Rita Donahue


The Mason Spirit: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of George Mason University

All the World’s a Stage for Dance Alumna

By Tara Laskowski

Rita Donahue, B.F.A. ’02 and B.A. English ’02, misses the little things, like being able to cook for herself or having her own car. On tour with the Mark Morris Dance Group for six months out of the year, she sees a lot of hotel rooms and theaters but not so much of home.

Donahue is one of 19 members of the Mark Morris Dance Group, one of the top modern dance companies in the nation. Around for more than 20 years, the group is noted for its commitment to live music, a feature of every performance on its full international touring schedule since 1996. The group has an excellent relationship with George Mason, performing at the university for many years and sometimes even incorporating Mason student musicians in the productions.

Donahue, the first Mason graduate to dance full time with the group, began working with them in February 2003 after being the only dancer chosen at an audition of 350 women. “It’s pretty incredible,” says Dan Joyce, assistant dance professor, who worked with the Mark Morris Dance Group for more than 10 years before coming to Mason. “There are a lot of talented performers. To be chosen takes a certain amount of luck, but for Rita, being chosen was not only a testament to her talent and training, but also to her artistry.”

Since joining the dance group, Donahue has traveled all over the country, spending time in California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. Next year, the group is slated for international travel, with performances in such places as Ireland and Puerto Rico.

Donahue, who grew up in Vienna, Virginia, where her parents still live, began dancing when she was just five years old but never thought seriously about pursuing it as a career until she was in college. She credits Mason’s excellent Dance faculty for helping her along the way.

“The Dance Department’s galas each year were always something to look forward to,” Donahue says. “They usually involved the Music or Theater Department, so they were sort of interdisciplinary events.” She adds that it was always exciting to be able to dance on the great stage in the Center for the Arts.

Donahue misses her family while on tour, she says, but the dancers with whom she works have become a second family. With nearly 100 shows each year, the group naturally has grown close.

“You become close when you work, travel, stay in the same hotel, and even end up eating in the same restaurants. The dancers I work with are fantastic people. I couldn’t have hoped for a better situation,” she adds.

Last October, Donahue returned to George Mason as part of the group to perform for the first time on a Mason stage as a professional. She was one of the dancers in the Washington, D.C., debut of “All Fours,” a piece for 12 dancers set to Bela Bartok’s String Quartet No. 4.

“It was pretty great to come back, although a little overwhelming. It’s interesting as a professional to perform so much and usually for people you don’t know,” says Donahue. “So to come back not only to my hometown, but also to my old university was nothing I’d ever experienced before. I felt so much support.”