Kate Eberstadt, CC ’14, wouldn’t consider herself a dancer. At least, that’s what she said a week after she performed in front of 10 million viewers at the MTV Video Music Awards alongside Lady Gaga. Although her avant-garde dance moves put her on prime-time TV, the Washington, D.C., native is an artist whose genre is particularly hard to pin down.
“I was so interested by Gaga as a person,” Eberstadt said. “She was down-to-earth, incredibly professional. I hadn’t seen a woman in a creative position with as much power and grace since I worked for Atlantic Records under COO Julie Greenwald, another incredibly eloquent and powerful, but not aggressive, woman.”
Lady Gaga’s creative vision impressed Eberstadt.
“She doesn’t have a team feeding her an image—she’s very much in control,” she said. “Regardless of how you feel about her music you can definitely respect her for that.”
Eberstadt landed the gig through stage director Robert Wilson, Lady Gaga’s director at the VMAs and the founder of the Watermill Art Center, a “performance laboratory” for arts and humanities where Eberstadt studied over the summer.
Before this summer, dance and performance art had never been on her radar. She applied to Watermill in order to work on her writing and composition. After being cast in a production of “La Traviata,” however, she bonded with Wilson. One thing led to another, and soon she was part of the creative team behind the VMA performance, which featured numerous wig and costume changes.
While at Watermill, Eberstadt worked with world-renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic. In individual sessions with the resident artists at the Sackler Conference at Watermill this summer, Abramovic conducted exercises that Eberstadt describes as “scary.” One of them, titled “Measuring the Magic of Mutual Gaze,” was based on her famous work “The Artist is Present,” where each artist had to find somebody and stare into his eyes for seven straight minutes. While the exercises were hard going, Eberstadt found Abramovic vibrant and exciting, far from the monolithic presence one might expect.
While at Watermill, Eberstadt performed in a “Devil’s Heaven”-themed benefit that attracted the likes of Lady Gaga, Hugh Jackman, Winona Ryder, and Cindy Sherman. Eberstadt performed in a piece called “Magnolias” while wearing full body paint applied by artist Trina Merry.
Eberstadt’s experience with this range of artists isn’t unheard of for someone who not only dances, but is also a writer, composer, and visual artist. A Renaissance woman in her own right, Eberstadt’s interdisciplinary approach to art began at a young age, led by the twin influences of the nearby National Cathedral—where she became involved in the religious music scene—and her great-grandfather, poet Ogden Nash.
Growing up next to the cathedral, Eberstadt drew inspiration from an ever-changing array of international musicians who performed there. A classical piano education gave Eberstadt the tools she needed to begin composing, and she started performing original sonatas in the third grade.
Eberstadt has also been an avid writer since the age of four, experimenting with prose, poetry, and journalistic writing. She was and remains in awe of her aunt, whose work she describes as having “completely mastered the art of writing in the third person.”
At Columbia, Eberstadt dived into the art scene. In addition to performing in two plays and acting in a short film, she has also been the musical director for a cappella group Notes and Keys, pushing the group to try more experimental material.
When it came to her own work, Eberstadt dabbled in everything from symphonies to the more alternative compositions that interest her now. An internship at Atlantic Records exposed her to new sounds as she worked directly with indie artists on the cutting edge of musical innovation.
The Watermill and VMAs behind her, Eberstadt isn’t taking any time to rest. A job at the Gagosian Gallery is keeping her busy while she works on a variety of new projects, potentially including Bob Wilson's video portraits due to be exhibited at the Louvre in November to performance pieces inspired by José Saramago’s “Blindness” and Édouard Levé’s “Autoportrait.”
Although she’s currently taking time off from school, education remains an essential part of her life.
“For any student who’s an artist, there’s a tension between wanting to let go of everything and fully pursue creative ambition, and wanting to hold onto the support of your education and mentors before you fully contextualize everything you want,” Eberstadt said. “There are lots of ideas I have for exhibitions of my own visual art, but I feel strongly that I should educate myself with professors at CU before I jump in all the way.”