Photo: Jan La Salle
Jazz Choreography Enterprises hosted a performance of the JCE Jazz Dance Project at the Peridance Capezio Center on Saturday, October 26th. Following the performance there was a talk back moderated by junior board member Nicole Padilla. The talk back was open to all members of the audience, but it was largely for the benefit of Honors Program students from Quinnipiac University, who were participating in a mini course in jazz dance taught by JCE.
The first question Padilla asked was in regard to partnering. She pointed out that there were several pieces that featured partnering in the show, and she asked the choreographers how they work on their partnering techniques and how they choreograph partnering for their pieces.
“We specialize in partnering,” Jaime Shannon said, speaking about herself and her dance partner Tony Fraser, who choreographed and performed in “Cotton Tail.” “Because we perform a dance [Lindy Hop] based on partnering, we start with the connection.”
“A lot of what we do starts as improv before we perform,” Fraser added, talking about how the pair will just dance at clubs to practice and then develop a more performative piece from there.
Spencer Pond, who choreographed and performed in “Good Judys,” explained that he tries to change gender norms and conventions when tackling partnering in his pieces.
“I always liked the classic movie musicals, but I never felt like I saw myself in them,” he said.
He and his dance partner Victoria Sames work together on things like lifts or flips where the woman can show off her strength playing the more traditional male part, and where the man can be led instead of leading himself.
Gregory Kollarus, who choreographed and performed in “Summer Snow,” another duet, said, “When you work with someone [for a long time] you feed off each other.”
While he choreographed the piece, he explained that his partner Barbara Montero had some creative input, and he integrated ideas she had or things she wanted to try into the piece.
Padilla asked a few of the choreographers individualized questions. She asked Jeff Davis how he knew when a piece was done and ready to be performed.
Davis jokingly answered that the deadline determined when the piece was done. He then explained that he had been wanting to do a new piece for this show, specifically one set to the music of Harry Belafonte.
“This was a challenge, but it was something I wanted to do for a while,” he said.
Ultimately he felt that his piece, “My Angelina,” was as finished as it was going to be for this performance. But he said that he might add more sections to it in the future.
Padilla asked how the choreographers went about casting their dancers and if personality and chemistry came into their decision making at all.
Cat Manturuk said that some of her considerations for casting came from what style the piece was. Her specific dance style, Mod Hop Jazz, is a blend of different things, but she said if a piece leaned more into hip-hop than jazz, that might inspire who she picks to perform it. However, she said that she mostly looked for positive energy from dancers when considering who she wanted to work with.
“Whatever energy you give to choreographers, it works,” she said, going on to elaborate that choreographers notice positive energy and respond to it.
For her last question, Padilla asked Ashley Carter and Vanessa Martínez de Baños about their piece “Black Earth” and how dance can be used as a medium for social change. The choreographers had performed the piece for an ACLU benefit previously.
“’Black Earth’ has to do with finding identity when the world is shifting around you,” Carter said. “When we build a piece, telling a story is really important, whether it’s political or not.”
She said that having a story helps the audience connect with what they’re seeing and have an emotional reaction that might inspire them to think about different topics when they leave the theater.
After that, Padilla turned the questions over to the audience. One member asked Bobby Morgan how much of his piece “New Life,” a solo he choreographed and performed, was improvised versus choreographed. Morgan answered that about 25% of the piece was choreographed and that he improvised the rest.
Another audience member asked how the choreographers chose when they should repeat movements in their pieces instead of adding new ones.
“Sometimes it’s about being in a pinch,” Kollarus said. He explained that he didn’t have a lot of time to put his piece together for this performance, so having some repeating movement phrases helped to make the project more manageable.
“I’ve also seen people put too many ideas in one piece, and that can be overwhelming,” he said, going on to say that repetition can help the audience connect more with the work.
“As you build longer pieces you want people to be able to return to a certain set of movements to evoke a feeling or tell a story,” Carter said. “Black Earth” is actually an excerpt from a longer piece that Carter and Martínez de Baños created, and she explained there are recurring movements that exist throughout the longer piece as well to keep things connected.
“We work in motifs so some things have to recur thematically,” Kenya Joy Gibson, who worked with choreographer Fréyani Patrice, said. She and Patrice also made the point that sometimes motifs exist across multiple pieces and can be repeated to connect the works in that way.
Professor Melissa Kaplan, from Quinnipiac University, also spoke about how impressed she was by the level of diversity in the dance program in terms of the different styles of dance, the different backgrounds of the dancers, and even the different ages of the dancers.
To that point Tony Fraser spoke about how he really started to learn dance later in life and mentioned that “This is something you can do for the rest of your life.”
If you want to learn more about the choreographers in the JCE Jazz Dance Project performances, you can check out their inspirations on our website. And if you want to see the talk back in the future and get to ask your own questions of the choreographers, you can always check online to see which performances are hosting talk backs.