Rashaun Mitchell



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It's so interesting how an injury sometimes comes at the right time.
Yeah, and I had been feeling it coming for a while and I had been struggling and pushing and I just snapped.

How did you heal yourself?
I did a lot of acupuncture. Physical therapy. I tried to really just live and to be happy. Because I felt like if I was right emotionally, I would heal faster. I quit smoking.

Really? That's great.
I was determined. The doctor told me best-case scenario [that recovery would be] ten to twelve weeks, and I was like, "That's my goal. I'm doing it." I didn't dwell on the negative part of it. I was like, Okay I'm really happy. I would Skype the company every so often. They would get together and Skype me. I think they were all like "How are you doing? Are you okay ?" and I was just like, "What's up guys? How's it going?!" I was just trying to be really positive and I think it really worked. Mind over matter.

You got healthy.
I got healthy. And then I came back and it was scary because my first performance was of Nearly Ninety in Hong Kong, which is such a ridiculously hard piece. That's the piece that I hurt myself in. So I got on a plane for however many friggin' hours—different time zone, different culture. I had been there before, but I was really nervous. I didn't do my entire part for the first few shows of Nearly Ninety . I was allowed to wean myself back in. And I remember right before the curtain came up, I was in the wings with Andrea and we started the piece and she told me afterward that she looked into my eyes and she had never seen fear in my eyes before, ever, but that she saw it at that moment. I remember feeling like, Oh my God. I really hope that I can do this, that I can get through this. I knew that if I could just get through that one first show, I would be okay because it was mostly about what I was feeling inside. I just wasn't sure. Because I had a different body actually. I had a different back. It's still different. I'm still dealing with it. It's like someone else's back. It doesn't bend as much. I was looking at a photo of myself and I was doing this crazy back bend, and that was before my injury. I can't do that anymore. It's okay. I don't have to, you know, bend my head to the floor; I had to let that go. I had to deal with, what does it mean to not be in control of your body? It's controlling you, and I'm getting older and things are changing and it's just life.

What are you going to do after this? You're going to continue to make work?
Yeah. On my off time I'm making work, which is kind of crazy, but it's good for me to keep busy. I'm doing a show in April at Judson and I have my whole year and a half pretty much planned. I'm going to be dancing for Rebecca Lazier. That's my one thing, and I might do another project with someone else if it feels right, but I really want to focus on my own work. And so far it's going really well and a lot of doors have already been opened because of Cunningham. I'm going to be teaching at Tisch, and I still want to travel, and I think I'm just going to live on unemployment for a little while and have the time to focus. I'll just really give it my all, and if I fail at being a choreographer, it's my fault. If it really doesn't work out after a while, I'll just go back to school or dance or something. I'm not that concerned about it.

Do you all talk about what you're going to do?
Yeah all the time. I mean, Silas and I are working together, so we're doing a lot of the same things. Some people are applying to school, some people are moving out of the city, getting married. I don't think there's anyone who has an actual dance job as of right now. Some people want to continue dancing. But no one else is making work, I don't think, except for Silas and me.

We were talking earlier about Cunningham's movement and making it work on your body. Could you talk about that process a little bit more?
I think that there are a couple of ways to approach doing the movement. For anyone, even the greatest dancer ever, there's a struggle. It doesn't make sense sequentially a lot of times. The momentum that's needed for turning from nothing, without preparation, jumping and landing and holding—and then, from there, doing something else. Coordinating your back against your legs—all of this stuff is something that is foreign to anyone, I think. I always try to find where there could be a flow in it and I try to smooth the edges. But some people don't do that; they have different priorities and really believe in the awkwardness of it and actually just allowing that to be. I try to make it less awkward, but without changing the steps. I really believe in not changing the steps. Some people do to make it easier for themselves and that's always really frustrating because of the challenge of it. You're trying to do this thing that's being asked of you that's impossible, but you find a way to do it in a way that is presentable. And you see someone else cheating? It's kind of sucky. And that happens. But everybody's body is different, and sometimes your body just isn't going to do it. There is the element of laying that struggle out for the public to see. It was interesting for us to have that class in front of everyone at Lincoln Center [at Merce Fair]. It was actually horrible. It was really awesome for the audience to see how it works, but that's like our sacred time. It's our time to try things out and to fail without being observed. I think after a while you get more comfortable with the struggle and with laying that bare. The ego gets lost because you're just constantly losing the battle, so you just kind of go, Okay, well, this is the best I can do. And it's never going to be perfect. I'm always going to be searching for something else and there's always a way to grow technically, but it's never going to be perfect.

