Photo: Jan La Salle
Jazz Choreography Enterprises had a talk-back session following the Sunday, April 28th, performance of the JCE Jazz Dance Project. The choreographers, whose pieces were performed in the show, sat down to answer questions from the audience and moderator Alan Spaulding.
Spaulding led most of the discussion, touching on a range of topics and asking each of the choreographers present to touch on a central aspect of their work.
The first question Spaulding asked was directed to Merete Muenter, the co-artistic director of JCE, whose piece “Eleanor” was part of the show. Spaulding asked if Muenter has drawn inspiration from the different choreographers and performers who have appeared across a decade of JCE shows.
“Yes, because you’re exposed to different styles and interpretations you didn’t think of” when you get to see other people’s work. “The only way I can grow is to be influenced by other choreographers around me,” she said. “You get better when you’re challenged by other artists.”
Spaulding then asked JCE veteran Jeff Davis about the inspiration behind his piece, “FRENCH TRiO,” and about the use of humor in his work.
“I like old movies,” Davis said and explained that he wanted to choreograph something that had a more classic jazz feel. The piece opens with a trio of one man and two women dancing before a third woman enters the fray and steals away the attention of the man. Davis said that initially he was going to do the piece simply as a trio, but that he decided to add the second half of the piece to give it a bit more of a story and to make it a bit goofier.
Spaulding also asked Jenn Rose about her piece “Player Piano,” another humorous dance that featured a group at an audition. It was set to classic piano songs and scales any music student would be familiar with, but there were also mistakes in the music that the choreography reflected.
“I wanted to simplify dance for a bit,” Rose said of her work. She said that she is always amazed by what dancers are capable of doing physically, but that she wanted to create something that was more contained. However, that in itself proved something of a challenge.
“It was very difficult to ask dancers to be still,” she said.
She added that the piece, with all of its humor, has a lot of character performance elements, and that she featured dancers who could act more with their facial expressions. She then said that it was the third time the piece had been performed, and that she was impressed with how her dancers grow every time they perform the piece.
Then there was Julia Kane who said that music was a big part of her inspiration and what she started a lot of her pieces with.
“There’s so much more in a song than you think there is,” she said. “I like choreographing on the nuances you don’t hear the first time.”
Her dancers sometimes found this difficult, as she was choreographing for things they hadn’t picked up in the song, because they hadn’t heard the music as often as she had. She had to work with them to hear the little moments in the music that she wanted them to illustrate.
Most of the choreographers and dancers in this performance were women, and many of the pieces displayed female strength, both thematically and physically. Spaulding noted this in his opening comments, and an audience member asked about it as well.
Choreographer Paul A. Brown was asked directly about his piece “Reclaiming My Time” and the use of the iconic Women’s March hat that was included in it. “We got a hat that was made for the Women’s March,” Brown said, explaining that he had intended to make one himself, but that it was nice to be able to have a piece of clothing that was actually involved in the event. He said that his piece was about women’s rights and the strength of women, both important issues for him.
“My dancers will tell you, I get very worked about this stuff,” he said with a laugh.
Spaulding asked Danielle Diniz, whose piece “Six Gals, for Themselves” closed the program, about the athleticism of it. The piece was set to the “Barn Dance” music from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, which was originally a piece where men show off their athleticism to impress the women in the story. However, Diniz’s piece featured six female dancers moving quickly through very physically demanding choreography.
“Sometimes [women] are deprived of the opportunity to execute the type of athletic movement we’re capable of,” Diniz said.
There were three solo dances in the performance, and Spaulding first asked about the hair choreography in Cristal Del Mar López’s piece “Soledad,” which featured dancer Sofia Bengoa. A Latin Jazz piece, it featured a lot of head movements and Bengoa swishing her long hair this way and that.
“I knew her, and I choreographed the solo for her,” López said of Bengoa, adding that she gave Bengoa a lot of free reign to do what she felt was right, saying she told Bengoa to do “whatever feels good for you in the moment.” López said she was happy with the piece and that it was very easy to work with Bengoa.
