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Jamie Townsend
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Jazz Dance
Peridance Capezio Center
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New York, NY

New York Jazz Choreography Project's Program a Triumph

by Jamie Townsend
April 12, 2014
Peridance Capezio Center
126 East 13th Street
New York, NY 10003
The great George Balanchine once said "dancers are instruments, like a piano the choreographer plays." If he's correct then Jazz Choreography Enterprises' New York Jazz Choreography Project performance on Saturday, April 12 at Peridance Capezio Center's Salvatore Capezio Theater was a concert of epic proportions. Nineteen choreographers and over 50 dancers provided an appreciative audience with a rich survey of jazz dance iterations, tracing the progressions of its over century-long history in a scant 70 minutes.

Since its founding in 2007, Jazz Choreography Enterprises has made it a mission to promote the continued support for and evolution of jazz dance choreography by providing both new and seasoned choreographers the opportunity to stage their work before live audiences. Choreographers for Saturday evening's performance ran the gamut of ages, levels of experience, stylistic and musical focuses, sometimes within a single performance.

Meghan Doyle's exuberant, narrative piece, set to Dolly Parton's "Working 9 to 5", provided a beginning to the evening, quite literally, with a buzzing alarm clock wake up scene. Each of the piece's five performers moved through a lively morning routine solo section punctuated by frantic ensemble sequences.

Christy Rak-Samson and Courtney George's "Traces of You" followed with a similar arrangement in the staging (the interplay between solo and ensemble), but with a stark emotional contrast. Beginning with a scene of solo resurrection, the piece progressed toward the communal as paired dancers began to respond to each other fluidly, casting pained images in the mirror, movements converging then floating apart in opposite directions; a melancholy give and take.

This pattern of evocatively linked pairs of pieces became more notable as the performances continued. In Alan Spaulding's solo "No Worries", dancer Darian Chumbley projected a graceful, masculine athleticism, echoing more traditional theater jazz dance sequences – a raw, playful series of character-driven moves set to Glenn Miller's "Song of the Volga Boatman".

In "Take Five", Sue Samuels' all female ensemble reinterpreted the effortless cool of another traditional jazz dance mainstay, David Brubeck. Building off Brubeck's steady yet low key current of energy as backdrop, the performers' movements increasingly evoked a series of stop motion pictures; a single body split into many momentary personas.

Despite the obvious and effective grouping of like-minded pieces throughout the event, certain choreographers, and their charges, stood out as unique. Lara Luzim's at first puzzling then progressively inspired choice of "The Wedding Song" by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs proved the perfect backdrop for the most contemporary, impressively athletic choreography of the evening. Four performers shape-shifted throughout the entirety of the piece in sequences that moved from curved, almost balletic positions to jagged tableaus.

Joyce King's "LISTen (an except)", a large ensemble flight into the realm of the imagination, felt like a force of nature. The stormy energy and expansiveness of 10 dancers moving in unison onstage at the Salvatore Capezio Theater felt like a definite moment of catharsis.

As the evening came to a close the remaining performances did an admirable job of demonstrating the scope and influence of jazz dance on contemporary dance culture at large.

Kristen Schwartz's smokey "Never Loved a Man" drew from the cabaret tradition, while Amy VanKirk's seductive yet austere "Fuerza!Fuego" proudly displayed its roots in flamenco and gypsy jazz. And as Michael Jagger and Evita Arce's ensemble restaged a loose, joyful, and breathtakingly athletic 20s swing competition that brought the crowd to its feet in applause, one thing became clear, in jazz dance the old and the new find a common ground in what moves an audience.
'Jumpin' at the Woodside' choreographed by Michael Jagger and Evita Arce, performed by their company, Syncopated City Dance Company.

"Jumpin' at the Woodside" choreographed by Michael Jagger and Evita Arce, performed by their company, Syncopated City Dance Company.

Photo © & courtesy of Jan La Salle

'Never Loved a Man' choreographed by Kirsten Schwartz, performed by Caitlin Schwartz.

"Never Loved a Man" choreographed by Kirsten Schwartz, performed by Caitlin Schwartz.

Photo © & courtesy of Jan La Salle

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