Saturday, January 3, 2015

6 QUESTIONS: Martha Tornay

photo: Robert London

Martha Tornay, artistic director of the East Village Dance Project, has brought her alternative East Village Nutcracker, THE SHELL-SHOCKED NUT, back to the Ellen Stewart Theatre at La MaMa, January 2-4, 2015. Conceived and directed by Tornay, the production features dancers ages 5-65, including 25 East Village Dance Project student dancers and 25 professional performers, artists, composers and choreographers. In the middle of all this, Martha found time to answer our 6 questions.

1. What inspired you to adapt The Nutcracker, transforming it into the story of a war-veteran and a child exploring The East Village?
At our school, East Village Dance Project (EVDP), the week after Superstorm Sandy, teens in my upper level ballet class urged me to teach them a section of the Nutcracker to lift their spirits. In contrast with the disorienting and stressful experience of the previous week, the familiarity of the music and challenge of learning the dance material felt both cathartic and joyful.

2. How do the professional dancers respond to performing with young students (ages 5-17) and vice-versa?
Most of the professionals are long time friends and collaborators. They are participating with full knowledge of my desire to have students at EVDP experience working with professionals as a part of their education. I scheduled enough rehearsal time with the professionals and students together for the students to see how; at all ages and levels, we are all working hard to have this production make the stage. It warms my heart to see the smiles of the professionals watching the students, and vice versa.

3. Who are your guest artists/performers and what are some of their contributions to The Shell-Shocked Nut?
My concept is to invite rotating guest artists each year to add an element of Divertissement, as in the 2nd act of the traditional Nutcracker. Just to mention a few:
- Billy Blanken and I met years ago and have worked on several projects since. It's a joy to work with such a talented and dedicated dancer.
- Dante Brown is EVDP faculty, and a talented choreographer. He is a generous mentor to these young dancers.
- Hilary McDaniel-Douglas is a childhood friend. We've been creating together for over 35 years. She is director of her own company and school in New Mexico.
- Justin Hicks and I met working together on a project seven years ago. We have amazingly creative brainstorms. I look forward to a full piece collaboration someday.
- Peter Jones and I have worked together in a ballet class setting at Bates Dance Festival for several years. I've been a fan of his compositions for a long time. Peter's live music has elevated the whole production.
- Ryan Carroll is a professional dancer that I've know socially for several years. In our first rehearsal together for this project I realized we had a chemistry to create at a very advanced level, and laugh along the way.
- Rachel Kramer is the mother of one of our students. I've seen her perform in several productions and I wanted to give her a platform to express herself within the subject matter of this production.
- John Gutierrez is a former student of mine from NYU Experimental Theater Wing. Last year he started attending ballet classes with me at EVDP. His talent and dedication inspired me to create his role in SSNut.

4. How has the East Village Dance Project evolved since its founding in 1997?
I began with a handful of students and we now has over 80 students enrolled. The first few years all my students were under age 8. As they grew and developed as dancers, the program developed to meet their needs. To the existing ballet and modern classes we added choreography, pointe and teen company classes. Until four years ago we were renting studio space by the hour for the school. Four years ago we opened up our home, Avenue C Studio. Having a studio allows us to meet the needs of a pre-professional student dancer and have rehearsals to develop productions like THE SHELL-SHOCKED NUT.

5. Does teaching dance influence your work as a choreographer?
First and foremost I consider myself a teacher. Most of the choreography I do is to nurture the development of the student in front of me.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?
I was involved in several productions as a performer at La MaMa over 25 years ago. Even though I came from a classical ballet background I was drawn to the courageous experimental productions I was a part of, and the other productions I was able to watch. That experience is a large reason I do what I do now. Mia Yoo and Nicky Paraiso presented EVDP at La MaMa Moves a few times, and we love being part of that. The idea to co-produce THE SHELL-SHOCKED NUT seemed a logical step for all of us. To have my students and my colleagues come together for this production at La MaMa is an honor.


La MaMa presents:


January 2-4, 2015Friday - 7pm / Saturday - 3pm & 7pm / Sunday - 3pm

Conceived and directed by: Martha Tornay (Artistic Director, East Village Dance Project)
Co-director: Victoria Roberts-Wierzbowski (East Village Dance Project)
Presented in association with GOH Productions.
Choreographers: Martha Tornay, Victoria Roberts-Wierzbowski, Andy de Groat, (1978 work set by Catherine Galasso), Brian Glover, Dante Brown, Hilary McDaniel-Douglas, Teddy (Boonyarith Pankamdech), Rachel Kramer
Performed by: 25 youth performers (age 5-17) from East Village Dance Project, and 25 professional dancers and performers including a host of East Village luminaries and guests.
Guest performers/artists include (as of November 1, 2014): Alice Klugherz, Amikole, Billy Blanken, Calla Cumi Jo, Dante Brown|Warehouse Dance, John Gutierrez, Justin Hicks, Patrick Leader, Peter Jones, Project in Motion, Rachel Kramer, Ryan Carroll, Shar La Porte, Angel Flores, Lauren Mendoza, Inam Jiemvitayanukoon, Melanie Gallo, Iman Barnes, Gwendolyn Baum, Jen Roit, Lauren Evans, Ann Duffy, Kiki Williams
Music by: Tchaikovsky, Clare Farris, Peter Jones, Duke Ellington, Stevie Wonder, David Lowery
The Ellen Stewart Theatre
66 East 4th Street
(Between Bowery and Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
Tickets: $18 Adults; $13 Students/Seniors.

For Tickets and Info: CLICK HERE