Torn Away the choreography of Kehinde Ishangi

During Hurricane Katrina, her small graduate school apartment in Tallahassee, Florida became the refuge to three family members from her home in New Orleans. Daily she shared with them the trauma of watching their home, their family, their community and their lives torn away.

Each day she went to school “…to escape the madness in my house”. As part of a choreography class at FSU, where she was completing her MFA in Choreography & Performance, she was given an assignment to come up with three dance phrases. She used this as an opportunity to deeply explore her feelings about the hurricane, both its human drama and its political ramifications. The result was Torn Away, a choreographic work in progress through which Kehinde Ishangi expresses her emotion filled experience of Hurricane Katrina.


In Ishangi’s highly emotive and provocative style, the piece begins with the wind jumping and moving and swirling through space; then moves to the people running for their lives and being drowned and trying to save one another but not even being able to save themselves and having to watch their loved ones drown; then to a section of prayer and supplication. Says Ishangi “…sometimes you just have to submit to the universe, be humble, and realize that there’s something greater than you”.

Kehinde admires the choreographic styles of trailblazers Ron Brown, Eleo Pomare, Bebe Miller and Jawole Zollar, but it was Carmen de Lavallade who inspired her to find her own artistic voice in choreography. “She gave me something to aspire to,” she said of Ms. de Lavallade “the idea of transcending technique”.

Ishangi, a graduate student of Dance Performance and Choreography at Florida State University, has been dancing since the age of 10. Her dance training is deeply rooted in classical ballet with its emphasis on lines, form and the execution of intricate, repetitive patterns of movement. Technique. She has mastered the techniques of classical ballet through extensive training and professional performance. While with the Ballethnic Company in Atlanta, GA, this mastery led her to perform to rave reviews the coveted role of Brown Sugar (Sugar Plum) in The Urban Nutcracker, Waverly Lucas’ urban contemporary interpretation of the classic Nutcracker. During her tenure at Ballethnic her technical excellence made her a favorite of guest choreographers and she left the company a featured ballerina.
She then joined the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble in Denver, CO a contemporary dance company where she learned to incorporate emotion and freer creative expression in her performances. It was there also that she decided that choreography was the best way to make her own voice heard in the world of dance and turned to graduate school to continue developing her artistic voice. "…I like the provocative nature of Eleo Pomare’s work, the strong gestural work of BeBe Miller, the incisive social commentary of Jawole Zollar, and Ronald K. Brown’s storytelling. I see myself as a storyteller, talking about things that people don’t really want to discuss in polite society. My work has been described as powerful and intense. For some people it sets you back because its overload, it’s too much, but as I keep working I’ll find where I need to be with that". 

Ishangi specifically spoke about her piece “Before Forgiveness,” which embraces the relationship of an estranged mother and daughter. She said she wants people to think about the power of forgiveness in their lives but on a universal level, whether it involves two sisters, two friends or two lovers. Her aim is simply to lead people to become more introspective. “…People don’t have to marry my ideas, but I want the pieces to be powerful enough to wake up people’s consciousness about how they live their lives, who they are and what they can be in their lives. I don’t want my dance to just entertain people,” Ishangi said. “I want my dance to move people to enhance their lives.”

As a choreographer, Ishangi said she deeply explores the ideas of her works and tries to embody the feelings and emotions attached to them. She feels that through this process of internalization, the audience is better able to receive the meaning, rather than simply seeing technique. “If it’s not processed enough it doesn’t have the depth the piece is trying to convey, and its just movement.”

Through the power of her work, Ishangi hopes her choreographic style always transcends technique, allowing her choreographic intent to ultimately become visible. In the words of Ms. Carmen de Lavallade “…When you find yourself immersed in the dance, the technique takes care of itself…the idea is to transcend technique, not to notice it”. Says Ishangi, “I want that ability, that I live so honestly in the work that the viewer see the meaning, not the method.”