Following this year’s October performance of the New York Jazz Choreography Project, the choreographers were required to take part in a feedback session where audience members could ask questions of the choreographers and give their thoughts about the different pieces.
As always, the relationship between music and dance was a popular topic, with audience members wanting to know how choreographers chose the songs that paired with their pieces. Each choreographer had a different thought on specifically what they were looking for in a song.
“I am very rhythmic…I need a song with a rhythm that speaks to me,” said Mary Shorey. She explained that she looks for different elements in the song that she is working with. “I want to highlight those in a different way,” she said. “I really like to listen to the music before I put down any movements.”
Though Joyce King agreed that the song has to speak to her, she is more interested in the narrative of her piece. “Oftentimes the idea comes first, and then the hunt for music.” Her piece, “LISTEn,” was the last part in a larger number she choreographed. She said it was about a traumatic event. “It’s about how life can change.”
An audience member said that she “really enjoyed [King's] use of isolation” as a way to represent the trauma of the character she portrayed in the piece.
Sue Samuels’ “The Emerald Forest” was based on music from the movie The Emerald Forest and inspired by the idea that the rainforests should be saved. Samuels described the piece as her “interpretation of tribal dance.” Audience members were drawn in by the comedic and acting elements presented by the dancers. ”I love the way [she] brings a fusion of different styles into this piece,” one audience member said.
In contrast to some of the larger group pieces presented, two of the choreographers showed solos that they performed themselves. The audience was curious about how the process differed for these choreographers. The moderator for the event, JCE board member Gregory Harris, posed the question of how they decide how much of the stage to use. This again related to the music.
“Depends on the music,” Jessica Black said. She went on to say that depending on that you have to make the piece big or small to fit the feel of the music.
“I pick the music first always, and then comes the movement,” Matt Pardo said. “I work a lot in choreography with repetition, so I like songs that repeat.” He described the way that he figures the piece out as he works on it. “It’s part of the fun of the process.”
Asked how they are able to make corrections when choreographing a piece on themselves, Pardo explained that “you selfie yourself. You pop the camera up and get to see yourself.” He also said that he asked for advice from third parties when he had the opportunity.
Black agreed with his approach but also simply stated, “if it feels right, then do it. I don’t care, just do it.”
Merete Muenter, JCE Co-Artistic Director, was curious about the creative process the choreographers faced and how they handled mental blocks when approaching their work.
“It does happen, and all you can do is wait,” Bob Boross said. “Don’t be frantic, it always comes.”
King offered a slightly more proactive approach saying, “Sometimes I put on different music. Or I just stop and breathe.”
Then there was Hadley Schnuck who took the approach of scrapping what she was working on leading up to the performance because it wasn’t coming together. “It was a different song, a different piece,” she said, referring to when she submitted her work for the show.
“’Heartache Tonight’ found me,” she said, and that was the piece she ended up working with for her duet “Girl Meets Boy.”
After hearing different pieces of feedback and fielding all of these various questions, the dancers were then able to ask something of the audience. The question they seemed most curious about was, what makes people come out to see a dance performance?
Marian Hyun, Co-Artistic Director of JCE, said that for her dance was about the small things. “I love small moments, small images.” She cited bits from all of the pieces, such as an arabesque Schnuck used in her piece where she leaned forward into her partner, or the hand gestures in Boross’ piece, “Send Your Love,” where the dancers pushed outwards as if sending their love out into the world.
A member of the audience made a far less specific statement, but one that anyone in attendance could easily appreciate. “I know nothing about dance,” he said. “But I just love watching.”