Contemporary dance ensemble Kit Modus and its artistic director, Jillian Mitchell, are on a mission to create dance that feeds the mind as well as the soul. “I want to help audiences fall in love with the art form, to show them what is possible,” said Mitchell in a recent interview with ArtsATL. “I want to help put Atlanta on the map as a dance town by building Kit Modus as a company doing serious repertory created by leading choreographers from around the world.”
With their performances on June 11 and 14 at Emory’s Performing Arts Studio, Mitchell and her company will close a successful season that saw several big changes and a lot of creative growth. On Sunday, Kit Modus will perform Mitchell’s hour-long Scion, a multifaceted work that combines beautiful dance and gorgeously produced spoken word audio in a mind-expanding reflection on consciousness, human relationships and quantum physics.
On Wednesday, the ensemble will reprise A Murder Party by internationally prominent choreographer Yoshito Sakuraba on a mixed bill that also includes a new work by Kit Modus member Emma Morris titled Anthology for Dreamers, and a repeat performance of Christian Denice’s Elapse.
The company recently invited ArtsATL to observe a run-through of Scion and Anthology for Dreamers and to talk with Morris and Mitchell about their work. Morris described Anthology for Dreamers as an exploration of the space “where the stories that you’ve read, and the stories that you’ve told yourself” meet and merge with reality in unexpected and sometimes unsettling ways.
When she was a child, Morris said, stories and dreams often crept into and colored her memories of actual events, and she wanted to convey the significance that imagined experience can have in shaping one’s awareness.
The movement in Anthology reflects that intent. It is grounded and expressive, with the dancers projecting a precise spatial awareness and creating deep connections through contact work and closely synchronized movement. The score combines a real-world soundscape of wind, insect sounds and birdsong, and other audio drawn from nature with music and spoken word. Even in rehearsal, Anthology for Dreamers conveyed an almost surreal intensity.
Morris said she began the choreographic process by sharing some of her own writing and passages that she had drawn from others’ work as the impetus for the dance. She then asked each of the dancers to pick four or five words and create movements to reflect them. In this way, they created a “language” that connected the dancers to the core thematic elements. Words became phrases, “then sentences, then whole passages.” According to Morris, the 20-minute piece quickly came together over four or five weeks.
Making the transition from ensemble member to choreographer was seamless. “I’d worked with most of the dancers on collaborative projects outside of Kit Modus,” Morris said, “and everyone was just really supportive and excited to do new work. We’re very lucky as a company that way.”
Mitchell, who founded Kit Modus in 2017, is largely responsible for building this strong company ethos. She steers what she sees as “a delicate ecosystem of personalities who work so beautifully together,” in which each dancer “adds to the joy of the work.”
The company takes class together not just as a warm up, but in order to learn and refine a distinctive technical vocabulary. Mitchell describes the creative environment as one in which she wants everyone to “have a seat at the table, because they are pouring their body and soul into work they believe in.”
Mitchell started the process for Scion in 2021. Shortly after she began, her mother passed away suddenly, an event she described as a cosmic loss. “The gravity of it rippled through my whole universe,” Mitchell said, and she began to question: “Who am I? Do I even exist anymore, when this person is gone?”
In a series of coincidences, her exploration of these questions brought her to quantum physics and the work of Italian theoretical physicist, Carlo Rovelli. For Mitchell, the idea that the universe might only come into being through observation of the strange interactions among quantum particles made her feel like there was substance to “this feeling that we can only understand who we are in our relationships to one another.”
Mitchell reached out to Rovelli and received his permission to use excerpts from audiobook recordings of his scholarship in Scion‘s score, and she layered these with selections from classical composers such as Chopin and Mozart. Watching Scion in rehearsal felt like a guided multi-disciplinary, multimedia meditation on the relationship between the individual and the collective, the general and the particular and the spiritual and the physical.
As if Mitchell had peeled back a perceptual veil, the ordered forms of dance and the complexities of family relationships came into focus, the way the astonishing James Webb telescope images are bringing complex constellations of stars into focus.
In rehearsal, both Scion and Anthology for Dreamers were already looking highly polished, the dancers moving smoothly through complex transitions and multi-partner lifts and contact work. Both evenings of dance promise to showcase Kit Modus in top form, presenting work that will challenge and delight in equal measure.
Robin Wharton studied dance at the School of American Ballet and the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. As an undergraduate at Tulane University in New Orleans, she was a member of the Newcomb Dance Company. In addition to a Bachelor of Arts in English from Tulane, Robin holds a law degree and a Ph.D. in English, both from the University of Georgia.