Four dancers will perform bold duets at Emory University and Georgia State University on October 24.
Four members of Moving in the Spirit’s Junior Company are learning the many facets of woman power in a new, original dance.
On Friday, October 24, dancers Mikiah Dial, Zora Infantry-Johnson, Janan Mirza and Liv Okwu will perform two separate duets of Warrior Woman Pantoum, a piece choreographed by Emory University Associate Professor Anna Leo. Mikiah and Janan will dance at Emory University, while the same day, Liv and Zora will dance at Georgia State University’s annual conflict resolution symposium.
At Emory’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, the Moving in the Spirit dancers will perform the piece along with two other dancers who are differently abled in terms of experience, training and physicality: Agnes Scott College professor Bridget Roosa and Full Radius Dance’s Laurel Lawson, who performs in her wheelchair.
Leo has worked with Moving in the Spirit for more than 15 years. So when she was searching for dancers of different abilities to interpret Warrior Woman Pantoum, she thought Moving in the Spirit might be one place to find them.
“I had watched a Junior Company class and looked them over” to find dancers who might be right for this unique project, says Leo. “There were so many great possibilities. I thought, ‘Gosh! Maybe this should be a piece for 10 dancers!’”
The Junior Company dancers worked with Leo to learn the piece, as well as additional work with Roosa and Lawson. At about seven minutes in length, Warrior Woman Pantoum is longer than most pieces the Junior Company performs, and includes intricate, repeating moves. Dancing in duets, the performers often move together and support each other’s bodies as they dip and swirl.
“Doing a duet is great! I haven’t done one before,” says Mikiah Dial. “Having a partner is kind of hard. You have to connect with them. You have to stay on the same rhythm with them. It’s fun at the same time. When you are dancing in a group, you can hide your mistakes. But not here!”
The Junior Company members also enjoyed portraying the character Leo created, a warrior woman. The dance presents the often contrasting roles that women must embrace throughout their lives: mother, provider, partner, fighter.
“This Warrior Woman is a character who never gives up,” says Liv Okwu. “She can be a fierce warrior willing to defend herself and others. But she can also be gentle, a mother….It is safe where she is.”
Leo created Warrior Woman Pantoum in 2006-7 as a solo piece for herself. A pantoum is a style of poetic verse native to the Asian country of Malaya, and involves repeating lines to create a powerful flow of emotions and ideas. In a pantoum, the second and fourth lines of the first stanza become the first and third lines of the poem’s second stanza, and so on. The dance’s movements, including a warrior-like archer’s pose and a mother cradling her baby, also repeat.
Learning the complex piece was an exciting challenge for the Moving in the Spirit dancers.
“I feel like Warrior Woman is really complicated. At the beginning, I thought it was so complicated that I couldn’t do it. But once I put myself into the steps, I got it more easily. I like fast dances,” says Janan Mirza.
Leo says the young dancers found her piece the hardest one they’d ever had to learn due to its length and complexity.
“This is a hard and challenging dance. There are technical things that are difficult. And because it’s based on a pantoum, you have to pay attention to where you are in the piece. The images in the dance are moving back and forth,” says Leo. “This is a woman who is strong, meeting challenges, and she is also nurturing, soft. Those are the two spaces that a woman can occupy. But they have really stepped up to the plate here.”
For the Junior Company members, Warrior Woman Pantoum is a chance to learn new techniques, embrace the challenge of working in pairs, and transform themselves into the fighter/mother character that Leo created.
“Warrior Woman is a very interesting piece. It’s like nothing I’ve done before. It’s so fun working with Anna,” says Zora Infantry-Johnson. “It’s nice having a character. You might not relate to them. But it’s easier to relate to the dance.”
Leo says she loves working with the young dancers at Moving in the Spirit. They are just beginning their journey of dance study and bring a wide-eyed enthusiasm to the project.
“When I was looking for girls to perform this, I could have gone anywhere. Atlanta Ballet, studios around Atlanta. But I really wanted to connect to Moving in the Spirit. I stepped right into the framework that they have already built here,” says Leo. “Moving in the Spirit just finds a way for kids to learn about everything: dance, the world, life, everything. That’s an amazing thing to me.”
The Emory University performance is at 6:30 PM on Friday, October 24. Tickets free, but reservations are required.
The Georgia State University performance is at 6:00 PM and is part of the annual Conflict Resolution Symposium. To register, visit http://www2.gsu.edu/~wwwomb/crsymposium2.htm