Last minute I decided to jump in the car and head to North Hollywood to see Commonality Dance Company at Liv' Art Dance Studio. Adam Parson started the company in 1998 and has toured internationally as well as being an LA favorite. His style: Jazz.
Parson's choreography is an excellent example of Jazz dance that is diverse, entertaining, athletic and musical. His choreographic style hinges exclusively on the powerful relationship he creates with the music, and his ability to manifest a distinct and complex pallet of dynamics and effort qualities. What does that mean in every day language? His dances go beyond the flat aesthetic of cliché jazz dance. There is a richness to the movement, that is detailed, refined and precise.
One of my concerns with contemporary jazz practices is the tendency toward the overly dramatic and painfully hyper-emotional. Parson's work was honest and human without the affectations of "show." The dancers were relatable (despite their jaw dropping endurance, athleticism and pristine virtuosity). I love seeing dancers as people, and this show was full of people dancing. It was sexy, fun, well crafted dance that renewed my conviction to advocate for the genre in academia.
People wonder if Jazz has a place in Higher Education.
Well. . .
THIS jazz certainly does. The works I saw tonight were not only physically challenging, but ripe with compositional integrity, movement invention, design and musicianship. This is not just dancing to a good pop song. This is true craft.
But, the craft is so well done it is virtually invisible. In other words, the audience at large may not leave thinking to themselves "Wow! That musical counterpoint was tremendous!" or " Did you notice the use of the dancer's kinesphere? Such versatility in somatic connectivity!"
They leave with a smile on their faces, because they could see and feel that this was "good" dance. It included themes that they could identify with and movements that spoke to their souls. But, just because something is enjoyable doesn't mean we should leave it at that. We can't make the mistake of only analyzing the dances that are hard to get and or semi-sufferable!
Let's honor this dance form by seeing at it is: so much more than just beautiful bodies doing impressive steps. Parson is a composer of dance. He is a painter of the space and a visual musician.
Here are a few notes I made on some of the pieces that really stuck with me:
Good Intent was an all female piece choreographed by Adam Parson. The six women performed exquisitely. The movement pallet included small gestures and isolations that highlighted the hot/cool juxtaposition of jazz dance. The women were commanding and exact in their shoulder shrugs, hip rolls and hand gestures. I think I was particularly taken with this piece because of the musicality of the choreography and the way in which the movements embodied such a diverse range of movement qualities from sudden to sustained, direct and indirect, light and firm. The combinations were playful and enriching to the piece that was ultimately a playful and flirty seduction through movement and allure.
In contrast, Howitsdun was an all male piece by Parson that gave the male company members an opportunity to shine in their strength, masculinity and sex appeal. The men dressed in slacks, button down shirts and ties, bounded through the space with an animal-like quality that was all power, while their exterior was cool, calm and collected. The rhythms were engaging in their syncopation making this a current jazz piece that successfully evokes the aesthetics of Gene Kelly and Matt Mattox.
Check it out for yourself!:
Another pick of the evening was the work of one of the guest artists, Jennifer Hamilton. This piece, called When My Train Comes In, was a much more contemporary jazz piece. The finely trained dancers moved with strength power and emotional investment. What made the movement less "traditional" jazz and more contemporary? Well, the intense musicality was there, but, was driven by something other than the structural play of rhythmic syncopation. This piece included rhythm as a means for driving the emotional content of the work, with the focus on regularly repeated movement to drive home the emotional desperation in the dancers.
The most contemporary piece of the show was Kate Hutter's HyperSuperUltraNow (LACDC). This trio was the most abstract (least narrative), performed by three very diverse women. The piece included the same type of precision as seen in the other numbers, but shed some of the jazz styling to transform the dancers into these quirky characters, bobbing and listing through the space. I found the material refreshing, playful and pleasantly odd. But, while this piece might read jazzy on a contemporary modern dance concert, it was definitely the most "stand out-ish" for branching away from the jazz value set.
All in all, I enjoyed the entire concert, and found that each piece offered me something to enjoy or think about. Kudos to the entire cast and to the rest of the choreographers, Olivia Gaugain, Dominic Chaiduang, Theresa Kahl, Shanon Novak, and Alex Little.
While the space is likely to sell out again (and the only real downfall of the evening was the flat seating for the audience), I encourage all dancers to attend the second performance today, Saturday March 30th, 2013. It is worth sitting on the floor if you have to (so don't wear a skirt!). Parson mentioned his vision of Commonality becoming THE premier jazz dance company of LA and after seeing this show, I think that he is already on his way.