Arts and Entertainment | Dance

Alums dance into professional spring season

Correction Appended

For some Columbia students, internships and interviews didn’t determine careers. Instead, their futures were dependent on auditions.

Many dance majors or members of student-run dance organizations who leap across campus stages transform this passion into careers as professional dancers or choreographers. As the dance world rolls into its spring performance season, there is ample opportunity to see Columbia and Barnard dance alumni soar into the spotlight on New York City stages.

Jamie Scott, BC ’05, and Emma Desjardins, BC ’03, are both members of the iconic Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The company is on its final tour following the 2009 death of its founder Merce Cunningham, a prominent figure in modern dance. Desjardins said that the positive reception of the Legacy Tour, which began in early February 2010 and will end on Dec. 31, 2011, has been inspiring for the dancers.

“When we get a really enthusiastic audience, it’s sort of touching,” she said. “We’re all very committed to Merce’s work.”

As for the company’s imminent end, Desjardins said, “As the year progresses, we’ll all start to really think about what comes next. I feel like I really want to be in the moment right now with what we’re doing because it’s so important.”

The Merce Cunningham Dance Company performs at the Joyce Theater (175 Eighth Ave., at 19th Street) from March 22 to 27. Student discount tickets start at $10.

While Scott and Desjardins have become members of an acclaimed dance company, other Columbia alumni have chosen to strike out on their own. Choreographer Tze Chun, CC ’06, now heads her own dance company, which has performed across the United States and Asia.

Chun said that as a working choreographer, she appreciates the “well-rounded liberal arts education” that she received at Columbia. This is in comparison to a conservatory-style arts program, where, as Chun said, “If you had a bad art day, you had a bad day.” In her opinion, the ability to explore other disciplines allows for more artistic freedom.

The Tze Chun Dance Company will perform March 4 at the Flea Theater (41 White St., between Broadway and Church streets), along with four other companies in a free, festival-style show. Chun frequently works with other Barnard and Columbia alumni, and her company’s upcoming performance will include Elisa Davis, BC ’07.

Meanwhile, recent graduate Judy Estey, BC ’10, is reviving her senior thesis piece. Originally presented on campus last year, Estey’s piece takes a comedic look at famous spurned wives throughout history.

“I wanted a chance to revise this work,” Estey said. This time around, she explained, she will “rework the choreography to make it much more interesting and reflective of who I am as a choreographer.” Estey’s revamped thesis will be performed in conjunction with Paula Hunter Performances from Feb. 24 to 27 at Performance Space 122 (150 First Ave., at 9th Street). Student tickets are available for $5.

Columbia’s School of General Studies has also made waves in the dance world in recent years because it provides a unique opportunity for professional dancers to pursue their academic goals. One dancer who has taken advantage of this program is Michael Novak, GS ’09. Novak is now a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company and can be seen at City Center (130 W. 56th St., between Sixth and Seventh avenues) from Feb. 22 to March 6. Student tickets start at $10.

This spring, students can show some Columbia pride at these diverse off-campus dance venues. From performing with established companies to adding new choreographic voices to the city’s dance community, these alums are making names for themselves. Their accomplishments are a reminder that the Columbia community produces an array of talented individuals, not just in the financial, political, and medical sectors—but also in the artistic one.

Correction: The original article misstated Tze Chun's graduation year and the name of the Barnard alum who dances in Chun's company. Chun is CC '06, not CC '02, and the dancer's name is Elisa Davis, BC '07. Spectator regrets the errors.


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Anonymous posted on

Interesting article. Thanks for the GS shout-out! By the way, what is the Spec's position on the serial comma (the comma before "and")? I see it appears a lot in the paper. Have you guys decided just to go with it since that's how students are typically expected to write elsewhere in academia? Just curious.

Anonymous posted on

Yep, "Spec Style" adheres to the Oxford comma — I'd be curious to know why as well.