Photo: Jan La Salle
Choreographer Jeff Davis and Musician Elliot Roth worked together to create a solo dance set to an original song for the virtual performances of the April 2021 JCE Jazz Dance Project. Sharlane Conner asked them about their inspiration and collaboration.
1) What inspired you to use original music?
I originally had a pre-recorded song selected. I have used original music for shows, but never for the Jazz Project. In the past it has been for contemporary or modern dance pieces. I thought this was a great opportunity to make something special. Having it be for a jazz dance and more musical theater style has been a fun challenge.
2) What was the process like working with your composer Elliot Roth? Was it collaborative?
Yes, it was collaborative. Because things are different in the world and getting in the studio was more difficult, I basically mapped out a story and tried to figure out how to make this solo get the message across. So I broke the dance into different sections. Elliot took those ideas and created some musical themes, then wrote lyrics inspired by the story. I know my musician friends are in the same boat as us dancers (missing performing, shows or gigs), so collaborating has been fun for this particular project.
3) Did you create your choreography once the song was created or did the movement ideas come first?
A little bit of both. One interesting element was when Elliot sent me the song lyrics. I had an idea of the style of movement I wanted in that section so I created the dance to the words rather than the music. I had some of the movement created before I heard the full song. Then once Elliot started sending some samples, I adapted the movement to fit the music. We had two in-person meetings with the piano so we could make changes as needed.
4) What is your piece about?
This piece can be considered a reflection of our current global situation but also is a universal message. In this case an artist whose theater is closed, show has been cancelled or maybe night club has been shut down. They keep being brought down by the negativity that surrounds them. They want to give up, throw in the towel, but then they remember better times, their passion reignites, and a new sense of purpose is gained.
5) What inspired or motivated you to create during this time?
I decided to do a solo and it feels great to have the time to create something for myself. However, I really wanted to create a group dance. Mostly because I miss other dancers and that sense of company and community. I also have always loved partnering and the way it communicates different emotions, so I will save all those ideas I’ve gathered over the past year to hopefully use in the future. I’m excited we will all dance together again soon.
6) Since you have been part of the JCE Jazz Dance Project before for our live shows, what was your experience like this time around with filming it ahead of time?
It was interesting to film because you can do multiple takes to get it right. In a show you only get one chance to get it right. It can be exciting, but sometimes after a performance everything is blurry and you’re left feeling like “what just happened?” Then pray it looked okay or comes out well in the video.
7) What do you feel are the pros and cons of live theater with an audience or a pre-recorded virtual show?
I love the adrenaline of a live show. Sometimes you don’t get a lot of time in the theater prior to the performance. You can feel the dancers are nervous or unsure, then something magical (especially for the first performance) makes everyone’s energy come together to make it work. It can be nerve-wracking but it’s a great feeling of accomplishment. Another great feeling is when the audience is with you and reacting. Hearing the laughing, gasping or clapping can really put you in the moment. So I believe the biggest con of a virtual show will be not having the audiences live responses.
1) First, can you tell me about yourself? Are you a singer/songwriter and a musician?
I am a composer, performer, singer/songwriter and instructor! I moved here about 15 years ago to get my master’s in jazz arts at Manhattan School of Music and since then have performed and played on and Off Broadway (“A Christmas Carol,” Broadway. “Our Sinatra,” Off Broadway); currently I am on the voice faculty at Marymount Manhattan College’s Theater Arts Department and perform as a pianist/singer at Brandy’s Piano Bar.
2) What instruments do you play and what did you use for this piece?
I am a pianist, singer and percussionist. I recorded piano, percussion, synths, fx, and vocals for this piece.
3) Jeff mentioned lyrics. Did you base your lyrics on the story of his piece or did some of them come from his movement?
My lyrics were explicitly based on Jeff’s theme of his piece. The piece is split in several short movements, one being a more singer/songwriter element in which lyrics/text is incorporated based on themes Jeff discussed with me.
4) What was the process like working collaboratively with Jeff?
I love this question. Jeff is an old-time friend. We knew each other previously in Pittsburgh, PA, and he is responsible for introducing me to dance and specifically composing for dance. It was wonderful to re- connect and a reminder that we are utterly “in sync”; a composer’s dream!!!
5) Do you collaborate often with other choreographers and dancers?
I have been collaborating with dance for over 15 years. I have worked closely with Attack Theater of Pittsburgh, PA, Jessica Taylor/Damage Dance (NYC), Robert McKee (Giordano and INASIDE dance, Chicago), Point Park University (Pittsburgh, PA) and other companies in NYC and Pittsburgh.
6) What was it like being in a studio again creating?
It was incredible to match the piece with Jeff’s choreography.
7) Is this your first virtual show? Do you typically do live performances?
I typically do live performance. This is not my first virtual show by any means, but absolutely my first “non live performed dance composition” in New York City.
8) How has it been for you during these times, creatively?
This has been a challenging time for all artists, specifically regarding the creative process. I appreciate the new skills that I have learned and am thankful for the opportunities presented both virtually and in person!!!