Smooth Jazz

April 17, 2011

The soothing notes from a guitar and jazz saxophone filled the air as audience members drifted into the Cabot House JCR on Friday April 8th at 7PM. Mainly Jazz Dance Company’s spring production: “Smooth Jazz,” transformed a theater space rarely used for dance performances into an intimate “coffee house” setting for entertaining dance, live music, and refreshments.

In general, the most effective pieces were those in which the dancers’ intention in both movement and emotional expression was clear. The show opener, which fittingly set the sensual, jazzy feel of the evening, featured sharp hips, and coy, over-the shoulder glances. The sassy style of movement was complimented by the dancers’ cowboy hats, plaid shirts, and cropped jean shorts. The performers also interacted with nearby audience members, even inviting some to dance, adding to the relaxed, fun atmosphere. In “Fairytale,” the music seemed not only to lead the dancers’ performance, but also to overpower it: the interpretation of the song was hokey, though cute, the acting a little unnatural. It was, however, successful for those performers who committed to the over-the-top feel of the bold white tutus and colorful tees.

“Coyotes” stood out for its eclectic choreography, with a mix of jazz, modern, and hip-hop movement. Barrel turns and sexy floor work matched the song and dramatic lighting by Lighting Designer Joseph Seering ’13, and choreographer Ola Canty ’11 sizzled in the number’s opening solo. Canty’s collaboration with Natalie Cameron ’11 for their duet “Ain’t No Sunshine” produced a similarly impressive effect. With their advanced technique and beautiful performance quality, however, Canty and Cameron could have taken a bit more risk with their choreographic choices.

The piece that opened the second act had an interesting pedestrian feel, as dancers grooved to the beat of the song’s heavy bass. Soloist Natalie Cameron ‘11, who maintained both her quality of expression and technique throughout the show, gave the most convincing performance in this number. She even pulled-off a perfect triple pirouette in the midst of the crowded dance floor.

Space was also an issue in smaller pieces. The lyrical number “Time after Time” showcased interesting cannons and beautiful flowing costumes. However, timing and formations were sometimes unclear, perhaps due to the limited amount of room. With only four dancers, the stage somehow felt crowded; a larger space would have done justice to the fluid motions and visual patterns.

Less successful pieces conveyed a disconnect between the dancers’ bodies and emotions, and did little to develop the conventional jazz dance moves. “Locomotive Breath” was well rehearsed, but the movement felt mute when juxtaposed with the song’s shouting vocals, while the dancers’ expressions looked angry or blank. And “My Funny Valentine” was too brief for really any development of the dancers’ movement or emotions.

In general, however, the positive elements of the performances and the show’s organization made for a delightful evening. Instrumentalists Kevin Sun ’14 and Jared Lopez ’14 put attendees at ease as they enjoyed tea and cookies, and a guest performance by the Harvard Radcliffe Modern Dance Company gave an exciting taste of the raw movement in their upcoming performance. The final two dances definitely ended the show on a high note. Flirty expressions and fun floor work stood out in “One and Only,” and there was so much smiling in Company Piece “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” that the audience couldn’t’ help but enjoy itself. While some aspects of the dances could have been improved, the performers in “Smooth Jazz” succeeded in making creative use of their space and conveying the joy they felt in performing.

The Harvard Art Review Dance Board

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