to working with independent artists such as Sean Thomas Boyt, Meredith Stapleton, and Evalina Carbonell. Kat’s work has been shown throughout Pennsylvania and New York, including the Come Together Festival (PHL) and the Triskelion Arts Comedy in Dance Festival (NYC). I am deeply appreciative of the insightful week of content she has curated, culminating in her oddly poetic ledger, below.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

I’ve been having the “money talk” with many different people in my life for a while now. I’ve asked my friends how they make ends meet as an artist without selling their souls. I’ve asked them what they do to make a livable amount, yet have enough “free” time for rehearsals, projects, workshops, etc. I’ve asked them how they do their taxes.

From what I’ve gathered from others and certainly in my own experience, performing artists do not hold down one 9 to 5 day job that covers their bills while they rehearse and perform in the evening. Rather, income is made by cobbling together odd jobs that cover not only essentials like rent, food, and transportation, but also classes, performance application fees, production fees for the self-producing, and perhaps paying your dancers/actors/etc. (Funding and grants are another beast entirely.) At the moment, I hold three consistent jobs that pay; these do not include a week of intensive rehearsals I attend once a month, writing and working on the communications team for thINKingDANCE, or other “random” sources of income. No two weeks look the same for me, and oftentimes rehearsals and other plans are scheduled at the last-ish minute. It can be exciting and it certainly keeps you on your toes (ha), but I don’t know many who scoff at the idea of some sort of financial predictability and stability. I’m currently searching for jobs that afford me decent pay but don’t require me to physically be in a place for a long time; I’ve started collecting figure modeling gigs as a result.

I love being a freelance modern dancer/choreographer, but when it comes to money, I don’t really know what I’m doing. How do we maximize our “money making time” so that we may take full advantage of our “art making time”? Let’s talk about it.

Thursday, February 11th, 2016

Today was my first collaborative session with photographer Paul Taylor. I was connected with him through a dancer-friend who has been collaborating with him on dance/movement images for about a year now. In addition to being a gifted capturer-of-movement-on-film, he’s very sympathetic to the financial situation of performing artists; he pays me a bit over the regular hourly fee. Paul lives about an hour and a half away in New Jersey, and I have to stop for gas on the way back to Philly. I also hit a Starbucks for sustenance (although Paul also provided me with a few mini-Snickers and a banana for the trip).

+$: Photography session
-$: Gas, coffee and a sandwich, yoga class in the evening

Friday, February 12th, 2016

I start my day with the mid-shift at Gryphon Coffee in Kensington. This is my “non-art day job” where I make part-time hourly wage. We the employees are a scrappy little crew who are as dedicated to honing our coffee craft as we are making weird slow-motion videos of leftover soup being poured over a gourd. When we’re not serving customers or maintaining the general upkeep of the shop, I spend my shift throwing lattes. They taste great but I’m still working on my designs (though I’m told, “at least it’s all in the cup now”).

After I sign out of my shift, I head to Temple University to pick up some of my students. I teach the Philadelphia Dance Experience, a gen-ed course for non-dance majors. The crux of the class is taking the students to see four shows in the Philly dance scene; tonight, I am escorting them to FringeArts to see Raphael Xavier’s The Unofficial Audience Guide to Watching Performance. My students seem to enjoy the performance much more than the ballet we saw last weekend. I leave to bring a few of them back to campus, thinking about how I will direct our class discussion on Tuesday.

+$: Working at the café, working for Temple University
-$: SEPTA fare to and from the venue

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

A slow day. I visit a few thrift shops in search of a sweater or two. Insomnia Cookies are purchased.

+$: Nothing
-$: A sweater, some gloves, warm cookies

Sunday, February 14th, 2016

For Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend and I had planned on spending a few hours wandering around Longwood Gardens. However, it’s fucking freezing. We reassess how much we’re dying to see the “Orchid Extravaganza” and end up pivoting directions entirely. We find ourselves in the long, long line into Build-A-Bear Workshop at the mall. Less sheepishly than you might imagine, we emerge with two new Pikachus, clad in garish dinosaur and Star Wars costumes. (Ben named his “Pokémon Kenobi” and, yes, that is why I’m dating him.)

