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Interview with Raja Feather Kelly

There is going to be a day when we all have to face the person we are with the person we’ve designed on social media. We are the country of the self-made men and women.

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Color+Me+Warhol_10

Raja Feather Kelly

TheaterScene.net had the pleasure of interviewing Raja Feather Kelly, the choreographer behind an exciting new dance commission being presented by feath3r theory at Dixon Place beginning April 10th ANDY WARHOL’S 15 (COLOR ME, WARHOL).  COLOR ME, WARHOL is Raja Feather Kelly’s interpretation of Andy Warhol’s vision of the iconic musical A Chorus Line as Warhol would have imagined it. In this production, 15 dancers bring to life Warhol’s ideas, philosophy and iconic visuals through Kelly’s unique dance-theater style intended to be radical yet accessible. The production blurs the line between truth and illusion; sourcing TV movies, The Andy Warhol Diaries with confessions and journal entries from the performers.

How young were you when you first became aware of Andy Warhol?

I think I was 10. That was the age when I was allowed to watch TV on my own, or while my mother was at work. It could have also been a magazine- I dunno exactly but it makes sense to me that around that age- I discovered my love for Hollywood and glamorous starlets of which Warhol’s depictions were revealed. ( I can’t say though, that I knew then i’d be obsessed with him the way I am now)

Is Andy Warhol’s body of work or his fame for fames sake more appealing to you?

I don’t believe that you can separate Andy Warhol’s body of work from his fame. This body of work, this fame, is not what he did (not the products themselves: paintings, films, advertisements, drawings) but how he did it that is really appealing. I like to think he created or laid the groundwork for both the aesthetic and philosophy behind what we know as “pop-culture” today. Frankly, it was rather simple. He had a hunch about what people desired most—to be seen—glorified—to live as a version of themselves that they create— and above all, immortality— and he ran a proverbial highlighter over it. BAM- POP -ART-FAME-WARHOL- the formula for culture.

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feath3r theory

How do you see your choreography a response to today’s consumer culture? In what ways?

Well, I don’t simply choreograph dance moves— I choreograph ideas and the product is a multi-medium and literal performance of these ideas.

Consumer Culture is about lifestyle, it’s about the one of a kind, it is about producing things people want but don’t need, repetition, competition, hidden meanings, over- saturation, exclusivity, entertainment, illusion and grounded in self-reference.

I liken the life or lifestyle of performance to how it is experienced. When does the performance start? Is an incredibly driving question. And the answer, which is a problem I have to solve, is: The Performance starts when you start talking about it. For COLOR ME, WARHOL I started a 100 day campaign on Instagram. While it leads up to the show it serves as the preface for the live performance, a document of my research and the campaign alludes to content in the work as well.

The response is unique, people are already having conversations about a work that they haven’t actually seen yet – though feel connected to. and they are.

This is one example of how i believe and employ how consumers bait us with trailers, content leaks, and that behind the scenes stuff— creating a playscape for target audiences- priming them for “the real thing”

How is this project different from your work as a member of David Dorfman dance?

David Dorfman and I have different interest and very different approaches to creating work- that is what made working with him so magical. David has surely influenced the way that I work; we share a desire for virtuosity. The major difference being how we both devise to getting there. (to a virtuous nature, aesthetic, physicality) I like to use tasks and puzzles, games and chance. And in David’s exciting work we make impossible plans and revel in solving problems. Both require a person’s humanity to be challenged and mine is covered in make-up. My work is a home for me to do all the things that I am not able to while dancing with other choreographers- that’s how I know that I am one— I am part of the work I want to see in the world.

If Drella and Lady Gaga had a love child, what would the child look like and behave like?

Their love child would somehow be a cross between Natalie Portman and F.K.A Twigs. Intelligent, multifaceted, disarming, has the ultimate ability to be both transformative and unpredictably unpredictable.  I don’t know how that works but I mean what I say.

What do you see as the coming social media war?

There is going to be a day when we all have to face the person we are with the person we’ve designed on social media. We are the country of the self-made men and women.

You raised the money to mount this production on kickstarter. Why do you think there was such a groundswell of support?

Color+Me+Warhol_03I cried nearly everyday of the campaign. “God, I hope I get it, I hope get it”… and I didn’t sleep. and was depressed for a week after the project was successfully funded. I set a low goal, and then I set a higher goal because we needed to and couldn’t foresee another way of getting the funds we needed to. Three days into our project, Kickstarter, after having us a ‘staff pick” on their site- told us that the likelihood of our success was incredibly low. There is no way to describe the stress. I had some great advice from friends, Lucien and Risa said, “ask everyone you know individually, ask them for what you want”. Chavi and Kim said, “honey cut the bullshit and get a strategy, and yes we will help you do this”. My dancers said, “you’re gonna get it!” and in the end “I told you so.”

I don’t believe I have given anyone that I know a reason to believe that I wouldn’t ever do exactly what I say I’m going to to – i am determined and stubborn. Scared and optimistic.

I have a team of 24 people working on this project and a humble network of about 10 people who support me in ways that does not amount to money but feels pretty magical – we work very hard, this team and I- and again the social media war, we don’t pretend otherwise.

Our kickstarter support was a statement of activism in my mind and it’s the way I spoke about it to the 4,000 people I asked personally to donate.

Dancers, collaborators, and artist should be compensated appropriately for the work that we are doing, which we do feel is a contribution to out field not in totality, self indulgent or just people making dance because we can. Also, I refused to put on a show that would be less produced than it was imagined- that is not fair to an audience. with these thoughts, people believed in me, us, and our cause. This support fortunately and unfortunately was represented in the from of cash. Thank You to the 291+ people who donated and spread the word.

I hope presenters were/are paying attention—you want integrity in work – you want top of the line thinking, creating, performing, and productions? I can’t speak for everyone, but the only thing in the way of that for the feath3r theory is time, space and money.

That said, I will NEVER do another Kickstarter. At this point it sends the wrong idea — presenters, who I am sure are having their own financial issues— need to help foster ways to produce the work they want to have in their theaters. Shouldn’t everyone who donated see the show for free now? Nope. They have to pay again, and buy drinks at the show, and buy our sick ass merchandise!

Can you describe what watchers will see?

I don’t want to. That’s what the show is for. BUT

If you can imagine watching people come into a theater, time-travel to a bare Broadway stage in 1975 and then cross fade into a 1987 version of Andy Warhol’s Factory while live riffs of 2015 are interrupting and reinterpreting everything they see and then somebody dies; you can imagine what it might look like to see the show happening as a fly on the wall.

COLOR ME, WARHOL runs at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie Street) through April 25th. For tickets please visit http://www.dixonplace.org

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