This week’s interview is with Sarah Rodenhouse, one of the founders and Artistic Directors of the MashUp Contemporary Dance Company in Los Angeles. Although MashUp was founded only a couple years ago, this all-female dance troupe is making waves as it brings an interesting mixture of jazz, hip-hop, and modern dance to the national stage.
Learn more about one of the group’s founders and how she started a non-profit troupe from scratch.
Twenty Two: Let’s start with the basics. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Sarah: I’m originally an upstate New Yorker with four awesome brothers and parents who have turned into two of my best friends. I’ve wanted to be a dancer since my mom and dad bought the Michael Jackson Thriller album and my older brother and I played it into the ground, dancing around the living room.
I’ve been in LA for about seven years now with a year stint in NYC somewhere during that span. I absolutely love being outside and I’m active as hell which is why I think LA and I have gotten along fairly well so far!
Twenty Two: Can you describe the experience of starting a new, non-profit dance company from scratch?
Sarah: It is by far the most amount of work I have ever encountered in my life! Luckily I have really supportive family and friends to help me. I also had a huge amount of help from a very educated and intelligent CPA, who happens to be a board member for the company. With his help we were able to achieve our non-profit status after mountains of paperwork, examples, and proof of why we deserved this status.
Similarly, Victoria [Brown, Co-Artistic Director]and I have a friend who is a grant writer and was kind enough to point us in the right direction for how to go about writing and receiving grants, which has been an ongoing process for us.
We are also constantly trying to come up with innovative ways to involve and give back to the community through festivals and charities.
Twenty Two: What’s the ideology behind creating an all-female group?
Sarah: My partner in MashUp, Victoria, and I wanted to show that female dancers can be just as powerful and strong as male dancers while maintaining grace and delicacy.
Twenty Two: Can you describe the process you go through when you’re developing the choreography for a show?
Sarah: I usually try to scour the internet, KCRW, or pick my friends’ brains for new, interesting and inspiring music to me. That is a huge part of it — finding something musically that I relate to and just can’t help but move!
I also look for inspiration in everyday life whether it be architecture, nature, or people as well as situations and relationships. From there, for me, there isn’t a ton of structure, just what feels good.
Twenty Two: The concept of integrating science with dance and live music for MashUp’s first tour, SCIENCE, is intriguing. Can you explain how these two seemingly unrelated ideas merged on stage?
Sarah: With this being our debut show, we really wanted to try and bring something totally different and unexpected to the table. We used the different forms of science, i.e. geology, psychology, chemistry, physics, etc., as titles for the pieces and tried to look at each area with a different, more artistic approach.
For instance for the piece titled Geology, the study of materials, we used thera-bands (resistance bands) as our “material” and stretched them across the stage while having the dancers interact with them.
Twenty Two: Similarly, what was the concept behind your second tour, Usual Places?
Sarah: Usual Places explored the many meanings of the word place — places we encounter in our everyday life, places we may travel to, or even places we visit in the depths of our subconscious through dreams and nightmares. With titles like “Come have dinner at my place,” “To find the place where one left off reading,” and “In the first place,” we tried to paint a picture of both usual and unusual emotions and settings.
Twenty Two: How does dancing in music videos and in other commercial arenas compare with working with a dance company?
Sarah: In my opinion, the commercial world is very different from that of a company world. I do enjoy being on a set and having the freedom to make mistakes with the safety net of take after take, but I have to say there is something purely magical about being on stage or seeing something you created on stage happening in the moment and the dancers feeding off the audience’s energy.
Twenty Two: How does living in Los Angeles influence your work with MashUp?
Sarah: It is really inspiring to be surrounded by so much talent in this City of Angels. It truly forces me to dig deeper and push myself even harder than I thought I could. I am talking not only about choreographers and dancers, but also artists, musicians, photographers, and designers. I’m so pleased to have so many wonderful friends that challenge me to look at things in different ways.
Twenty Two: When you’re not working with MashUp, how do you spend your free time?
Sarah: I still take as many dances classes as I can and audition for other dance jobs. I also teach and practice Pilates, and enjoy living in sunny SoCal with all its outdoor activities and live music. Lastly, I love to travel when I’m on break from MashUp and thoroughly enjoy studying my passions while abroad.
Twenty Two: What do you and Co-Artistic Director Victoria Brown look for when you’re recruiting new talent?
Sarah: Besides incredible technique and athleticism, there is nothing more intriguing than a dancer with passion and intent behind their movement. Finding that raw emotion and uniqueness in a performer is what gives our work a real voice.
Twenty Two: Do you have any advice for aspiring dancers or performers?
Sarah: Work hard. Period.
Twenty Two: What can we expect to see from MashUp in 2012?
Sarah: Lots and lots of great stuff. We have a handful of amazing new dancers this year that really round out the already stellar group. Our tour this season is titled Inanimate Thoughts and we’ll be hitting the Stella Adler in Hollywood, Dixon Place in NYC, and The Fringe Fest in DC. We are really stoked to be hitting three major cities across the nation this year!
A special thanks to Sarah for giving us the opportunity to learn more about the MashUp Contemporary Dance Company. You can keep up with MashUp by checking out their website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Shopify.
Click on the images below to see more from MashUp.
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