~Written by R. MacKenzie – May 20, 2012~
My cousins and I used to call it “getting washing-machined.” That’s when you misjudged how the wave was going to break and couldn’t catch it or dive through in time. So you ended up getting smashed down into the hard sand, with salt water up your nose and sand in your bathing suit, at the mercy of the water’s ferocious strength…
That was just one of those recognizable moments in Martha Tornay’s concert performed by students of The East Village Dance Project. Soaked, set to the Talking Heads’ song “Same As It Ever Was,” was set on 9 children and featured in the East Village Dance Project’s annual concert of 10 dances ranging from classical pointe work to authentic jazz. The concert was presented by LaMama Moves! Dance Festival and GOH Productions on East 4th St on May 20th, 2012.
She had those kids looking like waves rolling in and out, side to side. Then suddenly they were a fountain, then a river, then somehow the little boy dove in and surfed right there in front of our eyes. Costumes included swimming goggles, bathing suits, and wonderful hoop tutus made of aquarium print shower curtains. This piece was really fun: The first time I saw it I laughed, the second I cried, the third, I laughed and cried.
This delicious program included a huge range of dancers in age (4-18), dance styles and skill levels, but the key to its sheer quality is the sure direction of Ms. Tornay. The dancers showed some excellent technique, and they have obviously been encouraged to make individual choices and contributions. Then they had been set up within a structure that leaves them the freedom to shine at all levels. Martha provides rocking and elegant musical choices, bright and fitting costumes, but most importantly, she gave the kids permission to have a lot of tun. The teen company developed a piece over eight months with completely original choreography. They explored different directions and made choices entirely their own to produce this work, Alienation Affect, which was accompanied by electric guitar played by a young man named Jack Lazar.
Trained with Mme. Gabriela Darvash, amongst others, Ms Tornay has taught and danced at Bates Festival for many years, but her crowning jewel is the amazing group of dancers she teaches year round in their lovely new home at #55 Ave C Studios. Her choreography is surprising, human, and entertaining, appropriate to the children’s skill levels and so charming! Lucas Rollings-Page, Victoria Roberts-Weirzbowski, and Kiva Dawson, as well as the Teen Company, all made dances, every one a little gem. Lucas’ musical choice was a lovely ballad by Bobby Womack with the refrain of “If you don’t want my love, If you don’t need my love,…Give it back to me.” The girls in his dance were delicate, gentle creatures, who I imagined barely discovering the tragedies and thrills of love. The girls in Ms. Dawson’s dance were skilled and sassy in the humorous jazz number Hot Honey Rag. Don Q-ish, with music by Leon Minkus, was the first mini-ballet on the program and a redux. this work featured Safouane Chestnut, our surfer from Soaked, as the prince, and the sweet and earnest Gianna Bernard as his partner. The costumes and choreography were excellent, the dancers joyous (India Rogers has a radiant smile in both Don Q-ish and Bal-led), the variations charming, especially the gang of really little ballerinas with giant velvet flowers to offer, dance with, and jump over…
The second ballet Bal-led, to all tunes by Led Zeppelin, was a great original idea. After seeing it, I wondered why Martha isn’t already world famous and doing this season at the Joyce. The piece glides through several of your favorite classic Led Zeppelin songs with group variations and marvelous duets with Afinatou Thiam and Chloe London partnering Bailey Edwards and Lucas Rollings-Page (who each take rocking percussive solos). Bal-led incorporation of a love-seat, quartets, and, towards the end, a magnificent solo by Talia Vilaplana could take one’s breath away. Students in EVDP, from tiny to graduates, are variously stunning, graceful, elegant, self-possessed, and even, at times, funky. However, I’ve never seen a dancer who lives the dance in such a way that it is like a part of her skin like Talia does. This girl is destined to always be a stunning dancer, her technique, musicality, and emotional commitment all add up to be so very magnetic.
Many dancers in Martha’s group are really skilled, but Martha’s genius lies in the way that she can put together a choreography for children who are NOT YET accomplished dancers. She can make them look good and make their dance dynamic, exciting, and constructed in such a way that kids will be happy to perform with lots of gusto and confidence. I can say from experience that this always a challenge. Ms. Tornay has shown, year after year, that she is up to it and so much more. BRAVO!