Rashaun Mitchell will develop Interface, an exploration of the psychology behind movement, the origin of emotions, various states of performance, the face as a tool to express feelings created in the body and, consequently, how the face has or has not been used historically to enhance ideas behind movement presentation.
Martha Duffy Resident Artist
Rashaun Mitchell was born in Stamford, Connecticut, and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He started dancing at Concord Academy in Massachusetts and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 2000. He received the Viola Farber-Slayton Memorial Grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts in 2000.
Since then he has danced with Pam Tanowitz, Chantal Yzermans, Donna Uchizono, Risa Jaroslow, Jonah Bokaer, Rebecca Lazier, Sara Rudner, and Richard Colton. He joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in January 2004 and is currently on faculty at the Cunningham Studio. In 2007 he was the recipient of a Princess Grace Award: Dance Fellowship. His own choreography has been presented in New York at the Skirball Center, the La Mama Theater and Mt. Tremper Arts. Outside of New York, his collaborations with writer Anne Carson have been presented by The Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston, OMiami Festival, College of St. Elizabeth, Wellesley College, Princeton University and the University of Minnesota. Mitchell is the recipient of a 2011 Princess Grace Special Project Grant for Interface, which had a work-in-progress performance at Danspace’s Food For Thought on October 20th of this year. He also received a Bessie Award for Sustained Achievement in the Merce Cunningham Dance Co.
BAC Story by Lisa Rinehart
Aug 26, 2012
Rashaun Mitchell, an eight-year veteran of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, isn’t afraid of getting lost. Literally. To prepare for his BAC residency, he and a few other dancers set out into the woods of southeastern Connecticut for a hike into unfamiliar territory. Without speaking, one dancer was expected to lead until another felt compelled to take their place.
It wasn’t pretty.
They were quickly lost, and when they finally made it back to the studio, everyone was intensely emotional. Mitchell recalls it as being, “really weird,” but he knew he’d hit choreographic pay dirt. He set up a camera and told his dancers, “OK, let’s dance…let’s see what comes out of our bodies.” Those filmed improvisations became the core material for Interface, an exploration of visceral and emotional reactions that Mitchell expects to be more of a multi-media piece than a dance.
It’s fair to say that this comfort with creative meandering is unusual for a seasoned Cunningham dancer. Although Cunningham often relied on chance operations for how a dance would look in performance (meaning the movement, sound and visuals are independent of one another and order is determined by a roll of the dice), the actual steps, and how they should be executed, were, as in classical ballet, imposed on the dancers by the choreographer. So Mitchell’s willingness to let his dancers’ movements dictate the look and feel of a new work is a certain kind of daring.
“I really like to work with people who have minds of their own,” he says. Mitchell encourages feedback from his dancers while sifting through their improvised movement, discovering the emotional intent behind it, then trying to separate one from the other and recombine them in novel ways – something he describes as a layering process.
In Interface, Mitchell plans to add even more layers including an original electronic score by Thomas Arsenault and design elements by artists Nicholas O’Brien and Fraser Taylor. Factor in the expertise of the dancers working with Mitchell during his time at BAC (Cori Kresge, Melissa Toogood and Silas Riener) and you have a passel of talent converging on virgin territory.
As if that isn’t intrepid enough, Mitchell and Riener will be co-creating an improvisational duet to be performed at Anatoly Bekkerman’s ABA Gallery as part of BAC’s fall gala evening. The challenges for such an event are many and Mitchell admits that it’s scary. Although he’s used to performing in unorthodox spaces from his years with the Cunningham company, Mitchell says a gala event is a little different. “It’s always sort of strange to figure out where people are going to be and whether we’re going to interrupt the socializing.”
Dangerous? Perhaps. Frightening? Yes, but most creative efforts are. Mitchell, however, appears to be willing to pull his collaborators close and step carefully, and bravely, into the unknown.