The Mitch Show & Rose’s “Globe Trot”

Amongst the many dance events this weekend, The Mitch Show was an anomaly involving prescribed dance performance pieces enacted by unsuspecting audience members, as well as screenings of some of Mitchell Rose’s short films. This is not the first time that Repertory Dance Theater has lured Rose to Salt Lake, but usually it has been to choreograph dance works for the company. This time Rose returned, eschewing the label of choreographer in favor of his current occupation as a mostly comedic filmmaker who frequently works with dancers. His compositional aesthetic seems to be influenced by his former choreographic style. He is probably most well known for his film collaborations with Body Vox, a Portland-based dance company with a lineage including people from Pilobolus and Momix.

The Mitch Show began with Rose’s voice on the theater’s speakers telling the audience to take out their phones, call one another, and leave a loud and complimentary message for their friend. It was a grandiose exercise in getting an audience to be accountable for their part in the show and to get people to turn off their phones after “getting it out of their systems.” The show proceeded with Rose revealing himself onstage as the trope of a reliable talk show host, a little desperate for validation, but reassuring in the fact that he had done this many times and knew where we might have confusion as audience members.

He had everyone stand up while he read out demographic information; we were directed to sit down after hearing something that applied to us. He chose to highlight differences based on whether or not we used aquafresh toothpaste or went ice-skating last winter. These things at first seemed pretty benign and funny to think about, but eventually some more basic demographic qualities began to emerge with statements like, “sit down if you rode TRAX today” or “sit down if you got a tattoo within the last year.” I can’t really remember who sat down when, but I got a sense of there being general differences in the audience that I sometimes take for granted. It was interesting to realize that everyone wanted to stay standing at first, but the longer one stood, the more they wanted to sit down with the rest of us. It wasn’t a huge surprise that a young boy was the last one standing having had fewer life experiences and less inhibition about being singled out. The show continued with these kinds of participation pieces that brought out the exhibitionist/performer in many people; however, Rose carefully controlled the activities to keep himself in the lime-light and to prevent indulgent tangents on behalf of the audience participants. A lot of his jokes felt heavy-handed when coupled with campy projections to prompt the audience and an audience who was encouraged to ham it up for the sake of the show.

Rose interspersed the live pieces with screenings of some of his short films. It became clear that, although Rose seems enthusiastic about his performance in The Mitch Show, his charismatic charm is much more evident in the cinematic choices that he’s made. Many of his works are playful, but are imbued with a keen sense of the capacities of the human heart. There was a romantic duet between a man and a giant excavator, a sarcastic film called “Learn to Speak Body,” and a charming film about people with sleep disorders that don’t actually exist. After attending his screening of “Globe Trot,” I was reminded of the meticulous work that filmmaking entails. It is interesting to think that most art forms deal with similar compositional ideas—how a piece is framed, proximity, line, texture, and flow—but limitations vary with the art form and the medium being used. Rose touched on this when he discussed his excitement about Advance. The film is simply a man and a woman swiftly walking away while also dancing, but their location changes every couple of seconds. Rose said that it would be difficult to get an audience to see this perspective unless you had them swiftly walk behind the dancers, which could be interesting, but not very accessible for all.

I appreciated the inspirational nature of “Globe Trot”––a dance film choreographed by Bebe Miller and produced by Mitchell Rose along with many filmmakers from around the world. Each videographer was instructed to teach two seconds of sophisticated choreography to strangers and film them completing the task in public places. The process involved headache-inducing coordination about how to film each person in order to make the dance look cohesive. The film ends with everyone gleefully turning in a circle with their arms above their heads. Each person was separated into a little screen, creating a grid of people, unified by movement. This particular part was uplifting in a similar way that a commercial for a cell phone company is uplifting because they both highlight human connectivity in a world where many groups are at odds with one another. This commercial aesthetic was apparent in a few of Rose’s films creating a sense of artifice because those techniques are also used in schemes aimed at selling something. Mitchell Rose is also selling his ideas and world views in exchange for recognition and online followers, not necessarily for monetary gain. His work is conventionally inspirational, but commendable for his perseverance and willingness to play.

