Over the weekend of April 25th, Jazz Choreography Enterprises held its spring presentation of the New York Jazz Choreography Project. Following the Sunday afternoon performance, guests were welcome to stay for a talkback where several of the choreographers spoke about their pieces, their inspirations, and their views on the world of jazz dance.
The panel comprised choreographers Paul A. Brown, co-choreographers Ashley Carter and Vanessa Martinez de Baños, Juliet Dolan, Julia Halpin, Cat Manturuk, Sekou McMiller, and Ashley Rich. It was moderated by JCE board member Gregory Harris. When the choreographers introduced themselves to the audience, they each spoke a little about the inspirations behind their dances.
Many of the pieces had heavy themes like the struggles of women, domestic abuse, or the idea of fighting to get free from oppression, whatever form it might take. However, some of the choreographers found their inspiration less in universal themes and more in the mechanics of dance or performance.
Juliet Dolan, for instance, said that her piece was inspired by the different interactions between her dancers as they performed.
Julia Halpin, whose solo had her wearing a costume that was half man’s suit and half cocktail dress, said that the costume idea was part of what inspired her to think about the way that men and women interact, which led her to develop the movements for the piece.
Outside of the discussion of inspirations, the two major themes of the talkback itself were the nature of jazz dance and its evolving place in the world.
At the prompting of the moderator, Sekou McMiller spoke about the differences between Latin jazz dance and United States jazz dance.He described Latin dance as being more grounded in rhythm while U.S. jazz dance is more fluid based on the harmonics of jazz music. He thinks of Latin jazz dance as a hybrid of the two styles, bringing together the heavy, rhythmic lower movements of Latin dance and the more fluid upper body movements of jazz dance.
While McMiller described Latin dance and U.S. jazz dance as a hybrid of the two cultures and styles, almost all of the choreographers chimed in to speak about the importance of the evolution of jazz dance and its inclusion of other styles.
The consensus seemed to be that jazz dance, and the choreographers of jazz dance, needed to incorporate elements of other styles in order to keep Jazz relevant and away from stagnation or becoming antiquated.
However, despite the call for increasing the breadth of jazz dance styles, there was a somewhat negative side that some of the choreographers talked about, specifically Ashley Rich and Paul A. Brown. They spoke about the abilities of young dancers, in the sense that they knew movements from many different styles, but bemoaned their lack of historical knowledge and the lack of a base of strong fundamental jazz dance skills.
While jazz will continue to evolve, there seemed to be a hope that there would still be more of an effort to instill traditional jazz dance fundamentals into young dancers. In this way the style could move forward while still maintaining its roots and uniqueness.