Repertory Dance Theatre: The Mitch Show | Buzz Blog

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Repertory Dance Theatre: The Mitch Show

Posted By on November 19, 2014, 11:35 AM

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Repertory Dance Theatre's season is getting a slight expansion in the touring content this season, as tomorrow night they'll be presenting The Mitch Show from November 21-22. Put together by choreographer and filmmaker Mitchell Rose, the show mixes performance art with film and integrates audience participation for a completely interactive evening, with Rose as your guide throughout the evening's performance. Today we get a chance to briefly chat with Rose about his career, coming up with the concept of the show, bringing it to Utah and the kind of things people can expect to see. (All pictures courtesy of RDT.)

Mitchell Rose
C.E. COURTNEY
  • C.E. Courtney
RDTUtah.org

Gavin: Hey Mitchell, first thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mitch: I'm an ex-choreographer and present filmmaker, and I'm a professor of dance-filmmaking at Ohio State University. I've made 25 films and they've won 68 awards. I am a professional wisenheimer. And my favorite TV shows are all alliterative: Breaking Bad, Mad Men and The West Wing.

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Gavin: How was it for you entering Tufts University and graduating with their first dance major?

Mitch: I first started Tufts in electrical engineering. But in my sophomore year I decided to take Choreography 1. I had never even seen concert dance before, but I needed phys ed credit and I thought it would be a great way to meet girls. After the first class, I knew this is what I wanted to do for a career. So I created my own dance major. I made my first works never having seen concert dance and so had no preconceptions about conventions of the field. This led to open-minded exploration employing a broad palette of possibilities, embracing the Zen adage "In the mind of the beginner, there are many possibilities; in the mind of the expert there are few." From my many years as a choreographer, to the present as a filmmaker, this sensibility has pervaded my work.

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Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the business and performing on a regular basis?

Mitch: After Tufts I moved to New York and formed my own dance company. Almost right away, we were noticed and began garnering critical attention. But that doesn't mean you can make a living at it. Fortunately, a few years after that the CETA program came along— sort of the WPA works program of the 80s. There were 40 dancers in New York who got CETA jobs. I was fortunate enough to get one as was another member of my company. So it was only natural that we become a duet company–an actual dance company that receives a salary. Pretty unusual And what a fantastic thing it was— for three years performing and teaching extensively every week in theaters, schools, universities, museums, hospitals, and prisons. So many experiences —it was a period of incredible growth. And it really launched my career, because even after CETA ended after three years, for another dozen years I was able to support myself just through my company—choreographing and touring all over the world.

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Gavin: What made you decide to enter the choreography side of things?

Mitch: I was never interested in being in someone else's work — in being a dancer in a dance company. I've always been a ”maker" and my only interest in dance was choreographing.

Gavin: You've had a grand career that we can't do justice covering here. What were some of your favorite highlights over the years?

Mitch: I should first emphasize that I've really had two careers—first as a choreographer and then as a filmmaker. The New York Times called me: "A rare and wonderful talent.” The Washington Post wrote that my work is "in the tradition of Chaplin, Keaton, and Tati—funny and sad and more than the sum of both.” Being likened to those silent screen figures was portentous, because after 15 years as a choreographer I decided to migrate from dance to film. I had become more interested in media—in its power to emotionally reach an audience directly and its position at the center of the culture. In 1991, I became a Directing Fellow at the American Film Institute in Hollywood. So looking back over these two phases, what stands out… I would just speak generally and say the laughs and the glow. I’ll explain...

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Mitch: I love hearing laughter—to feel that upliftment of the human spirit. And I'm happy that I was able to bring about a lot of laughter during my dance career. As a filmmaker, there's nothing I like more than looking over at an audience watching my films and seeing that glow from the screen pulsing on transfixed faces. Humans are ravenous for story. We’re mythically drawn to that flickering light, actually going into a semi-hypnotic receptivity. I don't know how many times this has happened to you, but it happens to me all the time. While watching a movie I actually forget my time and place. I have to look around the theater to remind myself, Oh yeah, I'm just in a theater watching a movie– that isn't my life happening up on the screen. Wow! This is powerful stuff. It’s a state of genuine transcendence, and social impact of the highest order. When I see that glow on faces, it makes me feel it's worth all that I do. And since most of my films are funny, to have that glow and the laughter at the same time… that's pretty special.

Gavin: How did the idea for The Mitch Show come about?

Mitch: The Mitch Show is made up of two things: some of my short films and audience-participation performance pieces. So the unifying theme here is "stuff that Mitch loves to do." In the arts, it's all about when the thing finally "happens." In dance, it’s a performance and in film it's a screening. For me, creating an unusual program like The Mitch Show has made a wonderful coming together of these best elements of my arts/loves. I've always loved making audience-participation performance pieces. It comes from a weird fascination I have—this idea of getting people to do complicated things, remotely, via instructions. Like if the pilot of a 767 died, could you land the plane while the control tower talked you through it over the radio? So some of my pieces explore this.

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Mitch: For example, in The Mitch Show there's a piece called "Podpeople." I get five volunteers to come up on stage, I gave each one an iPod, they start them in unison and then follow the 10 minutes of synchronized instructions on each one, telling them where to go and what to do and what to say. Each iPod is different, jam-packed with instructions. It's totally fascinating seeing people come out of the audience and transform into performers. One of the things I've tried to do in this show is to break down that fourth wall between the stage and audience, to make it a big fun space of community, and possibilities. Even my newest film, Globe Trot, explores this idea of getting people to do complicated things via instructions. I got 54 filmmakers in 23 countries, representing all seven continents (including Antarctica,) to each contribute two seconds of precise footage that I edited together. But once again, it was an incredible community-building event, this 15-month process to make a three-minute film.

Gavin: How did the plan come about to bring it to Utah and perform in the Rose Wagner Theatre?

Mitch: I go back a long ways with RDT. I set several dance pieces on them in the 70s and 80s. So I'm thrilled that they've invited me back to present The Mitch Show. I have a real affection for Utah. Back when I was a choreographer, I taught for a quarter in the Dance Department at the U of U. In fact, I was the first modern dance company to perform in the then brand-new Marriott Center. And I've also taught several times at Brigham Young as well.

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