Emma Wilson is a dance student at the University of Utah. She has frequently shown work at Mudson and works administratively for loveDANCEmore.

RDT's Passage

In a recent review I mentioned the difficulty of locating a beginning while writing about a singular artist. Today, I eat my words and find it more difficult to write about a four-artist evening. So I ask, in advance, for forgiveness about the length of this review or its meandering path but I want to talk about each work on its own terms and also on the terms of the program which, true to the title, is a passage. The journey begins with the crispness and clarity of history, continues with comfort of recent classics, and concludes with questions from new investigations.

Passage was dedicated to the memory of Utah dance figure Susan McLain and the reconstruction of "Karyo" was a worthy tribute. The abstract forms and articulate phrasing remind me what draws many of us to dance in the first place – dancers can move through space in ways that echo daily life while simultaneously deepening the experience through the ever-expanding artistry of their bodies.

From this place of history there are the more immediate memories of "Songs I Wanna Sing (to you)" and "Ghost Ship" choreographed by Satu Hummasti and Eric Handman respectively. I confess that I did not see either premiere and I can’t speak to them as a true second viewing. What I can say is that they feel like reconstructions because each choreographer has gone on to deepen some of the idioms they explored in these earlier works. Just a few weeks ago, on a University of Utah program, Satu continued an exploration of text as it relates to music and performance while Eric dealt again with constructing situations designed to reveal virtuosity. Songs… and Ghost Ship also feel like reconstructions because unlike McLain’s work fixed in historical context, both of dances appear to be beginnings and as such they showcase curiosity about how much to edit and how to represent their choreographers’ own shifting identities.

In Songs… it is clear that despite the second performance some of the dancers are beyond their comfort zone. For a general audience maybe this discomfort wouldn’t read well but, in my opinion, it was a good thing. After seasons of attending RDT and feeling like I know what to expect, this piece left me with intrigue into directions the company could go. The technical range of the performers viewed alongside the vulnerable act of singing was satisfying, to put it simply, and I went along for the ride. While the oscillation between song and dance was a comfortable way to keep me engaged, the vast genres of singing illuminated the real lack of diversity within the company. While the company makeup is an immutable fact it was something I could not escape and my longing to watch diverse performers alongside the range of songs still resonates.

In Ghost Ship I have an inverse experience: the performers are deep within their comfort zone of intensive partnering and intricate yet full-bodied dancing but the structure comes into question. For example, I’m faced with the conundrum of choosing to watch rice do a dance from the rafters rather than watching the sheer physical feats before me. I’m also faced with the mystery of what exactly is printed on those costumes…in the Blackbox it seems like I should be able to tell but I can’t. Neither is a bad thing, they make me reflect on whether dance is enough and what, if anything, layered visual images can contribute to what I see on stage.

From these recent and not as recent histories there is a premiere by the collaborative team of RawMoves (Nic Cendese & Natosha Washington). "What You Leave Behind" is a true passage as it draws choreography from one of RDT’s own company members and features at least a handful performers that regularly perform with the choreographic duo. Seeing them in context of the program reveals the ways in which their relationships with RDT have fostered their choreographic identity – they know the strengths of the performers and cast them into new situations. For example, watching Nathan and Aaron partner one another was a rare joy and Toni and Sarah were both give precise and strong material that I feel they aren’t always given.

The criticism I levy however is that this interpersonal strength can, at times, become a dialogue that I’m left out of. There is a type of dance I’ve come to know as BOSWWIP which stands for “based on secret words written in private”. What You Leave Behind is one of those dances. The text, written by the performers obviously has weight and impact for each of them and perhaps to select audience members. But to me it’s a puzzle that I’m missing a key piece of. Maybe this is the choreographic point Nic and Natosha are trying to make but I’m not so sure; I think the goal is to have me find myself within the act of weaving of the narrative and that is something I hope happens more clearly in a future iteration of the work.

