About Mountain Empire
Mountain Empire Performance Collective was created in 2013 by founding members Eliza Larson, Rachel Rugh, Katie Sopoci Drake, and Barbara Tait as a way to unite as dancers while exploring ways of making work beyond geographic limitations. The company utilizes both traditional and contemporary methods of communication including but not limited to video chats, telephone calls, letter writing, emails, and working together face to face. This expanse of technology, initially a means to an end, has become an integral part of our work, both in process and in performance. While our work is indeed multimedia in nature, we are at our core a dance company. The contributing artists of Mountain Empire strive to create performance experiences that are honest, accessible, kinesthetically connected, and emotionally resonant.
Mountain Empire is committed to creating affordable artistic events for new audiences through community-based performance exploration. We actively involve audiences in both process and performance, and offer classes, lectures, and participatory events for dancers of all ages and abilities.
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About Our Members
Eliza Larson is an independent artist based in Northampton, MA. She holds an MFA in performance and choreography from Smith College where she was a Gretchen Moran Teaching Fellow, and a BA in Dance and English from St. Olaf College. Between 2011-2013 she taught ballet, contemporary, contact improv, and yoga at Smith College and she currently teaches in and around the Pioneer Valley. In addition to her solo work, Eliza has also performed works by several prominent choreographers including Paul Matteson, Mark Haim, Chris Aiken, Kathleen Hermesdorf, and Colleen Thomas. Her choreographic work has been presented around the country, including Conduit Dance Center in Portland, OR, Velocity Dance Center in Seattle, WA, Earthdance, the Southern Vermont Dance Festival, and the Washington DC Capital Fringe Fest. She recently attended Ponderosa, a dance center in Stolzenhagen, Germany, as a PORCH trainee, and as a CREAP (artist in residence). Additionally, Eliza is the author of Terpsichore's Deck, a set of 52 ChoreoCards to use in composition and choreography, available at www.terpsichoresdeck.com. Her writing has appeared in Contact Quarterly, Kinebago, and her original research on gender in dance has been presented at the Congress on Research in Dance. Core member since 2013.
Rachel Rugh is a dancer, teacher, mover and shaker currently residing in the hip little hamlet of Blacksburg, VA. She received a BA in dance from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2008, and moved to the Pacific Northwest a year later. During her four-year tenure in Seattle, she worked with several prominent Seattle dance artists including Pat Graney, Jurg Koch and Amy O’Neal. In 2012, she was one of four emerging choreographers selected to create new work in the Bridge Project space residency at Seattle's Velocity Dance Center. Her choreographic work has also been presented at the Seattle International Dance Festival, Lo-Fi Arts Festival and Evoke Productions' Full Tilt (Seattle, WA). Rachel teaches contemporary dance technique, composition and improvisation at several institutions throughout the New River Valley. She is currently a guest instructor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA and Trillium Performance Collective in Lewisburg, WV. Core member since 2013.
Katie Sopoci Drake is a professional dancer, choreographer and teacher specializing in Laban-based contemporary dance. Much of her movement musings come from flora, fauna and fiction and as a former vocalist, she never shies away from the use of the human voice in her productions. Katie has been on faculty at The University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College-Wolfson, Miami Dade College-Kendall, Carthage College, and Lawrence University. Currently a company member of Rebollar Dance, past company credits include Mordine and Company Dance Theater of Chicago (2012-2013), Momentum Dance Company of Miami (2009-2012), Wild Space Dance Company of Milwaukee (2005-2009), and Rosy Simas Danse of Minneapolis (2001-2005). Katie has also made appearances with Core Project, Brazz Dance, Your Mother Dances, Vox Medusa, The Florentine Opera, The Minnesota Opera and many more. Her choreography has been performed by many of the companies and colleges she has been with and her works have been presented in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida and now the D.C. area. Katie holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Graduate Laban Certification in Movement Analysis from Columbia College - Chicago, and a BA in Theater/Dance with a minor in Vocal Performance from Luther College. Core member since 2013.
