CC Magazine: What are your plans for the grant?
Raja Feather Kelly ’09: The organization that nominated me, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company based in Salt Lake City, will present a new work of mine called “Pantheon” in September 2017. Like all of my work, “Pantheon” is deeply inspired by the legacy of Andy Warhol, and transposes the pagan and ritual sacrifice elements of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” to 21st century pop culture and the demands that culture puts on its audience. Samuel Crawford will create an original composition for this new creation. After this piece, I plan to assess where I am as a choreographer, what I want, and where I want to go and find where that intersects with what the Princess Grace Foundation offers. This includes the possibility of a special projects, mentorship, professional development and process-based residencies, or focusing on the creating of a work versus the presentation of a work.
CC Magazine: Where do you draw inspiration for your choreography?
RFK: I am obsessed with the life and work of Andy Warhol and the development of popular culture over the last 30 years. I am inspired by Warhol's philosophy and aesthetic as a model for my own use of repetition, iconography, and cinematic sensibilities. I am invested in amplifying mundane and/or pedestrian movement so that it becomes scientific and virtuosic. I use performance-making and exhibition as a way to promote empathy. My practice identifies and magnifies opportunities where popular culture and human desire intersect. My work has two parts. The work unabashedly appropriates the structures, themes, and aesthetics found in reality television, celebrity culture, and social media, including YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Then it deconstructs them into new works which combine dance, theatre, and visual media. The aim is to challenge our audience to recognize their own implication in popular media: how media has trained and molded their desires, relationships, and identities.
CC Magazine: What's your guiding philosophy as you create?
RFK: My movement-based performances combine fashion show, gallery exhibition, drag, stand-up comedy, minstrel show, and stage-play into a single, overwhelming, over-saturated Gesamtkunstwerk in which artists and audience alike experience their shared humanity. We bend, but don't break, the specific formal rules of each genre we appropriate. We thus deconstruct each genre from within the genre's own internal rules and contradictions. All of my training and background—speech and debate, musical theatre, social dance styles of the 90's, my academic study of modern dance and English—have prepared me for the uniquely Warholian way that I rehumanize our over-mediated experience of reality.
CC Mag: Did you arrive at Conn knowing dance was the path you wanted to take?
RFK: I knew. It's why I chose Conn! And the pioneers that led me through were: Lan-Lan Wang, David Dorfman, Lisa Race, Heidi Henderson, Adele Myers and Robin Watkin. However, what some people might now know is I had a second and very important home in the English department. I was a double major. The written word is very important to me. My work is Dance-Theater; I use as much text as I do words. When I run out of words to say, I dance; when I cannot dance, I talk. Blanche Boyd, Charles Hartman, Janet Gezari and Kenneth Bleeth are among those who held my left hand, while my right hand was being held by the dance department.
I continue to collaborate with Conn alumni in my company as well. Rachel Pritzlaff ’13, Amy Gernux ’13, Laura Snow ’09 (10-year collaboration), Rebecca Hite ’09 (eight-year collaboration), and Kate Enman ’09 (five-year collaboration).