JCE Jazz Dance Project choreographers. Photo: Jan La Salle

JCE Jazz Dance Project – October 28, 2018

Eileen Kielty at the 2018 JCE Talk Back. Photo: Jan La Salle

On Sunday October 28th, Jazz Choreography Enterprises held a talkback following the second show of its fall performance of the JCE Jazz Dance Project. Ten choreographers stayed after the performance to answer questions and provide some insight into their work and creative processes.

The talkback was hosted by new junior board member Eileen Kielty. She began the session by asking the choreographers present to introduce themselves and to say what their favorite colors were. This got some laughs as well as some interesting answers like “gross olive green.”

Kielty then went through a round of rapid fire questions for which the choreographers were asked to raise their hands affirmatively when appropriate.

She wanted to know if there were any first time JCE choreographers on the panel (just four), where the choreographers got their dancers (which ranged from holding auditions to hiring their own students), and whether or not the music or the concept came first when they were choreographing (there was a mixed reaction here).

She then asked each of the choreographers specific questions about their pieces.



Individual Choreographer Questions

Starting with Bobby Morgan, Kielty noted the wide variety of movement styles in his piece “Luv Dancin’” and wanted to know how familiar his dancers were with the different styles coming into the piece and how much he had to teach them.

Morgan said that he didn’t have to teach them much outside of the specific movements for the piece, that they were already very familiar with a variety of styles as dancers.

Spencer Pond was asked about the influences for his piece “#10,” a duet that mixed jazz and balletic influences and was set to music by Chopin. Pond explained that the piece came from his exploration of what jazz dance is.

“What does jazz dance mean to me, and how can I be a scientist about it?” he said. He borrowed movements from classical jazz dance and other jazz styles like Lindy Hop and then mixed them with contemporary and ballet dance movements in the piece as he sought to explore this question.

Kielty was curious about the tension between emotional expression and technique in Barbara Angeline’s solo piece “Doin’ My Jazz.” She pointed out that the piece was fun and full of personality but didn’t utilize a lot of flashy movements.

“This piece was a piece I had used with my students to just get them to express themselves,” Angeline said. She went on to explain that she usually does a lot of research about different choreographers or the history of a concept she wants to explore before choreographing a piece, but in this case the piece was about cutting loose, and so she went into it without any real research or higher concept.

Kielty asked swing choreographers Jaime Shannon and Tony Fraser about the state of swing dance and how they feel the scene is developing.

“I think there’s a big scene for social dance that concert dancers aren’t necessarily aware of,” Shannon said.

Fraser agreed, saying that a lot of the things in the swing dance scene are very different from the things you find in performance pieces.

“We bring stuff from Jaime’s background to our performances,” he said, describing how they meld the two worlds and make a style rooted in social dance more performative.

Kielty then asked Elaine Tripoulas about how she orchestrated the formations in her large ensemble piece “Switch Up.” Tripoulas said didn’t force all of the dancers to move in exactly the same way, contrary to what one might think. Instead she allowed them to move as individuals, letting them have some interpretation with the movements, and then she grouped them into the formations that made up her piece.

Cat Manturuk was asked about the driving up and down movements in her piece and what that symbolized or whether it was intentional. Manturuk explained that “up and down was the idea I gave them to play with” when she was choreographing the work. The steps were already planned out, but the added instruction helped the dancers bring more life to the basic movements she had designed.

Kielty asked Mindy Jackson about how she felt about performing her piece at the Jazz Choreography Enterprises performance.

Jackson explained that her piece had initially been choreographed for the Bryant Park Stage. She had to adjust it to make it work on an indoor stage. The original piece also featured some audience participation and flash mobs who joined the dancers on stage. To bring a similar kind of energy to the JCE performance, she added more parts for other dancers who joined her core set of dancers on stage.

“I try to incorporate my own costumes and fashion to my pieces because it adds to the whole feel of the piece,” Andrea Palesh said, when Kielty brought up the fact that she had designed the costumes for her piece “Black and Gold.”

Palesh also added that she was happy to have her piece performed on a larger stage than where it was initially performed. “It was nice to see the girls dance all out to their full potential.”

Kielty asked Rebekka Nodhturft about her piece “Date Night” and what inspired it. The piece portrays two young women competing for a man, but at the end of the piece the man runs off with another man. Kielty joked that this was a problem she was familiar with as a young dancer.

“It hits home in a couple different ways,” Nodhturft admitted with a laugh. “When I was Clara I had a crush on my prince, but then I found out he was gay and that we couldn’t get married.” She went on to say that overall, while there was levity to it, the piece was also meant to depict inclusivity.

After every choreographer had the opportunity to speak, Kielty gave the audience the opportunity to ask some questions.


Audience Questions

The first question asked was what does it mean to be a jazz choreographer as opposed to a choreographer in other styles?

It was a question that drew a wide array of answers.

“A lot of my work is dark and crawling on the floor,” Rebekka Nodhturft said. She explained that most of her dances are contemporary and deal with social justice or current event themes. But she thought it was really nice to be able to get back to her roots and put together a piece that was more fun.

“Music and movement integration,” Barbara Angeline said. Her feeling was that jazz, more than other dance styles, requires a high level of synergy between the music and the movements of the piece.

Spencer Pond pushed back on that idea a little bit saying “music is the root of jazz, but other styles are rooted in music too.” But he did agree that there was something jazzy about being rooted in the music. He pointed out certain ballet pieces done by the New York City Ballet and said “those pieces that are really rooted in music feel jazzy, despite the style.”

“I don’t consider myself a jazz choreographer, more of a contemporary one,” Mindy Jackson said. She said that she considers jazz movements part of her style, but she doesn’t consciously think about including them in her dances.

Cat Manturuk took on a bit more of a historical approach saying, “My responsibility is to pass on what was taught to me.” She has her own distinct style in her choreography, but clearly making sure that the heritage of the genre was respected is important to her.

“There’s more of an urgency for me to entertain when performing jazz,” Jaime Shannon said.

The second question from the audience was addressed to Bobby Morgan by an audience member who was curious what the inspiration behind his piece was.

“I’m usually always driven by the music,” he said, going on to explain that he comes from a musical family full of dancers and musicians. “It’s what came out when I heard the song.”

He said that his feeling is that jazz dance “is the automatic response in the moment.”

Eileen Kielty ended the talkback with one final question to the choreographers asking how many of them came into rehearsals with a lot of their choreography planned out and how many made it up as they went?

“This is the first piece I came in without anything,” Morgan said. He explained that whatever felt natural was what came out in the piece, but that in some ways it was hard for him because he was used to being very controlling with his choreography. On the flip side, he said that letting go in that way felt liberating.

“This piece was a labor of all the dancers,” Andrea Palesh said. She said that she had the framework for it worked out, but that the dancers brought their own individuality to the movements and the choreography.

“I usually come in with a pretty full idea, but I’m willing to adjust,” Angeline said. She said that she makes it a priority to pay her dancers for their time, but the downside of that is that she can’t keep them very long if she wants to stay within budget. For this reason, she likes to show up to rehearsals prepared with a piece already thought out.

“I made it up as I went,” Jackson said of her piece. “But I recycled things from my classes and other old pieces.”

If you want to learn more about the choreographers in the Jazz Choreography Enterprises performances, you can check out their inspirations on the October event page on our website. And if you want to see the talkback in the future and get to ask your own questions of the choreographers, you can always purchase a ticket to the Sunday performance of any JCE dance concert.

Josh Harris

Josh Harris

Josh Harris is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger. He also writes fiction under the name J. Young-Ju Harris. He does not dance particularly well.

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