Decidedly Jazz Danceworks
June 18 & 19, 1997
DECIDEDLY JAZZ, DECIDEDLY SIZZLING!
by Gale Robinson
Decidedly Jazz Danceworks is the product of a dream. Founding Director Vicki Adams Willis, at the time head of the Jazz Division of the Dance Program at the University of Calgary, and two of her students, Michele Moss and Hannah Stilwell, founded the company in 1984. Their goal was to preserve and promote the history and spirit of jazz. the Calgary based company, has toured extensively throughout Canada and abroad.
Today, the organization is comprised of the Dance Company and a School with an enrolment of over 700. DJD is also the only professional dance company in Canada devoted exculsively to jazz music and dance.
The production they brought to the Vancouver Playhouse, Rhythm Addiction (Patterns of Our Mothers' Hearts), is one they originally performed in 1994 . It became their most popular show. The new version has added some elements such as funk stomp to the already eclectic mix of East Indian, flamenco, rhythm tap, and African possession-dancing, just to name a few. All are performed to an original score by Musical Director Dewi Wood and additional music director Ravi Poliah. The music is outstanding. From the opening drum solo by John Pain, the music plays an integral part in the performance, partly because the six musicians sit high above the stage on a platform that forms part of the set, but mostly because, if you love jazz, the beat speaks to your soul.
Opening with choreographer Michele Moss's Steppin' on d'Beat, inspired by African masters and the company's Ravi Poliah, this version on stomp rhythm sets the mood and the tone for the entire show. All six female and two male dancers show their energy early, an energy that never flags through the entire performance. If I have to single out one dancer for extra praise, I would be unable to do so as they work as a team and all are strong performers.
Ravi Poliah shows his Jamaican style, in patois, backed by the entire company. How does he dance so amazingly in those running shoes? The next number, Elemental Zap, choreographered by Hannah Stilwell and Sudha Thakkar, was a fusion of East Indian dance and jazz. This was a prime example of how all forms of music are interconnected. The clothing design team of Inga Borg, Paul LaVigne, Tracey Hooper and Pat Irving deserve high praise. They created such a visual feast that complemented each number without distracting our attention from the dancing. This was evident in Elemental Zap as well as the next number, Sun in Our Souls, which took us to the hot tropics with its taste of Latin music-- the mambo, cha -cha and the extra spicy salsa.
All aspects of this production were superb. The live band, by being part of the staging, added a new dimension to the performance. The energy of the dancers, along with their talent and training, made the show sparkle and zing. Although the stage was spartan, it served well as it allowed the dancers and their costumes to be the focus.
Altogether a wonderful evening, marred only by the front row seats which made it difficult to appreciate the choreography and overall flow of the numbers across and on the stage.
I would recommend this, or any other show DJD performs, to anyone who appreciates jazz, dance, or the blending of the two.