+$: Nothing
-$: Breakfast, tea, dinner, ibuprofen at RiteAid

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Another shift at the Gryphon. I head to Conshohocken’s Yoga Home in the evening for their Power Flow class. Yoga has become central in my life in two ways: 1) as essential cross-training for dance, and 2) as something I gift to myself to maintain my sanity. I stay for yin afterwards.

+$: Working at the café
-$: Yoga classes

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

The opening shift at the Gryphon is peaceful, even though I’m not one for waking up that early in the morning. I yawn and manage to make a few drinks. After getting off at noon, I rush to Temple for my 12:30 class. We are discussing the historical and cultural context of hip hop today . My evening contains a Vinyasa class and a glass of wine.

+$: Working at the café, teaching at Temple University
-$: Yoga class

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016

Wednesdays start at The Iron Factory in Kensington, where I create and rehearse my own material. I split a monthly membership here with my friend and collaborator Meredith. I futz around with some movement for a new work before Meredith meets me to rehearse Reign, a piece of mine that we will be performing this weekend at the Ruby Slipper Fringe Festival in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It’s been a while but we find that the entirely-synchronized duet comes back into our bodies with relative ease.

From there, I am back at the Gryphon. I don’t normally work three days in a row, but since I’ll be leaving to head south on Friday, I need to squeeze my shifts in earlier in the week. Ordinarily, I would rehearse a work in progress by my friend Sean Thomas Boyt on Wednesday afternoons, but we are off this week. In the interest of the topic of this article, I will say that I do not get paid to dance for Sean, but I don’t expect to. I’m happy to help make my friend’s work a reality with as little cost to him as possible, and I know he would do the same for me.

+$: Working at the café
-$: Paying for rented rehearsal space

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

I arrive at Temple at 12:30 to teach. My students discuss the commercialization of hip hop and whether or not it ultimately benefits the form. The conversation is lively and I make a mental note to incorporate the topic into their upcoming quiz. Another evening at yoga—I attempt to fine tune my headstand.

+$: Teaching at Temple
-$: Yoga class, delivered dinner because I’m too busy packing to cook

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Meredith and I leave Philly for North Carolina in the morning and make it to our Airbnb after ten hours of driving (and several stops for gas and coffee). We will tech in the theater tomorrow morning and perform in the evening. The festival does not pay us to participate but their application did not require a fee, which is a plus.

+$: Nothing
-$: Gas, food and drinks, lodgings for the weekend

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Meredith and I meet up with my friends Gwen and Nicole to tech at 11am. Afterwards, I explore Winston-Salem with Meredith for a few hours. We visit different venues in the city for their Art-o-Mats: refurbished cigarette dispensers that now relinquish a small piece of hand-made art at the insert of a coin. In the evening, we all reconvene at the theater to perform. The show runs smoothly, though by the time we reach the talk-back afterwards, I am exhausted.

+$: Nothing
-$: Food, coffee, small pieces of art, more gas

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

We begin the trek back to Philly. We take a more scenic route, hoping to stop in a national park on the way, but the rain is too strong. We reach home by nightfall.

+$: Nothing
-$: Food, coffee, gas

Photo by Kat J. Sullivan.

The Ripening Suite_small

Tip Jar

 Nine Action Points for Jumpstarting Your Art

Evalina “Wally” Carbonell is a powerhouse of a dancer and choreographer. Although she performs most often as a member of Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, I have come to know her better through her own work; a homogenized blend of technical dynamism and deep, rich sensitivity. She’s also one of the weirder people I’ve met during my time in the Philadelphia dance scene, often conversing with rapt fanaticism and prone to fierce hotheadedness. (One of my favorite rants of hers was a tirade against a male dance critic who called her work “quirky,” damning it as the equivalent of a cute pat on the head for female artists.) Wally has a beautiful artistic mind and a beautiful explosiveness to her thoughts, and I was eager for her to have a platform with which to share them.

-Kat Sullivan, curator

1) Transform instinct into intention.
In dance, we are constantly in touch with our inherent physical instincts. Additionally, we are tasked with expressing ourselves in a way that is poignant and affecting. Society tells us that while children move and create from an instinctual place, “mature adults” learn to make conscious, informed choices. As mature artists, we must combine these capacities. We must stay in touch with our animal instincts and, at the same time, be capable of identifying and honoring the intention that is revealed through the creation of each dance.

