writers on dancing


Dancing for a New House of Jazz

Jazz in Motion
(New York City Ballet, Garth Fagan Dance, Streb, Savion Glover)
Presented by Jazz at Lincoln Center
Frederick P. Rose Hall
New York, NY
November 5, 2004

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter

As part of the festivities inaugurating the new home for Jazz at Lincoln Center— a three-venue complex located on the fifth floor of the gargantuan Times Warner Center at Columbus Circle, a few blocks south of Lincoln Center—the Lincoln Center jazz Orchestra collaborated with several choreographers and companies for a program of works set to live jazz music, including three premieres. The assortment of dance companies and artists guaranteed a diverse evening, and the presence of Wynton Marsalis (Jazz at Lincoln Center's visionary artistic director and the LCJO's music director) guaranteed that the musical component would be scintillating.

An added lure was the opportunity to sample the brand-new spaces, specifically the largest of its three venues, the 1100-seat Frederick J. Rose Hall, a horse-shoe shaped concert hall that would fit right in at Lincoln Center itself, in terms of its elegance and comfort. With its modest-sized orchestra section (a central portion of which, on this occasion, was taken up by the sound board, given the amplification of all the musicians) and three tiers, it retains an intimacy far greater than, say, Alice Tully Hall, which has a comparable seating capacity. The stage is of a generous size. Depending on its availability between JALC presentations, this centrally located new hall could offer a valuable new possibility for dance.

The new home for JALC (which must be reached via a bank of elevators within the Times Warner Center's main lobby; the venue does not have its own street-level entrance) also features an amazingly spacious atrium with a spectacular urban view, as well as two smaller spaces: the more intimate Allen Room and Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, a nightclub.

For this three-night event, two brief, small-scale works by Peter Martins served as the evening's appetizer. To get things started, there was "The Wind-Up," in which a charmingly casual and appealing Amar Ramasar, strolled onstage, in elegantly hip attire, complete with suspenders, hands in his pockets. From there, he took his cues from Charles McPherson's bright, sassy alto saxophone as it delivered a deft, compact Marsalis score. This was one of those "I'm just going to improvise to the music" pieces of choreography, with Mr. Ramasar propelled into action as he listened to the saxophone, blending swift runs and smooth swivels with a few more virtuosic tricks.

"Jazz: Six Syncopated Movements" was Mr. Martins' initial foray into the music of Mr. Marsalis, premiering in 1993. His heavy-handed, mostly misguided choreography (remember Heather Watts as an anguished figure of grief in a section somehow intended to pay tribute to Native Americans?!) was salvaged by the terrific and varied commissioned score. On this occasion, original cast members Wendy Whelan and Nikolaj Hubbe performed their sultry duet " 'D' in the Key of 'F'—Now the Blues," which had stood out as one of the work's better moments. But here it looked effortful and did not make its dancers look particularly good, as they twisted and entangled their way through the overly contorted partnering.

Garth Fagan Dance really got the evening into an energized groove with several excerpts from works Mr. Fagan has created to Maraslis scores, for which he has a strong affinity. Clearly feeding off the fantastic, rich sounds emanating from the pit, the company delivered knockout performances of two excerpts from "Griot New York,' Mr. Fagan's major1991 work. The meditative sensuality of "Spring Yaounde" came across in the calm, sculptural entwinings of Nicolette Depass and Norwood Pennewell, and the ensemble luxuriated in the possibilities of the slow, juicy movement Mr. Marsalis explores so imaginatively in "Bayou Baroque," with the mesmserizingly pure and focused Keisha Clarke leading the way.

Bringing the first half to a rousing close, the company then performed excerpts from Mr. Fagan's 2000 work "Trips and Trysts," in which the dancing and the bold exuberant, unpredictable, highly charged playing of the LCJO vied for honors, which each group clearly taking great pleasure in what the other was doing. Mr. Fagan always finds his own quirky path through a musical score, and when he takes on Mr. Marsalis' music, he steers clear of any and all "jazz dancing" clichés. The dancers dug into the movement with verve and joy, and made it all fee like a wonderfully spontaneous eruption of dancing to the music.

Elizbaeth Streb always pursues her own distinctly quirky approach, assigning her dancers athletic endeavors that involve risk and danger, often set on specially designed set pieces. For the new work "Gauntlet," there was a huge structure consisting of two ladder-like towers, a bridge-like connecting piece on top, and two swinging pendulums consisting of cinder blocks. The task for the six dancers was to dash, roll, fall and otherwise propel themselves in between the swinging blocks, which sometimes swung form side to side, at other times front to back. Dressed to look like a cross between gymnasts and runners, they gamely pursued their task, which kept them very busy but offered little in the way of artistic illumination for an audience.

The work got off to a very slow start, salvaged only by the intriguing percussion score by Joe Chambers (performed in the pit by his six-piece ensemble, which promised much more interesting possibilities than what was actually realized by Streb. A high-tech video set-up kept an overhead view of the action visible on the rear wall, giving the viewer at least something more to look at.

Savion Glover always interacts warmly with musicians, and his Joyce Theater program last year, plus a recent solo showing at Evening Stars, showed him performing as though he was one more member of the band, sharing the stage with appreciative delight. On this occasion, he had the imposing LCJO onstage with him, and often danced facing them. The mutual inspiration made for a joyous closing portion of the program.

He performed "Spaces," a premiere to a commissioned Marsalis score, and two other numbers during a fierce, fearless, sensational set. Responding to the drums, he pummeled his feet mercilessly into the floor in intricate rhythms. Sometimes his taps were so nimble and light that he seemed to hover above the floor. He veered effortlessly form flashy to introspective, from sly to showy, as a sometimes excessive series of lighting changes in bright colors added to the high-spirited mix and sent everyone home in an exhilarated state.

Volume 2, No. 43
November 15, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter


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