“Caravan” choreographed by Tommy Scrivens. Photo: Jan La Salle
October 23rd marked a special day in Jazz Choreography Enterprise’s history. The company celebrated its 15th-anniversary with an afternoon of curated jazz dance. The KnJ Theater at Peridance held a total of two performances on October 22nd and 23rd, featuring an intimate talk-back with choreographers following Sunday’s performance.
This Fall 2022 Jazz Dance Project was the final show of JCE’s 15th anniversary year, after two successful Spring performances in April. The packed crowd saw more than just the classic jazz hands, kick-ball-change, hinge, and Charleston—a testament to JCE’s mission of bringing the richness of jazz dance back to the people. From Classic to Contemporary Jazz, from Swing Dance to Afro-Jazz, this program had something for everyone to enjoy. Its diversity allowed each individual in the audience to find something new.
The show featured 13 choreographers with nearly 65 performers. The program length, which felt daunting at first glance, flew by. I found myself enjoying each piece more than the last, consistently surprised by the difference and uniqueness of each. The program featured two schools: Union County Academy for Performing Arts and Mason Gross School of the Arts BFA Students and Alumni. Co-Artistic Director Marian Hyun expressed how important it was for JCE to connect with the greater community in her welcome to the crowd. The students fit right into the program, further adding to the depth of the evening.
Music was one of the driving forces of this show. The afternoon began with a jazz music classic, “Caravan” by Duke Ellington and Juan Tizol. This was in stark contrast to the more contemporary jazz works. “This is Not a Performance: Healing Ritual (Part 1)” by Bobby Morgan stood out in particular to me. I felt an influence of the same classical jazz music and movement I saw in Tommy Scrivens’ “Caravan.” Yet, the music titled “Come Away” (by Louie Vega and Axel Tosca, featuring Kerri Chandler) combined with Morgan’s choreography took me to a contemporary jazz space that was unlike anything I’ve seen before. It was striking to follow the timeline of jazz dance, going from Afro-Jazz to Classical Jazz to 2022 Jazz, in no particular order.
Costumes were another driving force. The four dancers in Morgan’s work captivated the crowd with their varying dark feathered costumes, which were in great contrast to other “time-period” costumes we saw. “Gershwin, Mon Amour” by Ai Toyoshima featured classic dresses and suits to complement their dynamic, balletic work. “The Sky is Green and the Grass is Blue” by Vanessa Martínez de Baños and Ashley Carter used a more vibrant, contemporary pattern on their dancers’ tops to support the quirky jazz movement.
As a whole, this program did not lack dynamics. The four-to-six-minute pieces were jam-packed with canon, use of space, and fluid partnering. I was struck by Danielle Diniz’s “All the Right Pieces,” which was likely the quickest number, yet the most packed with turns and feeling. Throughout the show, I found outstanding dynamics in the movement, the music, and the feeling. I noticed a new dynamic in the partnering-heavy works, such as “Midnight Soirée” by Tony Fraser and Jaime Shannon. The connection between dancers was budding, but seemed to be overruled by the connection the dancers were forming with the audience. This quality of jazz dance drew me in as an audience member. It first appeared during “Liberada” by Cory “Nova” Villegas. The four dancers in bright green, yellow, pink, and blue used eye contact to create a dynamic between audience and performer like no other. As mentioned above, all of the works were unique, and the ones that stood out to me the most homed in on this dynamic quality.
From duets to 13 dancers on stage at once, the energy in the KnJ Theater did not flag. One of my non-negotiables when watching a show is how the audience reacts. This Sunday’s crowd was as lively and encouraging as possible. The support for the organization, the dancers, the choreographers, and the stage crew was felt. I left this Jazz Dance Project wanting to re-explore my jazz roots. JCE not only provides these opportunities for individuals to consume jazz dance on the concert stage, but they offer master classes and JCE Pop-Up classes as well. Their company goal is two-fold: JCE benefits emerging jazz choreographers and dancers by providing performance opportunities. They also benefit the public through education and exposure to jazz dance. The Fall 2022 JCE Jazz Dance Project was not only a culmination of their 15 years. It was a celebration of jazz dance—its history, present, and where it might take us in the future.
Gabrielle DiNizo is a freelance writer and dancer based in NYC. She graduated from Fordham University/The Ailey School with a BFA in Dance and English. Gabrielle currently dances professionally with Jon Lehrer Dance Company and works as Company Writer for Forza Dance.