Danny Buraczeski’s Jazzdance

July 21, 2003

The Jazzdance company.
Eric Saulitis

Danny Buraczeski?s Jazzdance

The Joyce Theatre
New York, New York
July 21?26, 2003

Reviewed by Clive Barnes

Folk wisdom suggests that we should never judge a sausage by its skin or a book by its cover. Let me add also be wary of the names that people give dance companies. Although I had seen the company and not particularly liked it, the very name Danny Buraczeski?s Jazzdance was still quaintly appealing to someone very partial both to jazz and dance, like myself. So when Jazzdance reappeared in New York for a week?s season at The Joyce Theatre, I determined to give it a second chance. Bad idea.

Reading his publicity material before the performance, I was at first heartened by Buraczeski?s almost polemical statement: “My definition of jazz dance is really simple: the tradition of dancing to jazz music.” To my mind there has been little true jazz dancing in the theater because, to me, it demands an element of improvisation to which choreography cannot easily adjust.

So what is jazz dance? Is it a style of dancing? Or is it simply dancing to jazz, or music close to it?

From that statement of purpose Buraczeski clearly favors the second definition. Certainly not a great deal of the movement he uses would be recognized as specifically jazz oriented, which is more usually seen as dance rooted in African American culture; although, of course, like jazz music itself, which has similar roots, this by no means excludes white practitioners. However, dancing to jazz, whatever the style employed, is legitimate enough. The first trouble is that Buraczeski?s choreography, whether you call it jazz, modern, or whatever, is simply not very good. It lacks invention, imagination, and kinetic force, not to mention a sense of construction.

The second trouble was his choice of music. I was shocked to find that the only jazz in this so-called jazz dance came in the finale, Swing Concerto, with an odd swingy interpretation of klezmer music, a little Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman?s “Sing, Sing, Sing.” For the rest, we had a tango-like suite from, yes, Astor Piazzolla, Judy Garland singing “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” and the premiere of Beat, which boasted an original non-jazz score co-composed by Philip Hamilton and Peter Jones.

But if the jazz was at a premium, the dance was worse. Buraczeski is strong on arm-flailing, and kept quite adequate time to the music. The nine performers were worth better choreography. I stuck it out to the end. Luckily, it was only ninety minutes. Seemed longer.