Teneise Mitchell: Feminine but Fierce, the Philadanco Dancer Has Caught the Eye of Choreographers and Critics

Article excerpt

To watch Teneise Mitchell in Camille A. Brown's Those Who See Light, which premiered at New York City's Joyce Theater last June, is to witness a union of understanding and execution. Mitchell exudes charisma as she leads six other Philadanco women in Brown's challenging choreography. Moving from low-level duck walks--a postmodern elaboration on a hip hop B-boy move--to rapid-fire air work and elegant extensions, Mitchell simultaneously attacks and surrenders to the quicksilver moods of the piece.

"Camille's piece wasn't my first solo, but it allowed me to explore my internal self and have artistic freedom," says Mitchell. "My timing, accent, and even the quality of the movement could change, so it could be different every night."

A stunning 5' 7", with long, lean arms and legs, Mitchell stands out in soloist roles. Lithe yet sharp, elegant yet sassy, Mitchell has fast become a favorite of choreographers and audiences in Philadanco's hometown of Philadelphia as well as on tour. Now in her fourth season with the company, Mitchell has earned nearly as much recognition from colleagues as audiences. "She has a beautiful quality," says Debora Chase-Hicks, the company's rehearsal director. "It's very feminine, but underneath that there's this power that's surprising. You don't have to coach it out of her."

Mitchell, 26, began her training at the Evelyn Ott School of Dance in Norfolk, Virginia, where she studied with Denise Ott Land. "Jazz, hip hop, tap--everything you can imagine I got from this woman," Mitchell says. With Land's coaching, Mitchell became involved in competitions, traveling across the country to compete through high school. She attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she became a jazz performance major, studying with Ronen Koresh, Wayne St. David, and Philadanco's assistant artistic director Kim Bears-Bailey.

Yet before arriving in Philadelphia, she'd never heard of Philadanco. "The competition world and concert world just don't mix," Mitchell says. Then one night she saw the company perform Christopher Huggins' Enemy Behind the Gates and felt drawn by the intensity of the performance. "I saw myself being onstage with them," she recalls. …