‘Modus I’: Kit Modus Returns with Haunting Dance Drafts

Words by Sydney Burrows | Images by Gracie Patchouli Jøo

This past Sunday, Kit Modus kicked off their 2nd season in Atlanta with “Modus I,” a performance of three different works; two complete and one work in process. Opening with “Second Impulse,” choreographed by Autumn Eckman, dancers Gabrielle Gambino and Erin Rauch performed in a small space inside the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. They were dressed in all black with white duct tape shapes attached to their clothing. Although it was a little difficult to see, with bright sunlight streaming in from the windows, other Kit Modus dancers stood backstage and shone flashlights on Gambino and Rauch. I found myself captivated by the moments when the two dancers connected, both physically and by catching the other’s gaze.

Jillian Mitchell, founder and artistic director of Kit Modus, choreographed the following piece, “blique.” She prepped the audience beforehand — telling us it was a work in process and an experimentation with phrase work. Although the duet, performed by Meg Gourley and Liz Stillerman, wasn’t polished or completed, I found it refreshing to see movement ideas that were still in process in an official showing. The first two pieces were short and sweet; the standing audience and hors d’oeurvres in the corner made them feel intimate and informal. I sat cross-legged on the floor next to a few young girls, and one turned to the other after the second piece and said simply, “I like the dancing.” I felt like this was actually a pretty good summary of the two works. The concepts didn’t feel heavy, and the movement was easy and natural. When the music swelled in the second piece, the dancers gained confidence and seemed to be enjoying simply moving, rather than performing or putting on a show.

The real highlight of the afternoon was the Noelle Kayser’s finale, “The Excursion: realized.” The main hall of Callanwolde was a beautiful background to this haunting piece. A large sculpture of stacked white chairs served as a backdrop to the five dancers: Maia Charanis, Brian Crosby, Jillian Mitchell, Erin Rauch and Ben Stevenson. Dressed in nude clothing, the dancers moved together in pairs, trios, and once as a group in unison to a combination of music and train sounds. The choreography ranged from breathy, contact-based movement to athletic shoulder stands, expansive floorwork, and the occasional pirouette. At times, one dancer would manipulate another, visibly causing each other to react to touch.

In one chilling moment, Charanis and Stevenson left the space with their hands shaking, covering their faces. Crosby repeated this movement as he took over the stage to end the piece with a solo. As Crosby’s movement stilled, Rauch re-entered and casually touched Crosby’s head, causing him to collapse to the ground. As she walked purposefully off the stage, an eerie melody from earlier in the piece returned.

The dance felt political to me as Crosby seemed to represent a rebellion against social norms. His large Star of David tattoo located on his upper back, although obviously personal and not done as part of this work, made me think of the Holocaust. Perhaps I made this connection because of my own Jewish identity and family history, but the sound design, which featured trains, definitely contributed to this idea. I couldn’t stop thinking about the displacement and elimination of a people. Despite the 90 degree weather, the combination of the space, the choreography, and the music left me with goosebumps, and I was stuck with dark thoughts that stayed with me long after the dancers took their final bow.

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