STANDFIRST: From the moment creativity struck, Kat Cunning’s transcends time, gender boundaries and energy to become the artist that she is today.
The expression of dance, singer/song writing and photography are all mediums that explore the representative nature of the world and soul around us. Dance in itself has been considered one of the highest forms of art with its need to express, explore and translate the physical stature of societal climates. It can be said that the similar notion dance echoes through visual reflection can be seen in the auditory value of sound; the way songs, instrumentals and meanings translate and reach us, we either sing along to words, feel the beat or both at the same time. Photography captures a moment of beauty and simplicity, in its rawest form, it produces a medium of complete purity. Combined, these beautiful mediums is how dancer, singer/songwriter, photographer and actress, Kat Cunnings has found her vice in translating beauty, creativity and intelligence through a non-conventional form.
Greeted in the studio by her warm and exciting presence, she opens up for a hug with a sweet American welcome. Her energy, infectious, as she dances around the space with B Young’s ‘Jumanji’ playing in the background, not before stating that this was her current favourite song since she landed in London. Taking time out of the shoot to sit and talk, we sit under the blaze of the sun and clear blue skies, she gracefully lands herself in the chair, no make-up, hair scraped back with just wet look leggings and an Adidas t-shirt. Starting with her dance career, Kat started her interest in dance at just three years old, “ My mum likes to tell this extreme story that I was a severe cryer when I was young and the only thing that would shut me up was watching ballet videos that she rented from the library, she took me to a dance class and in my young years as a dancer I was obsessed like fully obsessed, you know when kids like something to anchor themselves through the craziness of growing up – that was dance for me”. From lying to her parents regarding the time her classes started so she could get an extra 2-3 hours to practise to her full devotion to dance, she anchored her roots in ballet. Facing prejudice for her body, she was told by her dance teachers that she would never make it as a professional ballet dancer, “ Whilst I was there they said I would never be a ballerina … it was absolutely because of my body and there were skinny girls in my class that were so lazy and didn’t do the combinations and I was the one that got lower grades than them”. Not blaming her teachers but blaming the institution that carries the catalogue of what they consider will work and what wouldn’t she explains, “ I am certainly not the type of dancer my dance teachers wanted, I’m a musician and singer as well – I use dance for the same reason I use music, I choreograph pieces to go alongside the music that I write, I see it as a medium that belongs with so many other mediums and rather than a hardcore dance school that just dance”.
Using her access to the talented network that existed in her college, Kat worked with some visionary artists, ones that ignited her inspiration. This inspiration was co-ordinated into her visionary song ‘Wild Poppies’, from the adaption of an earlier piece, the choreography was based on Harrison Burgeon’s Kurt Vonnegut’s story mirrored with a subtle take of Wizard of Oz and Dorothy’s colourful world. Discussing the meaning of the Kurt Vonnegut’s story, Kat explains “ The story really speaks to me because its about a society that is oppressed for their talent. Everyone who is super smart wears a headset so the second you have a daring thought you have a loud bell in your head, a similar dystopian concept like in the Handmaids Tale, just like an exaggerated version of what our government is already doing or trying to do”. Coupled with an adapted version of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz that leaves a colourless world, the choreography expresses the sexual awakening of that story – a person who has found a world that can suddenly see beauty in different kinds of people and expressing themselves, “It was important to me that everyone was not gender bound because I celebrate that”.
Shifting from solely focusing on dance to sing/song writing was a natural progression for performance in Kat’s eyes, as singing snuck up as a way that she could keep a dance job. From performing her first solo piece to covering a Lana Del Ray song, the New York Times reviewed her sound and artists and producers came flocking. In addition to a natural transition into music, for Kat it communicates something to people the way that dance can often miss, training her whole life in abstract through dance and then adding the voice to compliment the movement was the perfect addition to her creative skill set. Jolting with energy as she expresses her vision through movement she explains, “Its really exciting to be in a position when writing songs or making music to celebrate the people in my community for their diversity, their bodies, their skin colour and the things that make them gorgeous specifically – its really cathartic for me as so much of my life has involved me auditioning to be the cookie cutter thing, skinny, the flippant blonde girl or super feminine blond girl – I really find making music as exciting as writing a letter to Congress, I want them to know that I exist and there is a combination of people that I don’t see on TV or in so many videos”.
With this is in mind, its so easy to picture this incredible artist at work, capturing unconventional beauty and movement and translating her sound and movement into a fusion of light and energy, an outlook needed in order to shift the current societal pressures of what is considered beautiful and diverse. Kat’s sound offers such a unique pull in terms of tempo and depth, explaining that her inspiration and favourite genre’s are “ super eclectic” because of her taste, “I listen to things that make me want to move, I love James Blake’s type of production, I’m really in to Anastasia’ ‘Parachute’ but I am mainly inspired by really cool female vocalists like Fiona Apple for being candid in delivering a story that really means a lot to her”. With that in mind sound and vision combined, is seen to Kat as an expression. “ We take so much into our bodies, every little micro aggression and encounter, and I feel like I have to sublimate to be okay. Whether thats dance and literally shoving it out of my bones or the ends of my fingers or words that I can get across to other people where everyone is on the same page – we should be talking about it, we should be hearing about it and feeling it”. Say, the message behind Kat’s latest single ‘Make U Say’, being a story of two sides, one side expresses how to feel totally infatuated with somebody the first verse is very sexual with poetic imagery that falls behind the art of infatuation and partly about wanting to become intimate between two people. When the second verse comes in it falls into the power play and that is just an homage to role play and power dynamics that is explored through the mental connection that we consider so cathartic. She further explains; “ The other part of it is the wider statement that compels the narrative as a woman telling the world your name, demanding acknowledgement and that women can be sexy and politically motivating. The thing that I think about the song is its obviously not a huge anthem but its delicate and it grows, the way an orgasm does, its a reference to how good it feels to take power”.
Taking the industry in her stride, Kat Cunnings is determined to not loose her integrity and passion for her sound, one thing she says that she is constantly learning is how to maintain her own integrity without being too precious about it, determined to immerse a movement and sound that celebrates the theatrics and immense feeling around performance. “ You want to make a hit that everyone will hear and I want people to hear my music because I want my message to get across. I want people to celebrate themselves and feel expressive sexually and have a great time and love themselves, but I also don’t want to do that at the cost of what feels like me and the thing about the music industry is that your constantly being thrown into situations that test you”. Through this, she is constantly learning to sing in a voice that is her own and having a perspective on people having the chance to hear her sound. In addition pushing the power of collaboration, Kat has established herself amongst a set of artists that transcends time, class and boundaries and when asked “if someone was to find a picture of yourself with a caption in a bottle, in 100 years – what would the caption be?”, she answers “ She’s cray!”.
Stylist: Kirubel Belay
Makeup and Hairstylist: Reve Ryu
Retoucher: Sara Gomez