- July 5, 2017
The scene begins in a foreign cafe with a familiar feel. The animated chattering of restaurant-goers can be heard between notes of a sultry rendition of “Funny Valentine,” and on opposite sides of the room stand two women, who are vying for the attention of the same man.
The room is the aerobic studio of the New College Fitness Center and the jabbering is background noise in a jazz concert recording. But the three performers commanding the “stage” — a taped-off rectangular section of the wooden floor — could transport anyone to the Argentinian dance floors where the choreographer got her inspiration. And they won’t be the only performers making it happen.
The 11th season opener for Sarasota Contemporary Dance, which runs Oct. 13 through 16, will be a collaborative performance. SCD
board of directors President Shane Chalke, and his jazz quartet BE Jazz, worked directly with SCD Artistic Director Leymis Bolaños Wilmott to create a show in which the musicians will do more than just play their instruments.
“We’re actually in their space, working with them,” says Company Manager Melissa Coleman Sperber. “We’re not having them do ballet pirouettes or anything, just very human movement.”
“Jazz + SCD” is a unique dance show in that it will not only feature live music, but the musicians will also be onstage with the dancers instead of below them in the orchestra pit. And if they’re going to be part of what Coleman Sperber calls the “architecture of the stage,”
that means Bolaños Wilmott wants them to move. The result is a show that requires both the musicians and dancers to rehearse their spacing, timing and movement as a cohesive whole.
Chalke will brave some basic choreography in a piece called “Now,” which is a structured improvisation duet between the trumpeter and Coleman Sperber, which Bolaños Wilmott believes embodies the call-and-response characteristic of jazz music.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Chalke says of the choreography. “I feel totally comfortable performing as a musician. I perform 200 nights a year — this is different.”
But it’s been another type of disconnect that has proved to be the biggest challenge: Chalke has had to Skype into the majority of rehearsals from his summer home in Banner Elk, N.C. After seeing how it worked with the “bodies in the space” for their first in-person rehearsal, Bolaños Wilmott says she kept the beginning and middle of the original improv structure but threw out the rest.
Also in the spirit of improvisation, the other three members of Chalke’s quartet have yet to meet, let alone rehearse with, the six dancers in the show. Their first time performing together will be during tech rehearsal two days before opening night — but the company is up to the challenge.
“We’re totally open for it to live and change,” Coleman Sperber says. “We’re not going to know what the show is going to feel like completely until we have those bodies in the room.”
This is all part of the collaboration process that Bolaños Wilmott loves. Her company has done shows with groups such as Jazz Juvenocracy in the past, but she says this will be the first time the dancers will work along side BE Jazz. She thinks the result will be more accessible and appealing to a wider audience. Chalke agrees.
“This is like the gateway drug,” he says. “If we get them there, I think we can get them to come again.”
Because this is only the second time the company has staged a full-length season, Bolaños Wilmott says she wanted to brand SCD as an established company. She’s decided each October show will now feature live music, and she hopes the collaboration will appeal to dance and jazz fans alike, especially because of their similarities.
“Jazz musicians have to be confident and very aware,” she says. “And we’re encouraging dancers to not just move on the 5, 6, 7 and 8, but to be creative and make choices.”
The creative elements are plentiful — a contemporary tango set to a famous jazz show tune, interactive props, including newspapers and bowler hats, and a solo in which half the accompaniment is the dancer’s own singing voice. They manifest in a variety of dance styles, such as deconstructive fosse, dance theater and improvisation.
When asked why she loves collaborations like this, Bolaños Wilmott doesn’t hesitate.
“It fuels me,” she says. “It inspires me.”