The Arts Interview: Ras Mikey Courtney

John Rainsford

Reporter:

John Rainsford

Ras Mikey Courtney: Global artist who has dedicated his life to finding meaning in movement
Of African-American ancestry my family have been in the United States for centuries but my wife and two sons (my greatest joy in life) were born in Ethiopia.

Of African-American ancestry my family have been in the United States for centuries but my wife and two sons (my greatest joy in life) were born in Ethiopia.

I grew up in Springfield, Virginia, just outside of Washington DC. I have attended James Madison University and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia where I graduated with a BFA in Modern Dance Performance. I also attended the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at UL where I completed an MA in Ethnochoreology. I am currently a doctoral candidate in Arts Practice Research at UL. I have also collaborated on various projects there and am currently the PRO for UL’s Capoeira Club (an Afro-Brazilian martial art that incorporates dance).

From the outset I was always involved in school choirs and tried other types of performance in grade school.

Today, I also sing, write, and record music, while playing some percussion instruments from time to time. With regards to my dancing, I wouldn’t say that I specialise in any particular dance form it is more that I utilise Ethiopian and other traditions as tools in my creative process. My doctoral research is based on my development of Ethio-Modern Dance, which is my embodied understanding of Ethiopian traditions through the lens of a Western Contemporary artist.

My company, Fore I’m a Versatile Entertainer (F.I.V.E.) Productions was founded in 1999, by myself and two of my classmates from Philadelphia.

We were on tour with Raven-Symoné (from Disney’s That’s So Raven) and decided that we would establish a group that could bridge the gap between concert art and commercial entertainment. F.I.V.E.’s mission is to create artistic works grounded in a variety of dance styles that express urban, contemporary, and classical ideology through film, video, and live stage. F.I.V.E. gave me a whole new platform from which to learn and contribute to the artistic community. Being at the Irish World Academy has broadened my own cultural awareness and allowed me to share some of my personal experiences with the Irish community.

My personal mantra is ‘Movement is Life’, which means find whatever you are passionate about in life and pursue it.

Don’t dance if you don’t like it but if you want to train towards being a professional, find a style that you can identify with, and train in as many styles as possible. Discover a way to transfer your learning from one style to the next and from the studio into your everyday life. I like to think of myself as a Lifist. Borrowing from Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (1980), lifism is a ‘metaphor I live by’. This gives my past, present, and future life-experiences an aesthetic value and the creative works, I develop, are a reflection of my perception of this aesthetic value.

Early on, I discovered that I had a gift for artistic expression.

Being able to express myself made me happy so I pursued it as a career. Luckily, I have been able to sustain myself, as well as my family, with my career in dance and the performing arts. I am, also, a guest lecturer at UL, while pursuing my PhD in Arts Practice Research. My research is based upon my continued development of Ethio-Modern Dance. I have taught, performed, and choreographed dance and other performing arts world-wide with my company F.I.V.E. Productions and collaborated with Pilobolus Dance Theatre, Raven-Symoné, Ethiopian Television, and Ethiopian singer Aster Aweke to name but a few notable collaborators.

Recently, as a singer/songwriter, I collaborated with UK-based producer/songwriter Dubsalon on the single Praise & Love, under the Aztek Electronic Music label.

I am, also, currently serving as a board member for Dance Research Forum Ireland and continue to allow my works to reflect a spirit and passion for the performing arts as a cultural and social movement.

Dance culture in the US is commercial and very industry competitive (video, broadway, and companies) whereas Ireland is more competitive within the Irish Tradition.

There are far more opportunities to engage with different styles of dance on a professional level in the USA, however. The concert dance culture, as well as the commercial dance culture, in Ireland, is growing but it’s still on a very small scale outside of the Irish tradition. My ambition is to travel the world, embodying aspects of different cultures, while teaching, creating, and performing music, dance and theatre that reflect my personal life experiences.

My given name is Michael William Lucas Courtney, and according to my late grandfather, I have some Irish blood in my family.

I was always known as Mikey growing up and RAS (which means ‘head’ in the Amharic language) was added to Mikey when I began to perform professionally. I wanted my professional/stage name to have meaning and reflect me as a Rastafarian. RAS is a common title in my faith. Traditionally, in Ethiopia, it was a name given to a Duke or Head of an Ethiopian province. Ras Tafari was the name that Emperor Haile Selassie had before being crowned King of Kings in Ethiopia. Haile Selassie literally means ‘Power of the Trinity’. His works and teachings have been my guiding light and my salvation through life’s journey!

Ras Mikey C (RMC) will be teaching a series of African Music and Dance workshops (once a month) at the Irish World Academy, on Oct 28, and Nov 11 from 6-8pm respectively. His first PhD performance work will, also, be performed there in the New Year. RMC is currently co-hosting An Ode to Hip-Hop on ULFM on Wednesday nights between 10pm-11pm. For more information please see: www.ulfm.ie www.youtube.com/rasmikeyc www.fivedance.com and www.facebook.com/rasmikeyc