"Jazz in Motion"

November 3, 2004

“Jazz in Motion”

Jazz at Lincoln Center

Rose Hall, New York, NY

November 3–5, 2004

Reviewed by Valerie Gladstone


With the opening of Jazz at Lincoln Center’s splashy new headquarters at Columbus Circle, New York gained a much-needed new dance venue. A strong believer in the ties between jazz and dance, founding director Wynton Marsalis made sure that the largest theater in the complex, the 1,200-seat Rose Hall, would be as good for dance as for music. “The whole space is going to be dedicated to the feeling of swing,” Marsalis said at the opening ceremonies, “which is a feeling of extreme coordination.”

The program featured premieres by Peter Martins, Elizabeth Streb, and Savion Glover, and excerpts from Garth Fagan’s witty Griot New York (1991) and his Trips and Trysts (2000), both performed by Garth Fagan Dance. Marsalis composed the music for every work but Streb’s, which was set to a piece by percussionist Joe Chambers and played by him and his combo Nommo. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra accompanied the others.

Four more different choreographic responses to jazz would be hard to find, and they ranged as widely in quality as in movement style. Fagan and Glover again showed their sensitivity to the complex rhythms of jazz with works that pulsed with a visceral understanding of the music. Glover gave a thrilling performance in his premiere, Spaces, shifting his weight on a dime, dreadlocks flying, drumming out the beat with every inch of his body. In the final section, five dancers joined him in synchronized sequences that gained power through the insistence of their tapping. Seeing excerpts from Fagan’s older pieces was a reminder of his masterly fusion of fierce physicality and sensuous fluidity, and how beautifully his dancers, particularly Norwood Pennewell and Sharon Skepple, accomplish his difficult choreography.

Martins’ cliché-filled The Wind Up was a different story. New York City Ballet dancer Amar Ramasar stood onstage with alto saxophonist Charles McPherson, hands in his pockets like a jaunty sailor in an old Hollywood movie, reacting to the sounds of the horn in a silly series of gestures and movements—rocking, spinning, trotting in circles, and coyly tilting his head—none of which captured the music’s swing.

In Gauntlet, her first piece to live music, Streb used as her set an imposing structure from which two concrete blocks swung like pendulums. The music was no more than background as her dancers ran back and forth, dodging the concrete blocks and flopping down on their stomachs to their own counts. For a Streb piece, the movement was disappointingly repetitious, showing little variation from the block-dodging and stomach-flopping. Only the projection of video images of the dancers scurrying away from the blocks on a backdrop gave it some dimension.

For more information: www.jalc.org