Spaulding spoke to Talissa Bavaresco about the use of props and edited music in her piece “R(h)ush.” It opens with Bavaresco, who both choreographed and performed the piece, turning a lamp on and off as if it’s a radio. The stations change, as do what’s being broadcast, and there are also some bursts of static as the signal is lost, until the station finally settles into the music, and Bavaresco begins dancing full-out.
“Working with props is a gamble because you never know when they might give out on you,” Bavaresco said, mentioning how something had gone wrong in the previous night’s performance with the lamp.
As far as the music editing in the piece, she said jokingly that “it’s very helpful when you have a boyfriend who’s a music major.” She went on to explain that she “worked about a week to find the music [she] wanted for the piece” and that she and her boyfriend worked together on editing it until it fit her vision for the dance.
Spaulding asked Fatima Logan-Alston, who also choreographed and performed her piece “Pearls,” about how she set the dance when she was the performer and whether or not she got feedback from outside sources to help. Logan-Alston said that she does get some feedback from her husband and other people she trusts. She also said that she first choreographed the piece on another dancer so that she could see how the movements looked.
But she said that as a choreographer you have to be true to the vision of your work. “It’s kind of a balance,” she said. “You don’t want to be too influenced by someone else’s perspective.”
Spaulding asked a couple of choreographers about their training. One of these was Fréyani Patrice because her piece, “Everything Scatter,” was performed by her dance students who range in age from seven to fifteen. Spaulding was curious how she motivated them to perform and to do so in such a professional way.
Patrice told her students, “Don’t look at the floor. Let’s dance for everybody else.” She also asked them to consider the question of “why do you dance?” This was to motivate them to think about how they were performing and what they wanted to get out of it.
The other person Spaulding asked about training was Skye Mattox because her duet, “Safety Dance,” featured a lot of partnering work, and Spaulding was curious where she had learned to do that.
Mattox said that when she was young she didn’t really train in partnering. “It wasn’t until my first professional show in the city that I got my crash course in partnering,” she said.
She said that this was the first piece she had performed with Ryan VanDenBoom, and since he had done Band Stand on Broadway, he was used to the style that she wanted to choreograph.
“We would just go into rehearsal and mess around,” she said, about how they developed the intense moments in the piece.
Spaulding asked Paul Brown about dancing in a piece as a choreographer versus getting to watch it being performed as part of the audience. In the last performance Brown was not supposed to be in the piece, but he had to perform when one of his dancers dropped out. He said that it was “so much better to be sitting out there.”
He went on to explain that “you see things you didn’t see before, and you experience [the piece] in a very different way.”
Spaulding then asked Ashley Carter and Vanessa Martínez de Baños about how they chose their piece. “Passage and Perception” is actually an excerpt from a much longer piece.
“This is a thirty-five minute piece,” Carter explained, and then she went on to talk about the importance of “finding something that could still stand alone.”
“It was easier to do one of the segments towards the beginning,” Martínez de Baños said, which made sense, as the opening section is what draws the audience in. Their piece drew a lot from contemporary dance and, like Diniz’s, was very athletic, requiring fast-paced movement from the dancers.
Kavin T. Grant
Finally, Spaulding spoke with the choreographers and dancers who brought Kavin T. Grant’s piece, “Trust in You,” to life on the stage. Grant tragically passed away in a car accident in March. His dancers Jasmine Hurst and Dayzjah Thomas chose to perform the piece as a tribute after his death. Grant’s friends, Camille Moten and Wesley McIntyre, helped Hurst and Thomas set and perform the piece.
Spaulding wanted to know what it was like to have to stage someone else’s work for the performance.
“Kavin wrote me three days before he passed and asked me if I wanted to do this piece,” Hurst said. She said that she had agreed and then got some information about the piece from a dancer who had performed it before.
“He gave you a general idea and left it up to you to come up with the rest,” Hurst said about Grant’s choreographing style. She explained that he wanted the audience to feel something when they left a performance of his piece, and that the dancers he worked with had a fairly large say in helping to craft that expression and experience.
“It was really a team effort. Each of us have had different experiences with Kavin,” Moten said, explaining how she, McIntyre, and the dancers all brought their own perspectives and experiences to the piece. “Hopefully we did his piece justice.”