At the end of the evening it’s ironic that the most historical work appears the most fresh but it makes sense because it’s the most composed. The remainder leave me asking questions of how they are seen differently in relationship to one another and how they could be seen differently if I imagine them moving on their own historical path.

I close my eyes to imagine…

…how Satu’s work could translate to different performing spaces or dancers, how the songs she wants to sing (to someone) could change by the day…

…how Eric’s physical strengths appeared so close in the Black Box and how they persist in my memory even without rice, even without painted costumes….

…how Nic & Natosha struggle valiantly to create collective voice, a journey in democracy many have taken before and a journey without end…

Ashley Anderson

van(guardians) of dance history; a sort of review

Tonight RDT presented Vanguard, their 2011-2012 season opener. Part of RDT’s mission has always been to present dances by seminal choreographers that showcase important moments in dance history. Adding Scramble to the roster was an important step in that mission — particularly after Cunningham’s fairly recent death and the pending completion of his company’s final tour.

RDT has taken great pains to contextualize Cunningham’s Scramble as well as the two pieces by Yvonne Rainer (Trio A &Chair/Pillow) that the company performs. These efforts are incredibly important, especially for RDT. Their panel discussions on the choreographers as well as extensive program notes offer insight about why audiences should care about these older works and elucidate the contributions each made to dance history. From these “vanguards,” audiences and new choreographers might add to their bank of ideas: ways to work collaboratively with artists of many disciplines, new choreographic methods, notions of narrative, or use of props.

Within the context of these artists as pioneers of their time I do find that one thing was missing — the fact that both Rainer and Cunningham went on to be avant-garde well beyond these “famous” works. Cunningham  afterall was not only known for abstraction and chance procedure but also for being one of the first choreographers to use i-pods and commission popular bands like Radiohead for music well after his eligibility for the AARP. Rainer departed dance to make very well-known films and then returned to dance with works premiered as late as 2008 (

These facts only enhance the context through which one might view the RDT concert. Audiences can then see the ways in which artists continue to break traditions even as their career advances while simultaneously considering which artists might become the next generations avant-garde.

These facts also ask curatorial questions about the ways in which the avant-garde could be presented. Is it more relevant to watch Rainer & Cunningham side by side because they shared a decade? Or is it of equal benefit to dance history to watch Rainer’s work beside her films? Or Cunningham’s work alongside Martha Graham to better demonstrate the traditions he had once performed and promised to break? Is it any more reasonable to consider the ways in which Helen Tamiris or Loie Fuller were also vanguards though their repertory may now be longer accepted in a dance canon?

At the end of the evening the dances were performed to the letter. The Cunningham work showed the technical prowess you might expect but also showed dancers really seeing one another and forming relationships on stage through even the most abstract material. Trio A went through almost all of it’s possible incarnations — a silent solo, simultaneous silent solos and raucous combinations to music, it was easy to imagine why and how the piece has been performed so many times in so many places. Chair/Pillow made evidence many techniques of the Judson Dance Theater including performing as though you were casually showing something to a friend.

After those three works RDT also moved through context into new ground.  They offered RDT dancers the opportunity to develop movement sections that were strung together through chance procedures and eventually set into a clear score despite the illusion that James Larsen (the lighting designer) would actually call cues from stage or that an i-pod in the corner could be changed at random.

The piece, called Gamut, incited various responses. The first was to know which RDT dancer had made which section, it was fascinating to guess who may have developed each part and to consider RDT performers in a way we might not always see them — as choreographers. It made me see the value in trying your hand at another choreographer’s tools and find ways to see your movement that you might not otherwise (Karinne Keithley Syers writes about this in an essay in the upcoming performance journal). Further, it made me long for the “chance” to have been more in earnest and rather than stringing the works together in a (lovely) complete way for them to truly happen in the moment without the artifice of a lit cyc or perfect phrasing. Perhaps this longing displays what a vanguard Cunningham truly was, that his tactics used elsewhere only remind us why his tactics were so good.

Ashley Anderson