“Small Talk” choreographed by Tony Fraser and Jaime Shannon. Photo: Jan La Salle
The JCE Jazz Dance Project (formerly known as the New York Jazz Choreography Project) was back in full form for their October showcase last weekend, presenting fun and thought-provoking pieces by new and rising-talent choreographers. From swing and classical jazz, to ballet and even grooving, the sixty-minute evening was filled with energy, and the talent in the room was undeniable. The choreographers selected for this showcase truly demonstrated why they were chosen from the many submissions this fall. Artistic Directors Marian Hyun and Merete Muenter crafted a well-balanced program filled with fun and inspiring numbers.
Jazz Choreography Enterprises invited three student groups to perform, and they proved without a doubt that the future of jazz dance is bright and certainly in great hands. Koin & Co Dancers brought the house down with “Dog Days,” and Jazz Unlimited Dance Ensemble delivered a gut-punch of a piece in “Go” that was truly spectacular to watch. The unison in each of these pieces was breathtaking and impressive, especially from such young performers. The night began with a moving tribute to choreographer and legend Sal Pernice, whom the dance world lost in September of this year. Sal’s students at the 92Y Harkness Dance Center kicked off the night with a high-energy piece that embraced the idea that Sal perpetuated in his teachings, which is that everyone can dance. The diversity in age and shapes of dancers in the piece, “What I Like About You,” was refreshing, joyful, and a perfect way to start off the evening.
The evening continued with entertaining numbers like the cabaret “Black and Gold,” the trio dance of “Date Night” with a sweet and unexpected ending, the “Cheeky Bastards” duet set to toe-tapping Mambo Italiano, and one of my favorites, the brilliant swing duet “Small Talk.” The wonderfully impactful group numbers of “Switch Up,” “Quintessence,” “Fresh Meet,” and “Remember the Day” explored various movement and featured strong female performances. “Doin’ My Jazz” was a solo performance that also focused on movement, with choreographer Barbara Angeline noting during the talkback that she let her body move as it wanted, letting the dance develop organically. My two favorite pieces were Bobby Morgan’s “Luv Dancin’” and Spencer Pond’s “#10.”
From the moment the dancers took the stage, it was obvious that “Luv Dancin’” was going stand apart from its fellow pieces. Voguing, grooving, contemporary, and African jazz were combined seamlessly in this beautiful and raw piece. Choreographer Bobby Morgan, who also performed in his piece, said that he did not come in with a specific idea, but rather had a framework and focused on liberated movement to develop the dance. He wanted to celebrate the energy that comes from bodies moving freely, and the result was a joyous and breathtaking performance.
Being a piano player and drawn to classical composers, I knew I was going to like Spencer Pond’s piece “#10” as soon as I saw the music was by Frédéric Chopin. I could not, however, even begin to comprehend where he would go as both the choreographer and one of the performers. The duet was beautifully complicated, juxtaposing the deft and classical piano with rhythmic jazz and even lindy hop. There were moments where the dancers were in traditional frame, but then they would completely break the classical parts of the dance with non-traditional steps. Pond mentioned in the talkback that he is always trying to analyze what jazz is and how jazz can be found and discovered in pieces of music normally used in other disciplines—all of which was extremely evident in this very successful piece.
During the talkback, the question that kept coming back around centered on what it means to be a “jazz choreographer.” In this showcase, I believe we received 14 different answers from 14 absolutely brilliant choreographers. Each piece had its own unique stamp on the idea that is jazz. In the world we live in today, where new lines are drawn every day, it is so refreshing to see that the lines can be blurred – jazz means something different to every single person. This was such a wonderful celebration of all that jazz is, has been, and will be in the future.
Emily Bennett is an actor/writer living in New York. She currently trains in the acting conservatory at Atlantic Theatre Company. She reviews shows for Broadway and the New York City Ballet, as well as any live performance event she can attend. Twitter: @emily_lizbeth Instagram: @emily_beth