Merete Muenter teaching on Zoom

Despite the pandemic (and an internet outage), JCE was able to host its regular Signature Experience course on jazz dance for Honors Program students at Quinnipiac University. The course was held on Zoom in two sessions, the first of which was a dance class followed by a brief lecture.

Marian Hyun, JCE’s Co-Artistic Director, was scheduled to teach the warm-up section of the class, but  lost her internet connection about five minutes after starting. JCE Junior Board Member Nicole Padilla took over and led the students through stretching and movement exercises along with some floor work to get them loosened up.

JCE’s Co-Artistic Director Merete Muenter then taught the students a jazz dance combination. She had them learn a series of steps, which when put together formed dance phrases, and brought them all together at the end so the students could perform a full combination.

Marian Hyun then gave a short lecture on the history of jazz dance at the end of the class. She taught the students about how jazz dance evolved from a combination of West African dances practiced by slaves and the European dance styles of colonists in the Americas.

The second session was a viewing of a previously recorded performance of the JCE Jazz Dance Project that was performed live on April 28, 2019.

After viewing the show, six of the choreographers—Fréyani Patrice, Merete Muenter, Fatima Logan-Alston, Ashley Carter, Talissa Bavaresco, and Paul Brown—joined the chat for a talkback, moderated by Nicole Padilla. Students had the opportunity to ask the choreographers different questions about their pieces and their work.

The students were curious about the creative processes of the choreographers and how they found inspiration for their work.

Fatima Logan-Alston said, “For my process, I tend to develop the vision/narrative and then select the music or have it composed. ‘Pearls’ for this piece was an exception because it was a pre-existing popular music work that fit my vision.”

“My choreographic process is very collaborative with my dancers,” Talissa Bavaresco explained. “So my first few rehearsals are composition sessions where I give them guidelines and we work on prompt exercises to create movement, and I start editing the material from there.”

In a similar vein, Ashley Carter spoke about her growth as a choreographer. She said that when she started out she was very focused on the individual movements of the dancers, but now she has come to think of her pieces holistically and finds the tension between the individual movements and the group dynamic of the piece.

There was another question about choreographing pieces regarding the difference between working on a solo and a group piece.

Carter and Paul Brown spoke about the differences between working with people you know and people you don’t know when choreographing for a group piece. They felt that there were rewards and drawbacks for working with people whose movements they were familiar with versus those who might bring a new type of movement or style to their standard repertoire.

As for solos, Fatima Logan-Alston said that it was difficult moving solo pieces to different soloists because those types of dances are usually choreographed to a specific dancer’s strengths and weaknesses. The new dancer has to find a way to make it her own while holding true to the original essence of the piece.

Several of the choreographers used props in their dances along with interesting costume choices, and the students were curious about how important those elements were to the dance.

“For me, costumes definitely play a major role. They tell the story just as much as any props, lighting and set pieces,” said Paul Brown.

Talissa Bavaresco spoke about the potential dangers of props. Her piece had a lamp that she would turn on and off with the music for her piece, but during one performance it didn’t work, and she had to start the piece from the beginning. It was a story illustrative of how props can add unforeseen complications to a piece, but she emphasized the importance of staying calm when things don’t work.

One student asked about the impact of childhood dancing and how it influenced the choreographers.

Fréyani Patrice spoke about how she grew up learning jazz dance but also African dance, and how she comes from a Haitian background with a lot of social dance. These various styles have fused together in her current choreography work.

“If you want to be a professional dancer, I think you should study as much ballet as you can,” Merete Muenter said, speaking to the fundamentals that ballet provides for a dancer. But she thought diversity in style was important as well. “As much as you can expose yourself to will help you in your technique.”

Jazz Choreography Enterprises hosts this program with Quinnipiac University in coordination with Professor Melissa Kaplan, Interim Director of the Honors Program and Visiting Instructor of English. It is held annually to give students the opportunity to learn about jazz dance and broaden their horizons.

At JCE we are striving to continue our concerts and outreach programs, despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic. Stay subscribed to our newsletter if you want to continue to follow our events, and please consider donating to JCE if you want to support the continuation of these programs.

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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