In the New York, West Village penthouse studio of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC), Rashaun Mitchell and I first met. It was the beginning of our careers as we stood behind a mirror, between parallel windowed walls with expansive views of an iconic Manhattan skyline, over the Hudson sunset-steeped New Jersey. Rashaun seized the moment, the space, with fierce raw energy and instinct that was rare.
Moving like a silent secret through an intricate series of steps: tilting and turning his spine, moving from leg to twisted torso, flicking his hips in a seeming mirage of shifting lines and rhythms, finally giving way to a daringly calm landscape.
He soon became a member of the MCDC where he would later meet Silas Riener, another master of virtuoso extremes. They went on to become acclaimed “last generation” dancers with MCDC—a decade later as celebrated dance creators in their own right. Over the past six years, Silas and Rashaun have collaborated on more than 12 works that are known for being organically shaped by the setting: whether in a theatre, outdoor space, or gallery, and by a process that allows each creation to unfold with no set expectations of the final product. Their work appears to make no distinction between the physically rigorous and the conceptual, with an outcome that is full of frenetic splashes, meditative fields, and jolts of the unexpected that confuse and captivate.
I meet with them in Tribeca between performances of their latest MoMA PS1 show, horizon events. It was one of several new creations scheduled to premiere this year. Silas contemplates the night’s performance.
Silas Riener: There is one set of tasks I gave to myself that I still don’t fully understand. So the experience of doing it is confusing and I’m trying to figure it out today.
Rashaun Mitchell: Maybe you can view it as something not meant to be understood—it is live and you are responding in real time. You take up more vertical space and it’s at that point where objects are heavier and everyone deals with gravity. You just sprout up. You are making it more complicated than you need to.
SR: That would be typical.
RM: He’s the more tortured soul. Does that seem surprising?
SR: Like my friend Martha Friedman says, “There has got to be doubt somewhere in the process and it’s about where that gets placed.” I have a constant low level. Rashaun’s is in the middle, not the beginning or the end.
Silas discusses Anne Carson’s essay, “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent,” which described the point at which translators of a story know when one language cannot be translated into another and how silence occurs inside a word, concealing a hidden story behind its meaning. These ideas reflected Silas’ feelings about dance and making dances.
KERRY STICHWEH: Humans crave stories and dance isn’t always the best conduit for this. Your work is not constructed around a narrative of movement. Describe how your movement and work have been informed.
RM: Well, I think the most obvious information in the body is the attention to line, and the ability to move with an awareness to line. We are also interested in the ability to move away from that. Spatial awareness is important for our work, also the ability to have a consistency of time. I would say because we work in silence.
KS: You always work in silence?
RM: Pretty much. Occasionally, we might bring in sound as a texture. But generally, we locate and develop the internal structures, timings, rhythms and the movement itself, separate from the sound. It’s not a thing everyone has experience with. It’s actually quite dramatic how varied people are in their relationship to time.
SR: I was just thinking about this idea of information in the body and lineage. The idea of a scar or trauma that may be held inside the body, a leftover pattern, that information has an outward exposure or a manifestation. I think about this when making work because nothing we do is explicitly telling you what it is supposed to be. We show you something and as an audience member you’re going to interpret that however you will. But, there is that secret holding in a dancer.
Even if it’s what we discussed earlier: how in that section I may be confused by what I’m doing. That section is a collection of many things, but in that moment I am myself, as presently as possible, with my own hang-ups, my own doubts and that’s a really exposed place we share with the audience, who may have no idea that that is what is occurring. Indecision is a texture we are showing in that moment.
Knowledge in the body is interesting, especially as much as we spend our professional lives in front of people—showing them things, but not decoding them.
Photographer: Tetsu Kubota for Bridge Artists
Stylist: Matthew Marden for See Management
Hair: Yoichi Tomizawa for Art Department using ORIBE
Makeup: Caitlin Wooters using M.A.C. COSMETICS