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Guest artists bring experience, passion to Summer Dance

June 19, 2015

Students enrolled in Stephens Summer Dance are studying new techniques and movements to express themselves—culminating in dance pieces that will be featured in the upcoming Summer Dance Concert.

Guest artists Martha Tornay, founder and director of the East Village Dance Project in New York, and Tawanda Chabikwa, a Zimbabwean artist, are both emphasizing self reflection and appreciation in the new works they’re choreographing for the concert, which starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 26-27.

Tornay’s piece, set to Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto, part of his popular Sympathy No. 5, is a reworked version of a dance she choreographed in New York that reflects the notion that every ending is a beginning.

“It recognizes the value of moving on and that the end of something is always the beginning of something else,” she said. “The book is never closed, but rather each experience leads to the next.”

Likewise in her choreography, “the end of every step is the beginning of the next,” she said. “Any pause is purposeful.”

Stephens dancers have put their own touches on it, essentially creating a new work.

“It’s very sophisticated and the choreography is very challenging,” Tornay said.

Chabikwa’s piece is a more contemporary dance that pays tribute to tradition while also celebrates the personal experiences of the young women.

“We play with the understanding of why we dance and finding one’s own voice and inner power,” he said. “And they explore what it’s like to be a woman through their stories, both personal and their communal experiences.”

The piece is grounded in African traditions and Zimbabwean church music with elements of martial arts and Haitian dance influence, Chabikwa said. He is allowing the students to pick out their own costumes, which will be everyday wear.

“I like the idea of being grateful and thankful and allowing our bodies to express that gratitude,” he said. “They’ll be wearing pedestrian clothing as though they could dance this piece down the street.”

Chabikwa has a collaborative style. He traveled the world learning various forms of martial arts and explored painting before turning to dance. He has a Master of Fine Arts in Dance, has worked with professional dancer and his mentor, Alison Chase, and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Dance at The Ohio State University.

Students have been receptive of Chabikwa’s unique style.

“They’re amazing,” he said. “They’re here to dance, and they give it their all. They are taking risks, discovering all of these things inside them. And they’re teaching me, too, concepts like mind over matter.”

Tornay’s students had to get beyond a bit of intimidation: She has a long and incredible dance background. A retired ballet dancer, Tornay worked with masters such as Madame Gabriela Darvash and Merce Cunningham before turning her attention to teaching and choreography.

“The notion of a ballet teacher with Russian training from New York—it took a couple of classes for them to realize I’m human with experiences I want to share with them,” she quipped.

That’s the beauty of bringing in guest artists, said Elizabeth Hartwell, Stephens Summer Dance director. Students have to learn to work alongside the best professional dancers in the country.

Columbia audiences, though, might benefit the most, when Tornay and Chabikwa’s original pieces debut at the Summer Dance Concert.

“There will be many styles,” Hartwell said, “and each is delicious to watch.”

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