Earlier you said how everyone thinks they know what Cunningham wanted. Can we come back to that? Do you feel that way?
Ummm... [ Laughs ]. I do feel that way. I think I was talking to you about this.

For Antic Meet?
Yeah. We had this process where someone from the original company came back and set this piece on us and she taught the piece in a way that she felt was right. And her experience is completely valid and she was obviously there and there are videos of her doing it, but I also remember what it was like to revive the piece the first time we did it when Merce was still alive. I remember how that process changed when we did it after he was gone. Without his authority, the only thing left is our authority. So it's inevitable that someone's going to say, "This is what it is," and, "This is what I think," and, "This is what's wrong." I did, and maybe defiantly so. I don't think I was disruptive or an asshole, but I did feel like I had this voice in my head while I was learning that piece again that was saying, "Merce wouldn't have wanted this exactly the way that it is." Or not that he wouldn't have wanted this, but that he would have allowed for more freedom within this. I remember Merce as this person who really liked to see people do things the way that they did them and to see his movement look different on different bodies and to see different interpretations, and the freedom of that was more than, "This is the step and this is exactly what it should be." I remember those processes with him when he was relaying steps to us; they were coming out so fast that you'd think, "I heard him say this thing," but someone next to you had a different experience and they thought they heard something else. Who's right or wrong? But, ultimately, maybe there's room for all of these versions to exist, and maybe he wanted that. And maybe that's why he was so fast in his process. He wanted to see what you would do, and that was more important than the step. Is it in pli, is it straight, is the arm 90 degrees or 75 degrees? That stuff doesn't matter to me as much as the intention behind it. So in my way, I think that I know what Merce would have wanted.

Because you don't want to kill it.
Right. It would be nice to set a piece at some point and to be able to keep that spirit alive. I always try and remind people of that when I teach class: That they really should just go for it. And they should be themselves. Obviously, you want to be detail-oriented and specific, but you can make choices. The point is to make a choice.

Did you have mentors in the company?
At the beginning Robert, because he was my boss and he hired and trained me. And Jeannie Steele a little bit. We were friends, and she would occasionally help me with something technically. But you know, for the most part, everyone was on equal footing. I started to sense after a while that people started to come to me for those kinds of things more than the other way around. And I decided to accept it. I mean people tend to come to me if they have a complaint about something: "Can you do something? Can you talk to him?"

Because you had Cunningham on your side?
I don't know. I think it's just really a personality thing. I didn't ask for it. It's just at some point you look around and think, Okay, if no one else is going to stand up and say this, I guess I will. And I tend to do that.

Has it been difficult, all of the attention you've gotten in the press?
Yes and no. Positively speaking, its opened certain doors for me for sure, and it's great to be recognized. I've worked hard and, you know, everyone wants to be recognized for what they do, so yes, that's great. But also, I do worry about some kind of backlash or when the criticism comes—because it always comes. I do feel self-conscious sometimes. Especially around the other dancers who may not get as much recognition for whatever reason. But I also think that a lot of it is just the place that I'm in right now. Like I was saying before about me being the senior man in the company other than Robert, I have the experience and at this point, eight years into the company, it makes sense. Whereas somebody who's new, they're not going to get that chance. Maybe if this had happened a few years ago, it would be Cdric or. Do you know what I mean? I think a lot of it is timing.

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