Savage Jazz Company

July 7, 2000

Savage Jazz Company

Cowell Theater, Fort Mason
San Francisco, California

July 7?9, 2000

Reviewed by K.C. Patrick

There?s nothing primitive about Savage Jazz Dance Company. In fact, it may be the most layered, sophisticated concert jazz dance company in these Western climes. Formed in 1992 by Artistic Director Reginald Ray-Savage, who is its principal choreographer and teacher, the company has coalesced into a fine working unit that reflects not only the artistic vision of its founder, but also displays the singular talents of the dancers. If your sensibilities have been honed to honor only cloned heights with extensions behind the ear in your corp-us as scenic background, you may perceive some combinations as ragged. But this is jazz, where a piccolo is a piccolo, not a clarinet, and a cymbal is a cymbal, not a snare, and each has its own range and reach.

The July program at San Francisco?s Fort Mason Cowell Theater: “Passions of Three Men: The Jazz of Mingus, Shelby and Savage” featured music by legendary composer and bassist Charles Mingus played by the ten-member orchestra of award-winning composer and bassist, Marcus Shelby. Almost unique in this age when monies for commissioned jazz-jazz dance compositions are awarded to established ballet and modern dance companies, Savage Jazz offers the richness of live musical accompaniment and concert-quality performances with its corresponding improvisation breaks. Shelby, who is also co-artistic director of Jazz Antigua Dance and Music Company, is a perfect partner for Savage.

An unusually prolific choreographer, Ray-Savage created five new works for the Passions program; Each was named for a Mingus classic: Fables of Faubus (Faubus as in Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus, who opposed school integration in Little Rock in the 1950s), Better Get (h)it in Your Soul, Theme for Lester Young, Pedal Point Blues and E?s Flat, Ah?s Flat Too. Founding company member and associate artistic director Zafra Miriam created For Harry Carney, which is also from the Mingus repertory, for six of the fluid women of the company.

The program generously opened with guest choreographer Marni Thomas (Wood)?s Spider?s Kisses, set to music by Shelby. Thomas, who has been honored for her work as head of the University of California at Berkeley?s dance program and for her recent staging of Diversion of Angels for Oakland Ballet, showed that she isn?t limited to the modern genre by her years as a Martha Graham Company dancer. Given the right music, her duet for Allison Hurley and Rocklin Thompson, joined by the company, sparkled to a jazz beat.

Once in a great while a rare person comes on the scene?for whatever reason?who seems to reincarnate the lessons from all his teachers and forebears. It is this quality in Reginald Ray-Savage that gives the depth of heritage and authenticity to his company. Acknowledging his growth in the Katherine Dunham Performing Arts Training Center in East St. Louis, Missouri, and the far-reaching teaching of Archie Savage, Ray?s mentor, this choreographer also displays his Chicagoland and musical theater experiences, with traces of Jack Cole exoticism. Because he teaches his company dancers, they also build on this cumulative experience. Echoing through the movement are almost audible phrases such as, “been down since I began to crawl,” “go tell my baby sister, don?t ?cha do what I have done,” “Sing, sing, sing, sing, everybody?s got to sing,” and the euphoric, “and I say to myself, what a wonderful world.”