Photo: “Conscious Club” choreographed by Ariana Andretta
On April 24th and 25th, Jazz Choreography Enterprises hosted a digital dance concert, streaming a compilation of pieces filmed by nine choreographers and performed by their dancers.
The choreographers in the performance were Ariana Andretta, William Byram, Jeff Davis, Danielle Diniz, Michelle Isaac, Ali Koinoglou, Mandie Rapoza, Johnny Stellard, and Amy VanKirk.
The concert showcased works in a variety of jazz dance styles from Afro-fusion to musical theater with one piece even including some puppetry. The choreographers also set their pieces in various locations with some people opting to stage their works in studios while others shot at outdoor locations.
The show was broadcast over Zoom, and there was a live talkback following each of the two concert viewings where audience members had a chance to ask questions of the choreographers. The talkbacks were moderated by JCE Junior Board Member Nicole Padilla.
Some themes arose from the audience questions that were prominent in both talkback sessions.
The largest number of questions was for people who shot their videos outdoors and how that experience differed from performing on a stage.
Danielle Diniz shot her piece, “Sunday in the Park with Jive,” along the waterfront of Manhattan. She thought that the ability to work outside “provided greater flexibility in terms of location and style.”
Her feeling was that being able to choose from a variety of background settings across New York City let her match the location to the tone of her piece. She jokingly pointed out that she generally choreographs her pieces in sneakers anyway, so moving the dance outside wasn’t much of a hassle.
On the other hand, Johnny Stellard said that shooting outside was “a double-edged sword.” He filmed his piece, “Remind Me,” about 100 blocks north of where Diniz shot her video. He detailed several technical issues he faced in filming the dance like noise levels that made it difficult to hear the music and changing temperatures on the day they filmed that made costuming an issue.
However, he did say that the energy of New Yorkers was a benefit that made the process fun. “It was amazing because people would stop and watch during rehearsal.” He found the joy of the passersby to be inspiring.
Mandie Rapoza filmed her piece, “Something Goin’ On,” in Central Park and echoed Stellard’s comments about the positive energy of having a crowd watching the filming.
She ended up solving the music volume issue by having an assistant carry a speaker to keep it close to the dancers. She found lighting to be the bigger challenge as changing daylight conditions made it difficult to create a look of continuity on film.
Lighting was something that Michelle Isaac struggled with as well.
“We had to play around with the lighting because the sun was setting,” she said. The piece she showed in the video was an excerpt from a larger piece entitled “Kindred Spirit,” and she shot it on a rooftop. She said that the change in temperature as the sun set was a costume challenge, and she also had an issue with her dancers being able to hear the music.
Still, she thought that the experience was nice and an overall positive for the dancers.
Film vs Stage
The second most asked set of questions was about the ways in which choreographing for film was different from creating for the stage.
“I thought I was gonna be a one-shot pony,” Jeff Davis said about his plan for filming his piece “Intermission.” However, when he got on site, he ended up doing some more impressive technical shots than he anticipated with a lot more camera movement and panning in and out on his dancing.
He did the piece in two takes because his costume got sweaty and he didn’t have another one prepared to change.
“I had the opposite experience,” Stellard said. He revealed that he had grand plans for his piece and was intending to use multiple cuts and film across multiple locations. But over time he pared down his ambitions until he ended up shooting the whole piece in one take at a single location.
There were still challenges, however, as he had to teach his cameraman the dance so that he could move along with the dancers and follow their movements. They ended up doing four takes of filming and used the last one.
Influence and Inspiration
Finally the third major category that the choreographers spoke about was what influenced or inspired their pieces.
Michelle Isaac and Amy VanKirk spoke about how they drew from different styles that related to the history of jazz dance.
“Jazz dance is really embedded in African dance,” Isaac said. She wanted her piece to highlight the polyrhythmic nature of jazz, the syncopated rhythms that stem from African dance, so she combined West African dance and some modern elements to form a bridge into the present.
VanKirk explained that she was using the Samba as the primary influence for her piece, “A Pulsação (Excerpt)” to create a fusion of Latin and jazz styles. She explained the importance of “knowing what each step is and where it comes from so you have the foundation, and then allowing the dancers and myself to be more creative in fusing the two styles.”
While she was doing something new, she thought it was important that the dancers understood the history of the dance steps she was teaching and the larger context of the movements they were performing.
Other choreographers offered insight into what inspired their pieces as well.
“I wanted to try and invoke club culture,” Ariana Andretta said about her piece, “Conscious Club.” But she also explained that the idea was to re-imagine clubbing as an experience based on community and consent that was devoid of the questionable behavior that can permeate that scene.
William Byram channeled Patsy Cline in his piece, “Southern Ash.” His was the only piece shot in black and white, and he explained that he was using that filming style, the old-timey bar where he filmed, and Cline’s ‘60s music as a contrast to the more modern aspects of the piece like the masks, the costumes, and the fact that his piece focused on queer culture.
Shot in an empty theater, Jeff Davis’s solo, “Intermission,” was meant to capture the businesses that closed down during the pandemic. Of note, his piece was also performed to an original song called “Making Moves” that was written and recorded by his friend Elliot Roth. You can learn more about their collaboration in an interview they did earlier this year for JCE.
Mandie Rapoza also explained a bit of the inspiration behind her piece “Something Goin’ On” and how a puppet came to be in it.
“I found it hard to get inspiration when we’ve been cut off from art for a year,” she said. But then on her birthday her friend sent her a message that featured a puppet. She said from there that sparked the idea of wanting to do a piece with a puppet because puppets “spark joy” and bring us back to our childhood.
She felt that coming out of the pandemic we could all use a little bit of joy.