Degenerate Art Ensemble's Red Shoes

Synopsis and Team


Haruko Nishimura (Staging/Director, United States)
Joshua Kohl (Conductor/Composer, United States)
Dohee Lee (Composer, South Korea)
Jherek Bischoff (Composer, United States)
Production: Frye Art Museum & Director Robert Wilson's Watermill Center a Laboratory for Performance (United States)

Degenerate Art Ensemble's performance Red Shoes was created and premiered in conjunction with a major museum retrospective of the group's work at Seattle's Frye Art Museum. The work was developed by the group at a residency at director Robert Wilson's Watermill Center: A Laboratory for Performance, presented at the Center for Performance Research in Brooklyn, NY and produced in the embrace of an unprecedented partnership that includes the Frye Art Museum and St. James Cathedral in Seattle. The performance is an adaption of Hans Christian Andersen's tale of a girl who is cursed to dance herself to death for following her creative desires.

Video Trailer


Degenerate Art Ensemble's Red Shoes is a re-imagining of Hans Christian Andersen's tale of a girl who is cursed to dance herself to death for following her creative desires. DAE's interpretation of this beloved fairy tale/ horror story is a rich drama of dreams, passion, discipline, desire, trauma, transformation and reinvention. DAE's work shows parallels between this story and the struggle to follow one's creative path in contemporary society. In the 2011 premiere, the performance began in Seattle's Frye Art Museum galleries and spilled out onto the streets. The group created a theatre inside an abandoned supermarket, performed in a cathedral courtyard, in a fountain and around a bonfire in the back streets of Seattle's first hill neighborhood. Red Shoes brings together non-verbal theatre, dance, song, live music and visual art sensibilities to create a performance environment that is both immersive and abstract, poetic yet narrative.

Background / Biographies

Degenerate Art Ensemble

Joshua Kohl and Haruko Nishimura are co-founders and co-artistic directors of the Seattle-based multi-art group Degenerate Art Ensemble (DAE). DAE’s work has been presented by major dance and music venues, has been  shown in galleries, and was featured as the subject of a large scale exhibition at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum in 2011. Nishimura’s passion as a director and performer is to question the relationship between audience and performer—to put them in each other’s way, to cause collision and conflict—with the goal of awakening and transformation. Kohl’s approach to music is similarly combustive: it is dedicated to the exploration and proliferation of genre-free music that utilises all the available tools of music-making, from classical instruments to electronics and new inventions. In addition to his work with DAE, Kohl is also an avid conductor of indie classical music. 

Red Shoes emerged from DAE's deep relationship with Seattle, as residents, creators, and influencers of its cultural landscape. Red Shoes emerged in a year-long series of impromptu solo performances by Haruko Nishimura in Seattle's streets, city parks and neighborhoods. Incubated by the full DAE company in a  Frye Art Museum residency and a residency at director Robert Wilson's Watermill a Laboratory of Performance in New York, Red Shoes was nurtured and produced in the embrace of an unprecedented neighborhood partnership that included Seattle's Frye Art Museum and St. James Cathedral. The work has since been developed into a touring project that works to engage with the community, architecture and culture of the venues at which it takes place. Red Shoes was directed by DAE's Haruko Nishimura with original music by Joshua Kohl and Jherek Bischoff and video by Leo Mayberry.

Sound / Music

Degenerate Art Ensemble has a highly collaborative approach to music making. Upwards of 8 composers have joined minds for the creation of past DAE performance scores. Swapping themes, stealing ideas from each other and remixing each others' sounds are common practices in the group's work. The score for Red Shoes was co-created by composers Joshua Kohl and Jherek Bischoff in collaboration with the cast of Haruko Nishimura and Dohee Lee. The lines of composer and performer are blurred as the performers are asked at times to create their own melodies, which are then in turn reinterpreted in new scores. While much of the music is notated, musicians are also asked to improvise within the compositions, aiming to create a more razor-edge connection between music and theatrical performance. In line with the community-collaborative nature of Red Shoes, the group has been working with local musicians for the performances, adding a greater dimension of community involvement. This not only builds closer relationships with the cities in which they perform, but also brings new influences and energies to the work itself.


© Bruce Tom© Bruce Tom© Bruce Tom
© Bruce Tom
© Bruce Tom
© Bruce Tom