By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — Galileo Galilei will finally get the jazz dance tribute he’s so long been denied thanks to the outstanding architects of the imagination at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks [DJD]. Now that they’ve broken the news to their parents that they’ll be dedicating their lives to interpreting jazz music through physical movement the rest of us can experience the joy of losing ourselves to the rhythm without breaking a sweat.
“Jazz dance is a really misunderstood form; it has a sordid history,” says Decidedly Jazz Danceworks artistic director Kimberly Cooper. “We’re attempting to continue on with the traditions in an unsordid fashion. By nature it is a folk dance born of African and European parents, but for some reason in ‘40s, ‘50s jazz dancers started dancing to rock and the style became way more upright. When we founded Decidedly Jazz Danceworks we wanted to bring back that African parentage and return to the roots of the form while acknowledging it’s a contemporary art form. I don’t find the genre to be intimidating at all; I think it can be accessible the individual wants it to be.”
The forward-thinkers at DJD agree, jazz, not unlike gravity, is responsible for the complexity of the universe as we know it. Probably, because it’s yet another natural phenomenon by which all things are brought towards one another.
“Just as basketball and baseball have players. We have seven players and gravity is our game. All of The Gravity Players works are quite physical in the way in which they approach and introduce the concept of gravity. Even though it’s an eclectic collection of 15-minute-long pieces, each of these spectacular new dances has its own dramatic weight. These various voices share one theme, but carry many different ideas.”
Untethering their 2015-2016 season with a flight of fantasy, The Gravity Players will introduce audiences to a quintet of pieces choreographed by Sarisa F. de Toledo, Deanne Walsh and Kimberley Cooper, along with special guests, Hanna Kiel and Gadfly, who will lend their urbane physical graffiti to the showcase.
“We’re so lucky to have five choreographers creating pieces for The Gravity Players,” says Cooper. “Including two sound artists from Toronto, Gadfly and Hanna, who are new to using the human body as a means of expression. It’s been a while since we’ve brought in other choreographers from outside our circle, but we liked their urban musicality and physicality, and we like to challenge our dancers and audiences in different ways.”
Closer to home, resident DJD choreographers de Toledo and Walsh were considered to be ideal candidates for drafting the sub-atomic blueprints that would put The Gravity Players’ poetry in motion. Their interpretations of irresistible force and the science of attraction are manifest in the biomechanical stresses and vectors that move their players from pole to pole.
“Sarisa has been with the company for a long time and is a current artistic associate. She’s a brilliant dancer in company and is carrying this talent through to choreography. Her style is very musical and thanks to her Cuban-Jamaican parentage; she brings a certain Latin torso-tension to the movements she creates. Deanne Walsh is a busy teacher who not only works for us but is the artistic director at the Alberta Dance Theatre for Young People. She has extensive training in West African dance and she has a great sense of humour, which is kind of rare in a choreographer.”
Cooper adds, “For my part, I’m remounting a juicy 15-minute chunk I selected from a piece I originally wrote two years ago on the life and times of Charles Mingus. It’s based on an album that was meant to be danced to and I really wanted to hear him in the show. It’s such a rare pleasure to be able to revisit a work and look at it through fresh eyes.”
Overcoming inertia in more ways than one, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks will be breaking new ground in their third decade in existence with the launch of the freshly constructed DJD Dance Centre. An impressive $25-million art space located on the corner of 12th Avenue and Centre Street SE, the facility will feature a 327 square-metre studio/performance space, a Community Living Room, media room and library, seven dance studios that will be available for use by the community, as well as offices for DJD’s administrative services. Built in close collaboration with the Kahanoff Foundation the new space signifies a bright future for the dance company and is slated to open its doors in the spring of 2016.
The Gravity Players runs from Nov. 13-21 at Theatre Junction GRAND.AB, Alberta, dance, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, jazz dance, The Gravity Players, Theatre Junction GRAND