It was a celebration of the 10th Year Anniversary of the New York Jazz Choreography Project (NYJCP) produced by Jazz Choreography Enterprises, Inc. (JCE). The evening began with a dedication honoring the late teacher and choreographer, Robert Audy. It was a tribute to a man whose talent not only impacted show business in general, but specifically, his heartfelt support for the conservation of Jazz dance when he believed in and presented several works for JCE during its infantile stages. This celebration comes full circle with a dazzling display into the power of creativity and the preservation of the dance art form, Jazz.
Movement filled the room illustrating styles and eras that spanned across the spectrum. Choreographers, Billy Griffin, Gregory Kollarus, Jaime Shannon, Karin Kawamoto, Antuan Byers, Ashley Stafford, Kavin T. Grant, Sue Samuels, Rachel Leigh Dolan, Kyle Weiler, Cat Manturuk, Sharlane Conner, Bryan Menjivar, Ashley Carter, Vanessa Martinez de Baños, and Ali Koinoglou presented a panorama of comedic relief, nostalgia, optimism, commitment, and the power within self.
Who Is She took the evening, highlighting grace as ancestry and spirit palpably transcended from generation to generation. Choreographer Kavin T. Grant opened his work with the strong presence of a woman sitting on a bench. In a subtle spotlight, her body angled and still, eyes looking out as though posing for a self-portrait. The dancer a reflection of wisdom was complemented by another woman moving to the words that mirrored struggle, angst and gratitude for women as daughters, mothers, and friends. Its gospel influence resting against the beautiful extension of female limbs, and gut thrusting out to the world, embraced the beauty of barriers to overcome and the complexity into one’s rite of passage. Both dancers return to the scene under a single spotlight, however, swapping places. The choreographer’s choice to bring the artists back to their spatial origin, intertwines the nostalgic essence one feels reminiscing through a family photo album and the deep responsibility of preserving the roots of one’s heritage. Grant poignantly captures the spirituality and worship of women and life from the elegance and strength resonating through the movement of Cory Nicole Hinton and Ke‘ Yana Robinson, as their gowns, rich emerald green and dark blue, flow on stage.
The comic relief came out to the sounds of Gershwin in Kyle Weiler’s work, Trampin. Dancers Jeff Davis and Atsushi Eda swap back and forth, as they squirm, squat, isolate and poke fun with the help of black walking canes. This Vaudeville themed two-man show adeptly utilized the wittiness of props, mockery and friendship. If one wasn’t pulling the other, you could catch moments of affection, even in the literal shape of a heart. Meanwhile, Sharlane Conner and Bryan Menjivar paint flirtatiousness in a different light with a Lindy Hop adaptation in Hypno. The great hypnotist grabs the lovely dancer from the audience in order to take over her mind and manipulate her to twist, flip and spin her body. As he snaps her in and out of trance, just when he thinks he has won over both her and the crowd, she cleverly picks up on his deviousness and snaps him into a hypnotic state, comically showing the audience who’s boss, as he follows her off the stage like a trained puppy.
Antuan Byers shared a work resonating in its abstract form, with its five dancers dressed in black, as they fluidly move in space rolling through the hips and spine with abundantly curvaceous action. “wisdom within our very flesh,” captivates the exploration within one’s self. Interpretations of movement and pattern oscillated power, defiance, and sensuality as dancers embodied the soulful R&B adaptation, and its low lighting, creating a visual reverie.
Billy Griffin shares in his piece, Men’s Medley, the all-time highs and lows of the sexes in this Broadway-style choreography to “Liza Minnelli Live at Radio City Music Hall.” Dancers bedazzled through space, walked with the common sexy hip sway and isolated shoulders and wrists, while partnering with the traditional black chairs on stage, setting up a typical classic Jazz interpretation. Still, Griffin’s ice cream meltdown scene and Giant Teddy Bear stirred a unique blend of music and comical relief.
Sue Samuels’ piece, All Blues, had a classic, cool esthetic, light and fresh like the Afro Latin Jazz composition of Miles Davis and Tito Puente. Jazz codified to refry its conception could be summed up in this A-Z outline of Jazz movement executed by dancers as they leapt around the stage, showing off hitch kicks, pirouettes and layouts descending to the floor. Liquid Hope by Cat Manturuk had a reminiscence vibe, with dancers dressed in gold crop tops and Harem pants. Both the music, also constructed by Manturuk, and the dancers’ interaction with one another, depicted something of a 90’s music video. The ladies beguiled one another with high energy and non-stop athletic movement. Dancers explored high and low levels with elements of Hip Hop, showing off their body waves and social interactions, painting the phrase, “just another day hanging with my girls.”
Jazz Choreography Enterprises, Inc., continues to push the boundaries of Jazz dance, bringing to the stage works that pull from “Jass” in its vernacular, Jazz codified, and Contemporary Jazz; a fusion of styles, music and ethnic influence. The compilation of Jazz pieces shown at the 10th anniversary NYJCP performance, has delightfully and proudly represented a variety of styles, offering a platform for more to be celebrated in the years to come.