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The mission of Kit Modus is to nurture new choreographers and give opportunities to dance artists. (Photo by Daley Kappenman.)

Kit Modus, Jillian Mitchell’s new dance company, debuts with three original works

Jillian Mitchell remembers going to dance auditions years ago, when only two or three dancers in the room had reached the levels of technique and artistry necessary for the jobs they were seeking. Today at auditions, just about every dancer in the room deserves a job, Mitchell says. It seems the country is raising more and more strong dancers, at a time when the number of professional dance jobs is dwindling. Mitchell decided to do something to create more opportunities for dance artists.

This Saturday evening will mark the official launch of Kit Modus, a new dance company founded by Mitchell and geared toward inviting artists to collaborate and create new works with Kit Modus dancers. Staged at Agnes Scott College’s Gaines Chapel, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center Presents: An Evening of Three Works will feature new contemporary dance pieces by Mitchell, Sean Nguyen Hilton and Sarah Hillmer.

Mitchell, a former dancer with New Jersey Ballet, Proia Dance Projects and glo, will present The Comforts of Imminence, which draws inspiration from topics ranging from fear to awe to 18th-century concepts of the sublime and the beautiful.

Jillian Mitchell

Also featured is step in, a reflection on intention and choice by Sarah Hillmer, a ballet mistress with Atlanta Ballet and founder of the new dance training program, ImmerseATL. Secular Suite, by Sean Nguyen Hilton, cofounder of Fly on a Wall, responds to theories of quantum physics and explores how they apply to human consciousness.

Hillmer’s step in will be presented again December 14 in her ImmerseATL’s debut showcase at Emory University’s Performing Arts Studio. Also featured is a piece by Hilton as well as excerpts from Staibdance’s recent sold-out production, w i s h d u s t.

In late December, Kit Modus will host a dance workshop with the Cambrians, a Chicago-based dance production network with an innovative model and global reach.

ArtsATL spoke with Mitchell on the upcoming show, how Kit Modus formed and steps Kit Modus is taking to bring Atlanta up to speed with the greater dance world.

ArtsATL: Let’s start with the name, Kit Modus.

Mitchell: It’s Kit, like a tool kit, and Modus, as in modus operandi.

Working backwards from the vision of what I’m hoping to achieve in 10 years, Kit is a collection of resources for choreographers and artists, which they can use to present their work. We have a core of classically trained, versatile dancers who are there for choreographers to come in and create work. I’m hoping to have the administrative supports for them, and we would handle venues, technical needs, access to visual artists and all of the things that a choreographer requires to make a show happen, and then mode of support, like modus operandi, the way in which we do things.

The show will feature a work by Sarah Hillmer and debut her ImmerseATL dance training program.

I know there’s something in me that I can create, but that’s not why my company exists. What I really want to do is create a residency program for choreographers. I want to fill in the gaps with my own work, and if the dancers feel moved to create and choreograph, I want that to be an option for them. I think that dancers don’t thrive when they keep doing the same person’s choreography over and over again. Also, I’m not done dancing, so I hope to be in that mix of dancers as well, and to invite a rotating cycle of choreographers to come and find their home in the company.

My goal is to have a choreographer’s residency that includes housing, space and a full functioning residency, which of course is many years down the road.

ArtsATL: Why did Kit Modus form?

Mitchell: Kit Modus formed in response to what I think dancers need in their careers. We need jobs, we’re hungry for creativity, and we’re hungry to work with artists that we admire. We’re hungry to be creators ourselves, and we’re hungry to perform. That’s a little bit fluid in terms of what that can mean. Some days, it means that we create together as a team. Some days it means that we get work with a choreographer. Some days, it means that we get to laugh during rehearsal, and some days, that we just sweat it out and work our butts off.

It’s really driven by the human beings that are involved in the process, and it’s sensitive to who they are and what their needs are at any given moment. It’s important that we’re friends and that we’re vulnerable together and that we’re able to be free to criticize ourselves, and each other. Also, free to forgive, and laugh, and grow and learn together, and that no one person’s idea is going to continually drive to the point of it not working anymore. So, it’s kind of a democracy in that way.

Hilton is a rising choreographer in Atlanta dance.

ArtsATL: This production will feature new works by Sean Hilton and Sarah Hillmer and you. How did that combination of artists come together?

Mitchell: They’re people that I admire as human beings. I want to be aligned with their values, their approach to the art form, their level of professionalism, their aesthetic and their personalities. They were my first choices, and they agreed.

ArtsATL: What gaps does Kit Modus fill in the dance community?

Mitchell: I’ve never been in an environment where people talk as much as we talk. Before we even start a work, the first thing we do is have a huge conversation about ourselves, our backgrounds and the types of things that ideas conjure up within us. It’s almost like the work creates itself, and it isn’t being approached from this external source, of like, “Okay, here’s what I want this to be and now let’s make that happen.” We’re letting things happen and then following those things.

It’s friendly and it’s loving, and it’s an open atmosphere; it’s not snobbish. At the same time, the movement and the technique is extremely important. We’re asking a lot of ourselves, and we’re demanding a lot from the physicality.

ArtsATL: In this weekend’s debut performance, what do you want the audience to come away with?

Mitchell: I want them to feel excited that there’s really good dance happening in Atlanta. This is a new crop of artists, working on a caliber that can be taken seriously.

ArtsATL: You’ve been in the community long enough to see there are a lot of really good dancers around. 

Mitchell: There are. And I still feel like Atlanta is struggling to connect that community. There’s no hub [for dance]. Before I moved to Atlanta, I was looking to just move to a city where I might not have a job, but there was enough going on dance-wise that I would eventually get a job. I want to see that from Atlanta. I want dancers to feel like they can move here and that there’s enough going on that they’re going to find work. Right now, it’s not fully there, and I think there’s no real reason for it. I want to see companies communicating with each other and sharing space and sharing dancers and sharing ideas, and not being such little separate things. I’m hoping to be a force for that as well.