Mia Michaels, whose company, Reality at Work, makes its New York debut Wednesday through Sunday at the Upper East Side’s Playhouse 91, has choreographed for Prince, Gloria Estefan, and MTV’s Hot Properties. Her dancers exude steely instead of noodly movement qualities. When a leg, male or female, shoots into the air, it’s perpendicular to the ground, capped by an exquisitely arched foot. She’s not into navel-gazing stuff that distances audiences: “When I do concert work I want to entertain as well as speak what I have to say,” she says, citing her Against the Current as descriptive of her career—always pushing toward something better.
According to dancer Jason Parsons, “Our group is different from any other company because we feel each other’s emotion. Mia’s work comes from a deeper place.”
“We use technique and virtuosity, but it has an element of the street and the soul,” echoes another company member. “Even though it’s concert work, it’s not so internal and self-indulgent that it’s just for the choreographer and the dancers. We feel like we’re speaking to the audience and sharing. It’s not just internal.”
Michaels describes her style as “modern dance with a commercial jazz edge done by classically and jazz-trained dancers.” In other words, powerful, emotionally raw dancing by limber, beautifully chiseled bodies. All but one of RAW’s dancers come from the commercial dance world—sitcoms, videos, industrials. Mark Meismer, fresh from dancing a “Greased Lightning” skit on Home Improvement, says “doing television and film is fun and the money is great, but there is nothing artistically fulfilling about it. We train our whole lives to dance and then do the Academy Awards; you’re a fish in the back swimming during The Little Mermaid. Dancing a 20-minute piece by Mia, you’re not thinking about camera three or ‘Make sure you look to the right and smile on five.’ After you perform a piece of Mia’s, you come offstage like ‘Wow, I just danced my soul.'”