experiences, so I just let
my dancers go as far out as
they’re gonna go. I’m very,
very grateful to have so
much trust from them.
But I do put the kibosh
on some things. For example,
one dancer said, “I want to
tape myself into a plastic
bag.” I thought, That’s a little
dangerous. She tried it (we
kept some scissors in there), but it made me feel so panicked I couldn’t really watch it. I couldn’t put that onstage.
Her “extreme action” events—from catapulting into the
sky to balancing on a human-sized hamster wheel—defy
conventional notions about what the human body can do and
where it can go.
I ask dancers to be 100 percent trained in every ;ber of
their bodies so they can come
in here ready to crash and ;y.
The willingness to go there
is a very rare thing; no one
knows what’s going to happen once you put your toe in
the petri dish.
I think any dancer who
says, “No, I don’t want to do
that” isn’t curious enough to
be in the STREB company.
They can say, “I’m not ready
RAJA FEATHER KELLY
to try that today.” And they
can say, “Let’s not do that
When a dancer gets injured, I wish on that day I had
stopped it. But we agree to get hurt. Knowing their own
bodies so well, some of them will step back and some
of them will go forward. We don’t ask everyone in this
room to have the same skill set. If someone’s doing a
triple ;ip off the trampoline, everyone doesn’t have to
The offbeat dance theater choreographer has used nudity,
sexuality, audience participation and discussions of mortality to color his
work. He performs with his company, The Feath3r Theory, as well as in the
work of Reggie Wilson and others.
If my dancers can debate me into understanding their position and
win the argument, then I’m happy to concede as long as they’re not
just like, “Well, I’m uncomfortable.” There was a situation where a
cast member told me something wasn’t important to the show, and I
thought it was. We had an argument. I think I wanted her to make out
with another dancer. I don’t want to allude to kissing if I think the
scene should end with a kiss. But she challenged me. She’s a married
woman, and she didn’t think that it was justi;ed for the purpose of
the scene, and she felt that it exploited her. In the end, I believed her. It
wasn’t moving the story forward, so we didn’t do it.
Her Gaga-based work for Ate9 Dance Company
frequently tackles topics like struggle, awkwardness and
If I’m asked if there’s anything a choreographer
shouldn’t ask dancers to do, an automatic answer would
be, “Yes. We shouldn’t ask a dancer to kill someone on-
stage.” But at the same time, I would say “no,” because
I can ask him, and he can make the decision, and I’m
sure he can make the right
You just need an hon-
est conversation. When
it’s risky—I recently
wanted to deal with
the physicality of meth
addicts, for instance—I
make sure I start the
discussion by asking, by
wondering, not demand-
ing anything from any-
one. We have a dialogue
and I give the person the
freedom to say what he thinks. I need to have a col-
laborator with me.
If I feel a dancer is uncomfortable, I retreat. I don’t
sacri;ce the dancers in that way. It’s very important to
me how they feel, how they go home at the end of show.
It doesn’t prevent us from dealing with struggle and
effort and challenge and embarrassment and fears, but I
don’t want to humiliate anyone, including the audience.
The contemporary ballet
choreographer of LINES
Ballet is known for his hyperphysical movement that
pushes classical technique—
and his dancers—to
When I’m working with
someone, I’m not taking
advantage of them. I’m
considering who they are
as human beings, as artists.
If they feel uncomfortable,
they’re not going to be able to serve the work, and it’s not going to be
clear, so it’s pointless.
When LINES worked with the Shaolin monks from China, I wanted
some pas de deux and initially they said it was their rule that they did
not touch women. So I left them alone. But when they realized after two
weeks of rehearsal that the movement was not sexualized, these were just
ideas and ;gures of thought that we’re working out through physical
form, then everything began to change, and they saw it as okay.
Now, if you’re talking about technical demands, you have to push
dancers!;[Laughs.];Because as a director, you’re working with them
choreographically, but you also want to feed them technically and artistically. You will not allow them to say “I can’t,” because those demands
represent the next step in their development.;■
Raja Feather Kelly (left)
in his Color Me, Warhol
Alonzo King and dancers