Photo: Jan La Salle

 By Josh Harris

For those of you who missed the Sunday show of this spring’s New York Jazz Choreography Project, there was a talk back session moderated by board member Gregory Harris with several of the choreographers who participated in the show.  Megan Doyle, Candice Michelle Franklin, Napoleon W. Gladney, Everett Johnson, Cat Manturuk, and Ellenore Scott all remained to field questions from the audience.

One of the first questions was about costuming.  Though they are part of every show, costumes are not often discussed, and an audience member wanted to know where the choreographers got their ideas for costumes.

Scott stated that the costumes for her piece “popped into [her] head as soon as [she] heard the song.”  Gladney agreed that his costuming largely depended on the piece as well, though he said that what the dancers wore was often determined by the types of movements they were doing in the piece.

Franklin said that she has “been collecting costumes since 1998” and building out her wardrobe options with clothing that has a jazz or blues club feel to it.  On the other side of that Manturuk emphasized the need for a budget and putting careful thought into how you use it on wardrobe.  “I hired a costume designer and ended up with something I didn’t want,” she confessed.

Other audience members wanted to know where the choreographers got the ideas for their pieces.  As with the costumes, the group offered a lot of different answers.

Scott admitted that she likes to test out phrases she is thinking about using in a piece on the students who attend her dance classes. 

Doyle had another take, saying “the majority of my concepts come from rehearsal.  My head’s always going.”  Gladney had a similar thought but went further saying, “I call rehearsal play time,” and explained that he likes to toy with ideas in rehearsal and see how they develop.

Manturuk said that she likes “to work in an improv based off the music.”  Franklin agreed with this saying, “it’s all the music for me.

On the topic of choreographing group size dances the choreographers provided a variety of different insight into their approaches.  Johnson said that he simply likes “big pieces.”  Manturuk and Scott both deferred to the music, saying that it was the sound that steered their choices.  “When I hear a song I know if it’s intimate enough to be a duet…” Scott said.

On a more practical note, Doyle pointed out that you often need solos in a show.  Speaking about her company, she said, “we did our first full length show, and I realized you need solos and duets because your dancers get tired.”

What does “Jazz” mean to you?  The final question of the talk back was a big one.

“I don’t know if anything is straight jazz anymore,” Doyle said, citing the many fusions of different styles across jazz.  An audience member voiced some disagreement, and Franklin seemed to back up that assertion.  “We are traditionalists in jazz,” she said of her company.  “We do seven to eight jazz styles in our shows that I would consider traditional.”

On the other hand, she went on to say that there are a lot of jazz music and dance theories that aren’t taught any more.  If dancers had more of these theory crafting lessons, she thinks things might be different.  “What would jazz look like with the music we have today?” she asked.  Then concluded by saying, “jazz, to me, has always been contemporary.”


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