“New Life” choreographed and performed by Bobby Morgan. Photo: Jan La Salle
Another wonderful evening of Jazz dance performances graced the stage at Peridance. Jazz Choreography Enterprises, time and time again, brings to life the freedom and versatility that Jazz dance has to offer. For this sold out evening, artistic directors Marian Hyun and Merete Muenter took a different approach with the production process, allowing alum choreographers the opportunity to debut premiere pieces. This community of talented dancers and choreographers enthusiastically shares and pays tribute to the many generations of historical relevance that enrich this art form.
For the introduction, “Legacy” filled the room with house beats and an upbeat groove. Fréyani Patrice’s dancers wore yellow and red dresses, embracing the earth with grounded movements and gracefulness in their limbs. Smooth linear transitions sprinkled notes of Horton and Afro fusion as the dancers engulfed the stage, with extensions and circular patterns. The classic, swanky fun swing duet performed by Jaime Shannon and Tony Fraser served as a reminder that Jazz is straight up social joy. With flips and turns, this duo dominated the stage with charisma and quirkiness.
Jeff Davis’s “My Angelina” premiere enraptured the audience with a set design of island bliss—a wine bottle, crate, and red rose—intertwined blissfully to the voice of Harry Belafonte’s Caribbean essence aligned with that of the dancers’ playful, stress-free partnerships. Meanwhile “New Life,” another premiere set by and performed by Bobby Morgan, represented its title masterfully, with a solo performance that drew the audience into his world. Morgan’s black hat and black clothing helped showcase a sleek and fierce music lover sharing his passion. With struts, extensions, and whips of the head, Morgan connected dancers and dance enthusiasts with the innate human love of music and movement as an individual’s form of expression. Whilst “Ode to Gershwin,” by Danielle Diniz, brought the iconic music of Gershwin’s jazz swing to life with renewed vitality. This soloist on stage with her classical strides, glissades and hip thrusts brought the classiness of jazz dance and jazz music together as a sweet pairing.
“Summer Snow,” by Gregory Kollarus, was animation coming to life, with uppity music, very light and fun. This traditional jazz piece, classical and sweet, tells a duet story of happiness and a sense of equality between partners with its acro yoga and lindy style moves. As Spencer Pond’s American Jazz Company demonstrated, it is the down and dirtiness that makes partner dancing so lively. In their khaki pants and stripes, this duo created an on stage evocative of a behind-the-scenes look into classic swing dance films. Ai Toyoshima’s “Have a Little Sunshine” brings to life the iconic Mary Poppins brand, but with a personalized spin. Newspapers as a prop, red flannel hats and suspenders. The working class, “it’s a hard knock life” energy came out of the dancers’ gestures, and epic crescendos brought out the childlike love of imagination and naivety.
“Plain Gold Ring,” by Anthony de Marte, graced the stage with the rich colors of red and yellow lighting, creating a sexy, sultry vibe. Dancers with strong, defined movements, thrashing and bursts of energy, laid out the intense powerful surges that beam in jazz. “Creciente,” by Cory “Nova” Villegas, featured the essence of Latin folk and passion from the soul, as the combinations merged with the suave Latin sounds, flowing arms and fast footwork. As the name of the song implies, “Espíritu” was felt from and through the undulating movements birthed straight from the core.
“Love Is Due,” with its waving and popping, brought to the stage, as always, Cat Manturuk’s dazzling contemporary approach to various street forms. Pink sparkly jackets, red crop tops, and jazz fingers. The dancers and choreographer joyfully showcased the freedom jazz has to offer, playing with all generations of jazz and hip hop dance. “We Run Things,” by Tommy Scrivens, brought the safe boundless attitude, with dancers suited up in heels and hats. Smooth movement and strong hits, leaning back and shoulder isolations made a statement of silent activism and simplicity demonstrating unpredictable power. “Black Earth,” by Ashley Carter and Vanessa Martínez de Baños, constructed a push with the music, with instrumental booms, and visually stimulated the audience with the dancers’ quick bursts of movement, head rolls, and use of strong drops and coming back to a stance.
The gem of the evening, “Do I Move You?” by Teresa Perez Ceccon, really shined light on the versatility needed in the richness of jazz’s ability to allow all forms of expression into its world. To the sounds of “Do I Move You?” by Nina Simone, these experienced dancers didn’t just dance to the moving power of Nina’s voice and lyrics, but they embodied their individual stories, making each dancer impossible to stop watching. Kicks and turns will always electrify an audience, but actually being the story you are dancing, wearing your insides on the out for your audience, creates a visceral experience as rare as it is exceptional. Captivating the room with rich royal blue fabrics, intricate use of patterns and levels, this piece answered the question Nina Simone was asking. And that is how you keep your audience wanting more.
JCE knows how to bring the power and versatility of jazz dance to a stage. More importantly it continues to explore different ways of producing a show that keeps its audience engaged, entertained and always in search of what is next to come. It’s easy in the dance world to get sidetracked by media and TV shows, yet nothing can bring a patron more knowledge or a visceral sense of expression like the intimate setting of a theatrical show in a humble theater where every choreographer and dancer’s heart is on open display.
Dominique Robinson is an American producer, choreographer, and dance educator. Robinson received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Choreography from East Carolina University and a Master of Arts in Dance Education from New York University. Robinson teaches for ABT's outreach program Project Plié, Cynthia King Dance Studio, and Dance Gap Year. She is the founder of PIZARTS 'Dance Hub for Entrepreneurial Innovation,' a company that offers gap year programs, international residencies, and volunteer teach beach retreat trips, for teachers and artists who desire to dance and travel abroad.Dominique has been published in "Dance World Magazine," and online sites Travel Access Project and Jazz Choreography Enterprises. Inc.