Pat Taylor’s JazzAntiqua Premiers Song in a Strange Land

Pat Taylor’s JazzAntiqua dance and music ensemble performed its latest work, Song in a Strange Land, Saturday night at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. What an infectious blend of rhythm and storytelling! The show charmed a full house, which responded with lively applause, hooping and hollering and a final standing ovation.

JazzAntiqua is an LA company dedicated to concert Jazz dance (including the incorporation of excellent live jazz music). The deep stage at the Nate Holden was perfect for the demands of the company. The live musicians were set up along the upstage border, and yet there was still ample space for the dancers to perform in front. One highlight of the show was the inclusion of improvisational sections in which the dancers and musicians were able to engage in a powerful and visceral conversation of movement and music. Dancers danced right up to the musicians, directly engaging them into the fabric of the show. Bassist Trevor Ware lead the band with his regal upright bass, giving his fellow musicians lots of space to shine in solos that had the audience grooving. The inclusion of the live musicians into the conversation of the dance performance added a deep sense of community to the performance. There was a clear sense that everyone present in the theater played a vital role in bringing this event to life.

Taylor’s choreography demonstrates both the prowess of the dancers as athletes, and their sensitivity as humans. The movement vocabulary of JazzAntiqua is rooted in clean jazz line (with some Horton Influences), playful rhythmic syncopation, and captivating individuality of the performers. The performers embodied balletic influences as well as the deep-down groove of jazz of the American vernacular dance. This blend between external design and internal sensing created a show stopping appeal for the evening of dance.

The nature of JazzAntiqua’s style requires that the dancers have a clear sense of themselves as artists in collaboration with the choreographic vision of the work. These dancers were real people, with real stories that are our stories. In this way, the dance became truly personal and individualized, while at the same time communicating universal themes of struggle, challenge, love, growth, and hope. I was most impressed with the dancers’ ability to hold their own power, modulating their performance between subtle and explosive, demonstrating their maturity and sensitivity as jazz dancers.

The show featured additional choreographic contributions by Frit and Frat Fuller, who collaborated with Taylor on the piece, entitled Moving Target. Featuring an all male cast, Moving Target, was performed to an arrangement of Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle. The piece included a strong theme of the dancers running away from something. Periodically a dancer found himself caught in the spotlight—It was his turn to take a solo. The audience responded with joy, cheering on each soloist for his amazing talents and exquisite expression. But, then, the spotlight turned ominous, perhaps into beam of a flashlight or floodlight. And, then we saw the beautiful male performer stripped down into a nameless black man caught in the universal story of racism. We were left to wonder as an audience- were we complicit in the creation of these men’s stories, having applauded them so exuberantly? The spotlight became both a blessing and a curse. The piece ended with the last unsuspecting figure getting caught in the light, pulling his hand out of his pockets, placing them on his head, kneeling down, laying down, and meeting an anonymous wrath that he never earned. While Moving Target was perhaps the most surprising and powerful political and social message of the evening, the show as a whole offered a great variety of feelings and stories through movement and theater.

Jazz dance is the ultimate American dance form, as it contains our history embedded in the movement vocabulary itself. From a balletic leap, to a fierce tap solo, and. . . was that the Carlton?!? JazzAntiqua is willing to engage in the stories of the past and the present. Song in a Strange Land is testament to the incredible power of dance, music and the pursuit of happiness.

Cast of Dancers: Terrica Banks, Michale Battle, Alberta Keys, Jovonie Leonard, Reggie McDonald, Christopher Nolan, Jason Poullard Chris Smith, Laura Ann Smyth, Jeremiah Tatum, Shari Washington Rhone. Guest performer: Nakia Mason.

Musicians: Ava DuPree (Actor/Singer),Paul Legaspi (drums), Aaron Provisor (piano), Derf Reklaw (percussion) and Trevor Ware (bass)

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