by Beth Schmid
The New York Jazz Choreography Project is a night of collective jazz dance that showcases performances by both amateur and professional choreographers. This year, Jazz Choreography Enterprises’ featured music exclusively by Manhattan Transfer, the American vocal group established in 1969.
Tim Hauser, Manhattan Transfer’s founder, unfortunately passed away October 16th two days before opening night at Alvin Ailey’s Citigroup Theatre. Although a saddening and unexpected event, JCE responded admirably by hosting a beautiful event to honor the wonderful life and successful career of Tim Hauser.
The show featured three standouts. Each piece displayed distinct form and pace and the dancers were of varying ages. A Romantic Affair was a startling piece because it started slow, remained slow, and although the audience expected a crescendo that never arrived, the dance still ended somewhat surprisingly just as slow, First, a lonely chair appeared and then an equally as lonely man. A spotlight crept over Glenn Leslie, his expression a bit more pleasant than melancholy, moving superficially as if reliving a somatic memory. Next, a woman appeared from behind him, joining him in a dreamy yet divided duet. Eventually the pair meet, slowly partnering, always comfortable with each other and the movement. Comprehensive yet simple, the pace never quickened. A complete package of jazz was presented to the audience who enthusiastically responded with a roar of applause.
Leslie was featured in another piece. In stark contrast to A Romantic Affair, Wrangling the Rambler was quick and zestful. The pair swept each other though the space, twirling one another through a seemingly endless inward spiral. While the audience seemed to enjoy the latter, I was more greatly captivated by the former, as I believe stillness and carefulness are underrated.
The last performance titled BiRDLAND, began with a handheld spotlight that blinded the audience demanding their attention. Dancing shadows projected on the stage wall, as the light was guided to reveal different areas of the stage space. The dancers, dressed in anachronistic garb, performed syncopated technique of jazz and ballet. The men twirled with tours en l’air as the women shook like pedestrians in lounges. Bar sounds emerged and the dancers responded by theatrically mimicking the lyrics. The drunken energy rose until finally peaking with complete unison shakes, kicks and pirouettes. Just as the bright spotlight was out of mind, it returned to sight, resolving like it had to start, continuously searching for movement.