Jazz Dance by Danny Buraczeski

March 16, 1999

Jazzdance by Danny Buraczeski

Joyce Theater
New York City, New York

March 16-21, 1999

Reviewed by Kevin Giordano

When I heard that Danny Buraczeski was performing his 1998 piece Ezekiel’s Wheel with musician/vocalist Philip Hamilton at the Joyce Theater, I recalled a brilliant performance that Hamilton gave this past fall at Dance Theater Workshop. He was lending his voice and music to choreographer Chris Aiken, whom he accompanied in an all-improv evening of dance and music. I wondered if the African-American vocalist was multilingual because his words were, well, indecipherable by my ears. I caught him in the lobby after that show and asked him. Though he didn’t say “gibberish”, that’s what it was. Hamilton’s tenor sounds like controlled wailing. His freedom from text or words allows him to choose consonants and vowels at whim. Unlike rap, Hamilton’s emphasis is on pure flow, unfettered by rhymes or beat. Hamilton does not claim to be a jazz singer, nor is his music remotely jazz. But I believe that it has jazz’s heart, that need for free expression with no constraints, minus Ellington-like arrangements and melodies.

As a result of Hamilton’s non-jazz repertory, Buraczeski made a departure from his company’s standards which are based on his own definition of jazz dance: “the tradition of dancing to jazz music.” He also departed from its usual insouciance. His movement evinced an attitude of genuflection over effrontery.

Ezekiel’s Wheel is a title taken from the Bible story of a priest who worked tirelessly more than 5,000 years before Christ. This piece was a three-person collaboration: Buraczeski, Hamilton, and James Baldwin (1924-87), who was represented by a now-famous recording of the writer reading from his novel Another Country. That 1962 praise gospel on racial justice called for acknowledgment of commonalities among races rather than differences. It originally hit the streets when cities were filled with Civil Rights unrest. Buraczeski discovered Baldwin while living in Europe in the late 1970s; he took up peace and salvation as his reaction to Baldwin’s text. He calls Baldwin “a writer of power and grace whose personal gospel was like a lightning bolt, illuminating the dark chambers of the human heart.”

Ezekiel’s Wheel is a pastel of human images struggling amid American discord. One passage saw JAZZDANCE members swatting the floor, the dancers’ fingertips grazing the stage like sickles. Were these God-fearing souls in the fields searching for redemption? Were the solos prayer sessions, moments alone with God? Their drab, earth-toned garments certainly suggested poverty. Glum faces voiced not so much sadness as humility. Sure, Hamilton’s wailing ushered in these sentiments, but Buraczeski’s movement vocabulary said, “I am humbled before Thee.” Watching the dancers, I felt as though I’d been to confession. Hamilton continued his fusillade of rhythm and melody with the help of Peter Jones (piano), Carl Carter (acoustic bass), Everett Bradley (vocals and percussion), and Tony Silva (vocals). The interplay between dance and music created a unity that was spiritually moving. Oh, yes-the rest of the program, which included Points on a Curve, Scene Unseen, and Zero Cool.

With racial unrest , violence, and abuse of power still a daily occurrence, a promise of salvation these days clearly overrides the morsels of gaiety and braggadocio that Broadway currently makes space for. Now in its twentieth touring season, Danny Buraczeski’s JAZZDANCE provided an artistic, entertaining, and thoughtful respite with Ezekiel’s Wheel.

Watch for an upcoming feature article on Danny Buraczeski in Dance Magazine.