Q&A: Jillian Mitchell, founder of Kit Modus, is a rebel with a moving cause

Jillian Mitchell is a self-proclaimed rebel. When she founded the dance company Kit Modus six years ago, she decided not to operate as a nonprofit the way most arts organizations do. That meant no board, no advisory council, no official fundraising apparatus. She wanted to do things differently.

Credit: Julius Ahn

Credit: Julius Ahn

She once considered buying a laundromat or vending-machine company to generate income, but instead bought a yoga studio. For several years, it created a reliable source of funding for the company, especially during COVID-19, when other choreographers, film productions, reality TV shows and even people throwing birthday parties rented the space.

Mitchell’s entrepreneurial spirit informs everything she does. She has developed a unique dance-training program called Modus that integrates contemporary dance and ballet and which she plans to trademark.

In late 2020, she launched a program whereby internationally known choreographers can apply to set a work on the company during weeklong residencies on Zoom or in person. This gives her nine-member company an opportunity to work with dance makers rarely if ever seen in Atlanta. In 2020 and 2021, Mitchell received 70 applications from around the world.

One of the choreographers she chose is the award-winning Yoshito Sakuraba. The piece he created on the company will premiere at Kit Modus’ concert Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Emory Performing Arts Studio, along with a work by another visiting choreographer, Christian Denice, and one by Mitchell herself.

Credit: Courtesy of Kit Modus

Credit: Courtesy of Kit Modus

Trained in the Vaganova (Russian) style of ballet, Mitchell performed with the New Jersey Ballet in “Paquita,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Nutcracker” and more. In Atlanta, she danced with Georgia Ballet and the Proia Dance Project before forming Kit Modus.

Mitchell sat down with ArtsATL recently to talk about her upcoming concert and her goals for Kit Modus.

Q: Sakuraba is a New York-based choreographer who has presented work in Europe, Israel, Mexico and in the United States at the Joyce Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Jacob’s Pillow and more. It must have been quite a coup to bring him to Atlanta.

A: Yoshito’s huge. I had heard of him and really admired him. I couldn’t believe he applied to our virtual Zoom residency last year. But that was part of the beauty of COVID — a lot of artists who usually were constantly employed were suddenly available and wanting to do work. Yoshito did a one-week Zoom process during the shutdown, but he felt he needed more time with the dancers, so he came back in person a couple of weeks ago.

His piece is very theatrical, with quite a bit of humor. He has an interesting way of working. He presents an idea and shapes it conceptually and the dancers get to provide a lot of input. There’s a kind of purity in that. The soundscore for his work has a dark quality, with powerful, driving beats mixed with old-time music that has an echo of times past.

Q: Denice has had a more conventional dance career. He has worked with and performed works by Robert Battle, Sidra Bell, Lauri Stallings and many others and has guest performed with the Montgomery Ballet, Company E, BODYTRAFFIC in Los Angeles and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. Tell me about his work for Kit Modus.

A: I discovered Christian on Instagram. He just oozes dance and has this natural ability to create phrase work that is just delicious. He would look at me during rehearsals and laugh and say “I just love dance!” His piece “Elapse” is jam-packed full of emotion and concepts, but he also puts together very interesting movement. At Kit Modus, we like to move big and powerfully. We like people to see that dance is an art form that requires a tremendous amount of skill. And as Christian says, sometimes it’s just fun to dance.

Q: The third work on the program, “Scion,” is yours.

A: It’s a work in progress that I started a year ago. It focuses on the idea of family and legacy and was initiated during COVID-19 when a lot of us were thinking about what is really important in life. It’s a cliché but the only thing I could think of was family.

I started making the piece and then my mom died. That of course had an impact on me and it deepened my sense of responsibility. Now I can’t separate the work from that event.

We are presenting 12 minutes of the work on Saturday, but we have 40 minutes of raw material that I made prior to my mom’s death. I am as curious as anyone to see where this one goes! The score consists of a lot of classical music, Chopin and Mozart.

Credit: Daylilies Photography

Credit: Daylilies Photography

Q: You have said you have an aversion to boards and are committed to finding other sources of funding. Tell me more about this.

A: I often question the way things have always been done. I’ve seen what can occur with a board, especially when the members don’t come from an artistic background. They sometimes make choices that are not the best for the art or artists involved. When you go nonprofit, the company isn’t necessarily yours, as founder, anymore. I want to have the freedom to stick to the mission that I set out with.

Q: What do you want the audience to get from your performance on Saturday?

A: We are hard workers, we have good taste, and we try our best to make our productions as successful as possible. I would love to see people show up who have never been to a dance performance and say, “oh my gosh, this is interesting!” People go to the museum or to plays and the opera but they don’t know that you can be blown away by the craft of dance. I want to put dance on a level with other art forms, media and entertainment.

At a Kit Modus concert, audiences in Atlanta can experience what is happening in dance in the rest of the world.

DANCE PREVIEW

Kit Modus season opening concert

7:30 p.m. Sept. 24. $15. Emory Performing Arts Studio, 1804 N. Decatur Road, Atlanta. kitmodus.com.


Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

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