With spidery limbs and a sprawling imagination, Brooklyn-based Raja Feather Kelly brings a vivid boundlessness to all he does. Whether dancing for the likes of Reggie Wilson or cooking up his own darkly entertaining dance-theater productions, he seems insatiably curious. Fascinated by pop culture and performance history, Kelly has been pursuing an unabashed obsession with Andy Warhol since 2009. His projects include a Warholian version of A Chorus Line and other works inspired by the artist's diaries.
Photo by Andy Toad, Courtesy Raja Feather Kelly
Companies: Artistic director of the feath3r theory and dancer with, most recently, Keely Garfield, Rebecca Lazier, Christopher Williams and Reggie Wilson
Hometown: Fort Hood, Texas
Training: Jazz, tap, modern, musical theater and competition dance at Long Branch High School, NJ; theater at the Governor's School of the Arts, NJ; BA in dance and English from Connecticut College
Accolades: 2016 Solange MacArthur Award for New Choreography; 2016 Gelsey Kirkland Academy Artist in Residence; two-time danceWEB scholar at ImPulsTanz
Falling for Fosse: Kelly traces his love for dance and theater to middle school, when he saw a performance by the high school dance club. “These students did Bob Fosse's Steam Heat, and I was like 'I'm supposed to do that.' As soon as I could, I signed up for anything with 'dance' in the title."
Breakout moment: Rehearsing for David Dorfman's Disavowal right after receiving his diploma in 2009. “I finished college and my career started two hours later," Kelly says. “I don't think I've stopped dancing or making since. To top it off, The New York Times called me the 'enthusiastic Raja Kelly,' and it felt like my 15 minutes."
What David Dorfman is saying: “There's no one I've met who moves like Raja," says Kelly's longtime mentor. “He has that long, lanky body, but plenty of people are tall and thin. It's the way he uses it. He works with an immediacy, a power and an element of surprise that's very exciting and human."
Warhol as muse: “I think Andy Warhol gets a bad rap as being superficial or vapid," Kelly says. “I feel the opposite, that his work speaks to something really humane and deep and sometimes dark." The latest installment of Kelly's Warhol Series, Andy Warhol's TROPICO—part performance, part graphic novel—comes to Danspace Project June 2–4.
Marketing magic: A web and media designer for his own company and others, Kelly approaches marketing as its own art. “I feel like a piece starts when you start talking about it. If that's not treated with the same integrity as the work itself, you could be selling yourself short."