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By Erin Rogers '01
Colby's renamed and reconstructed Theater and Dance Department (formerly Performing Arts) has a lot to be excited about this year, especially in the field of dance. Synonymous with Colby and dance since 1973, Tina Wentzel is moving dance at Colby into a new era, with her summer 2000 work Jamned In and the creation of Colby Dance Theater, a curriculum-based student repertory company.
Instrumental to these efforts is Holly Labbe Russell '94, a visiting guest artist who is no stranger to dance at Colby. Russell graduated with majors in both performing arts and English , and returns to Colby with a master of fine arts degree in dance from Case Western Reserve University.
After graduating, Russell stayed on at Colby to take part in Wentzel's evening-length piece Dreamcatcher, presented in spring '95. She also taught technique classes and set two works of her for Colby students (Photofinish and Walkabout).
Studying with Wentzel prepared Russell for her departure for graduate school in 1996, she saysIt also provided the motivation to accept an offer made by Wentzel to serve as the assistant choreographer for Wentzel's newest evening-length work, Dreamwalk, performed in February 2000.
Russell grew up in Augusta and lives there now with her husband Christopher and her cat, Stella. She said she is excited to be back at Colby and working now as Wentzel's colleague. "I feel like [Wentzel] respects my ideas and where I'm coming from," she said. "I want to be back here because I believe in the philosophies of the department."
Having her students come back to work with her is a godsend, Wentzel said: "I never envisioned that this was going to happen, because numerous possibilities could exist out there for Holly, so the fact that she came back into the area is really a blessing and a gift."
Following the sold-out performances of Dreamwalk in February, the Wentzel/Russell team was on the lookout for a new project when Russell presented Wentzel with the flyer for the Dance Portland 2000 Festival. "In the academic world it's like a call for papers," Wentzel said.
Wentzel choreographed the work Jamned In for Dance Portland. Half the work consisted of an improvisational conversation between the dancer and musicians. Russell was the only dancer in the piece but was joined onstage by Colby musicians Eric Thomas, director of band activities. on the tenor saxophone and Rick Bishop, a music associate, on the electric bass. Thomas composed the music for the 14-minute piece, which developed into a work about a woman stuck inside her apartment. A free-standing window frame downstage right separated the dancer's "apartment" from the musicians and the outside world.
"I saw it as a character study," Wentzel said, "about someone who was bound by their physical environment, and by extension, was being bound emotionally and psychologically." Jamned In was about trying to motivate yourself and trying to find things to motivate you, she said.
Wentzel's work took second in the professional category at the Dance Portland event, and Jamned In was performed in the festival's concert at the Portland Center for the Arts ion August 25Russell performed the piece again for Colby's Dance Invitational on October 7, which also included the debut performance of a whimsical piece by Russell titled Fairy Flight Academy (FFA). Wentzel joined Colby students Katie Levy '02, Sarah Style '03 and Erin Rogers'01 in this quartet about fairies learning how to fly.
"The fact that Tina danced FFA was so exciting," Russell said. Having Wentzel in her piece seemed like a natural progression after Jamned In. FFA will be performed again March 15-17 as a part of Colby Dance Theater's inaugural performance.
Russell and Wentzel said the creation of Colby Dance Theater (CDT) was long overdue. Russell will lead the company in its first semester, when Wentzel will be on sabbatical studying liturgical dance. CDT will provide a venue for future faculty dance work, Wentzel said, as well as an opportunity to perform serious student work, guest artist work and other evening-length performances akin to Dreamcatcher and Dreamwalk.
A significant benefit of CDT is that it is a reason for Russell and Wentzel to continue collaborating. With Russell, Wentzel said, "There's an ease of working together, and there's always an exchange of ideas. I feel like where I feel gaps, Holly fills them in."
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