Barbara Tait is a long, tall Texan, who relocated to Philadelphia in 2009 after graduating from the University of North Carolina Greensboro with a B.A. in Dance and minors in English and Psychology. As an art-maker, she is interested in exploring the questions: what role does dance have in community development and cultural construction? how can dance help create empathy? and, what is the informational value of movement? She thinks all movement has communicative value, and this belief has led her to pursue collaborations with dancers and non-dancers alike. She has studied movement techniques with B.J. Sullivan, Gerri Houlihan, John Gamble, and many fabulous others, and has performed in Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania with The Naked Stark, John Gamble Dance Theater, Nick Cave, Mereminne Dancers, the Telephone Dance Project, and Vervet Dance. In addition to her work as a dance artist, Barbara is a Teen Programming Specialist at the Free Library of Philadelphia. She has her Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh. Core member since 2013.
Emily German (dancer - Everybody Knows) is a teacher, mother, and dancer. Dividing her time between Salt Lake City, UT and Seattle, WA, Emily has performed with KT Neihoff, Amy O'Neal, Eliza Larson, Manifold Motion and Sapience Dance Collective among others. While studying dance at St. Olaf College, Sheryl Saterstrom sparked her interest in how movement can be a valuable learning tool in many aspects of life, and she is dedicated to helping people grow and develop through dance. She has taught in community centers, preschools and at dance studios both in Seattle and in the Midwest including All That Dance, Northfield Art's Guild and Secret Garden Preschool. Much love to her husband and daughter who continue to support her performing endeavors.
Annie McGhee (dancer - Everybody Knows) holds a degree in Dance from Elon University in North Carolina, where she danced professionally with local companies kearns dance project and the African American Dance Ensemble. After a whirlwind of travel and employment at both American Dance Festival in Raleigh, NC and Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC, she landed in Seattle's dance community in 2009. Since then, she has performed with many regional dance and theater artists including Pat Graney, Amy O'Neal, KT Niehoff, Keely Meehan, Corrie Befort, Unexpected Productions, Lucia Neare, Mark Haim and Alex Martin. To supplement her dance habit, she teaches dance to children and teens at several local dance institutions. Annie also works for 10 Degrees and Animate Objects Physical Theater, and serves on Velocity Dance Center's board of directors.
Benjamin Chakoian Jones (music - You Are Happy) is a composer, bassist, and violist currently living in Nashville, TN. Born in Des Moines, IA, Benjamin was raised on American Folk music such as Simon and Garfunkel and Mamas and the Papas, as well as a wide range of Classical music. Following high school in Ohio, Benjamin moved to Nashville to attend Belmont University. There, he continued his education in a variety of styles and began his career as a composer, arranger, and player. Still rooted in Nashville, Benjamin has spent recent years touring with the Americana band, Humming House, of which he is a founding member. When home, he makes a living as a bassist and arranger for recording sessions as well as continuing his work in original composition. Deriving inspiration from many styles of music, Benjamin writes first from an American Classical perspective. Setting his roots in the music of Aaron Copland, Alan Hovhaness, and Bill Evans, Benjamin enjoys pushing his palette by taking elements of music ranging from Early Modern Russian composers and French Romanticism to indie rock bands, traditional Irish music, and abstract sound. Writing music that is sonically, harmonically, and rhythmically experimental, Jones also writes music that can be enjoyed by a broad general audience.
Troy David Mercier (lighting/tech - You Are Happy) is a performing artist, teacher, and technician. He is a playwright, actor, dancer, director, devisor, and clown. He has his MFA of Playwriting from Smith College, and his BA of theatre from UMASS Amherst. His professional training includes work with Double Edge Theatre, SITI Company, Gardzienice Theatre of Poland, Serious Play Ensemble, Admiration Theatre Ensemble of London, New Century Theater, Strong Coffee Stage, and PaintBox Theatre. Look for him this summer performing in PaintBox’s TARZAN (Northampton, MA), dancing and teaching in The Southern Vermont Dance Festival, and performing in his original clown piece HAVE LADDER AFRAID OF HEIGHTS (Brattleboro, VT).