Family of Jazz ran from April 28 to May 10 at the DJD Dance Centre in Calgary.
Family of Jazz by Decidedly Jazz Danceworks (DJD) is an explosion of sparks; it is smooth and slick and sexy, and it is fun and frothy. That said, there are a few aspects that took away from my experience watching it on opening night, like its length and the loss of energy and momentum I perceived in the second half. The first act bursts with life and compensates for the dragging second act, but audiences leave the theatre wishing that the production could have ended on the same note that it began.
This production was DJD’s first full performance since emerging from the pandemic. The performance included eight dance artists onstage and a live band, with a bass, percussion, drums, trombone, trumpet and singer, all creating and celebrating together.
It all starts with a dynamic piece entitled Oh Yes, choreographed by Kimberley Cooper, that is crackling with vibrancy. The dancers move in big motions, costumed in sparkles and sequins. It is an amazing start, and as the dancers slide and groove to the sound of the trombone onstage, we cannot help but feel ourselves likewise brimming with energy and soul. This piece is down in the groove of jazz and with every step is celebrating the joy of being together.
What is clear, as soon as the first note drops, is how talented the dancers are. The company includes Alisha Ahmadi, Thys Armstrong, Scott Augustine, Cassandra Bowerman, Sabrina Comănescu, Kaja Irwin, Natasha Korney, Catherine Hayward, Shayne Johnson and Jason Owin F. Galeos. They all perform with energy and enthusiasm.
Choreography by Lisa LaTouche is next in Straight Up N’ Upswing, and most of the dancers are tap dancing. Their white costumes allow us to focus on the rhythm of their feet. Paired with the outstanding vocals of Karímah and the drums in the band, this piece is all rhythm and attitude. We feel the pulse that beats in our bones.
LaTouche also puts her choreographic touch on the next number, Freedom Ain’t The Same For Everyone. Another rhythmic number, this piece has a little samba added.
Out From Under has the dancers costumed in deep greens and yellows, in fitted pants and tops that feel like autumn. This two-part piece is choreographed by Brandi Coleman who has the dancers vocalize their breathing. The movement is popping and playful and a little bit flirty. The fluidity in this number is fun to watch.
LaTouche is back with As We House Wu, featuring house choreography by dancer Galeos. This piece elevates the entire production. Galeos leads the number, his movement charming and quick, his feet a blur and a fedora on his head. His style of dance is captivating and our eyes are drawn to his movement. The performance captures the vibrancy of the beginning; there’s a playful relationship between the dancers and their movement.
In Groove Theory, singer Karímah joins the dancers for a number that features swing and some follow-the-leader choreography, conceived by Melanie George. The dancers are costumed in pinstriped shirts and create a circle of movement. It’s a captivating number, watching the dancers swing and sway. Korney, in particular, is such a smooth dancer. Her movement is mesmerizing and the audience is drawn to her like a magnet.
The final number in the first half is the most synchronized. Choreographed by Cooper, Drop Away has the dancers back in white tops and dark pants. The movement radiates through the dancers like waves, slick and smooth. The choreography gestures at a jazz that oscillates in the body.
The second act of Family of Jazz is entirely choreographed by Cooper. It digs a little deeper into the movement but lacks a little of the vibrancy and joyfulness of the first half. The first two pieces, North Sea and Trouble Of This World,are both slow and smooth and feature a bit more swing. The dancers are costumed in shiny scarves, but the movement is mellow. The energy is so dialed-down that when we get to the piece called Vila Dos Lobos,in which dancers pull out shakers and drumsticks that they throw to each other, while it should come off as playful, it falls a little flat.
As we move into Terra, Brother and Stop Breaking Down Blues, the movement stops distinguishing itself. The pieces start to blur together and the energy becomes a bit lacklustre. It’s only when we get to Where You Gon Run, a piece with music and lyrics composed by Karímah, that the energy of the show picks up a bit. This number is fast and has a lively pulse running through it.
The full company comes together again for the final piece, As Long As You’re Living,dancing to music by Julian Priester and Tommy Turrentine, with lyrics by Abbey Lincoln. This one is fast and fun, although it’s a disappointment that the sequins of the first piece don’t reappear. I’d have also liked to see all the guest choreographers come together for the last piece.
With a running time of 180 minutes including intermission, Family of Jazz is much too long. There is lively, vibrant joy in the first half that fizzles out in the second. The last half feels a bit indulgent and lost some of my attention as a result. But the dynamic, diverse first act is a triumph. It’s like putting a candy in your mouth — the sudden burst of flavour in the beginning isn’t sustainable.
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