2) Explore the opposites.
Our understanding of the world relies on contrast. We can only appreciate good through exposure to evil. As dance artists, we can create the most effective art not only by defining the subject matter, but also by identifying the things that subject does not illuminate. In order to elicit an emotional and physical response from a viewer, the dance must be visible; for maximum visibility, contrast is required.

3) Converse with your work.
Through the creation process, we give birth to another entity. While the dance stems from us, it is also a force distinct from us. A painting is made by the painter, but it is not “the painter”; however, a dance is intertwined with “the dancer” since it is both made and transmitted through the human body. The choreographic process is a conversation between the creator and/or dancer and the dance. We must allow the dance to speak to us, and not only inflict ourselves upon it.

4) Shock your process.
While we may choose to focus on one idea for several dances, they are not all the same dance. Each creation has a beginning and an end. In order to continue growing, we must continue to create new, distinct works. Breaking our creative habits can be challenging. One effective way to shock the process is to alter the timeline for creative incubation. By challenging ourselves to create work more quickly, or over a longer time period, than is our habit, we discover new sides of ourselves in the process. Through experiencing this “shock,” we may be inspired to explore other ways of altering the incubation process, thus developing works which may not otherwise have come to fruition.

5) Distill, expound, repeat.
In the creative process, ideas often flood the creator. At other times, the creator becomes fixated on one movement. When stuck in a creative lurch, this simple mantra, “distill, expound, repeat,” can give us the appropriate push. Identifying on which end of the spectrum we exist at a given moment will make it clear which verb we are to follow. If an idea seems too scattered, we must distill. If it is more mysterious than we had in mind or we crave more of the same, we must expound. Then, we repeat until it feels complete. Of course we may not always need all three words, and we can always mix up the order to suit the situation.

6) Be a sponge and a faucet.
Creativity requires an open mind. As dance artists, we must be both student and teacher, cultivating both the ego and a sense of humbleness. We must give and receive, constantly and actively.

7) Put it in your pocket.
Artists require tools. As dancers, we have space, time, the physical body, the emotional body, and the energetic body. We also have a whole world of influences and a lifetime of experiences with which to fill our pockets. By consciously collecting ideas, images, sensations, and rhythms, we percolate an endless supply of creative juice.

8) Styling is everything.
Dance is a complete sensory experience. A painting may be beautiful, but poor lighting, framing, and atmosphere can undeniably detract from its full potential glory. Dance is no different. We must strive to allow each presentation to fulfill its potential. This is not purely about budget. It is about taste, creative problem solving, and honesty with ourselves and our collaborators.

9) Work.
No excuses.

Photo credit: The Ripening Suite, choreography by Evalina “Wally” Carbonell, photo by Bill Hebert.


Transcending Medium

On Changing Bodies and Art Mediums

I have known Zornitsa Stoyanova for just a few months now, but I’ve been seeing her work in dance performance and film/media for much longer. Most recently. I was enraptured (“I saw” just seems too bland) by her dance film dark matter, screened at <fidget>’s Fall Experimental Music Festival. Aesthetically; of course, it was exquisite. But I was more captivated by incredible, somehow inherent meaning by manipulating Mylar with her body (and later the film via editing). The Mylar and her body transcended their culturally associated meaning, although I am not able to verbally articulate exactly that their meaning became for me. Her work completely transfixed me; and so, quite simply (and selfishly), I wanted to see more.

-Kat Sullivan, curator

I was four months pregnant when I produced my most ambitious project to date—an evening-length dance installation event for five performers and ten audience members called shatter:::dawn (May 2013). Like every self-producing artist, I did everything for it: costumes, lighting design, set, and performance. I was obsessed with light and reflectivity and used Mylar to create the set.

By the time Fringe Festival started in September, my body—a big house of flesh—was waddling down the street in pain. My overly flexible hips were pinching nerves deep in my pelvis, the pain worse than natural birth itself. After getting chiropractic adjustments, I was able to sit, walk, and sleep, but dance was off the table. For the rest of the year I put my creative energy into making baby mobiles and rearranging the house. I knew that I would take a break to give birth, but never expected a whole shift of interest and medium.

As 2014 rolled in, I wanted independence from the small human sucking me dry every three hours. Despite my healing vagina, breasts heavy with milk and the extra belly flesh having a mind of its own, I wanted to dance. Trying to pick up where I left off, I went to rehearsal with the Mylar from my shatter:::dawn set. I was hoping to discover something new, to exercise, and to find a way to create another performance. But I was so sleep deprived that the first couple of rehearsals were mostly indulgent solo naps. That plus the added cost of rehearsal space made it obvious that I needed someone to be accountable to. I started filming myself and inviting friends to improvise together. We did a few shows with these improvisations, but most of the time I found myself behind the lens. I was certain this documentation would lead me to my next choreographed work, but instead the photos and videos took off by themselves. Upon seeing my images on Facebook, an acquaintance from high school invited me to participate in a large photo exhibit in my native Sofia, Bulgaria. It was completely unexpected.

shatter:::dawn 2013 – flyer and picture of the set. The set photo was one of four that was selected for the European Month of Experimental Photography in Sofia, Bulgaria, Oct. 2014. Photos by Zornitsa Stoyanova.

For the rest of that first year as a parent, rehearsal times were sparse. It was so expensive to pay for a studio and a babysitter, so photography quickly turned into my art outlet. It required much less time than creating performance. Often, I would put my son down for a nap and run to the basement to try some long exposure photos. This was when nap time was about an hour and I had to do laundry, cook, clean, and steal some time for art. I started calling these “experiments in light.” It took me many months to realize that I was taking selfies. There was no compositional reason behind it; it was due to the fact that I had no space, no money, and no time—just myself.


One gloomy January day in 2015, I walked into rehearsal with the decision that I would make a film. I had babysitting all day, which made this idea possible. After months of judging every tourist, I had finally given up and purchased a selfie stick. I knew that I wanted to work with moving background and stationary body; beyond that, I just improvised. It was the first time I shot anything using the selfie stick. At the end of rehearsal I had about 20 minutes of footage. I went home and started playing with editing. The footage was horrible. I thought back to shatter:::dawn’s flyer where I creatively hid my nudity by mirroring my image, and this got me obsessed with symmetry. In less time than I had labored with my son, the first short film Chrysalis was born.

Note: Shot on my mobile phone, Chrysalis has been shown at 2016 Philadelphia Screendance Festival, Outlet Dance Project Dance on Film Festival, Movies by Movers, The Iron Factory Dance on Film Festival and Vox Populi Gallery.

One day my husband, also an artist, mentioned how the Mylar photos were much more exciting and mysterious than the long exposure ones and that the medium could be pushed further. He was right. I hadn’t fully understood Mylar’s potential, its behaviours with light and the imagery it could create. I became interested in how it has a life of its own; an inorganic material, when mirrored, created organic and obvious (to me) maleness or femaleness. I was mesmerized by the alien vagina creatures and kept pushing it further in both the film and still images.

Now I’m using a lot more time in making my film and editing. Inhabiting a shape shifter birthing body has influenced me tremendously, making me seek images of abstracted explicitness and sensuality.

My body and mind are not the same as three years ago. I’ve produced an organ (placenta) that was discarded; I produced a human and gallons of milk. Now my breasts are stretched and empty, my stomach muscles separated. My vagina is scarred and my mind split, one side always thinking about the frustrated little screams and stomping feet of my toddler. Thanks to my residency at The Fidget Space, my performance project, three years in the making, is finally going to happen the last weekend of April 2016. My piece is not going to be about the Mylar from 2013, it will be about my experience as a female body. For the first time as an artist I’m weaving personal narrative into the show and I’m excited and scared.

As part of this show I’m also doing a solo visual art exhibit for First Friday in Old City.* That exhibit will include some of my photography and videos and will be a small fundraiser for the show later that month. I need very little money to put on the solo, and I’m hoping that some of the proceeds would go towards creating a small residency for mother-performance artists at Mascher and The Fidget spaces.

Being a mom has not gotten easier, but I’ve gotten better at managing my time. With every image I take and video I shoot I learn something new about digital art. I’m ever-curious about abstraction and perception of the human/female body and continue to explore how it works in live performance and visual art.


2014 nighttime play photoshoot with my son.

I leave you with a tease from my latest dance short—Legs Apart.

To all the mom artist out there—be brave and keep breathing. It gets easier over time. Paying someone to watch your child while you sleep is worth it. And don’t be afraid to become something else entirely.

* Editor’s note: due to 1fiftyone gallery + performance space being temporarily shut down, Stoyanova’s gallery show has been cancelled. She will be holding a crowdfunding campaign, for which she will post details on her website.