The folks over at the Jazz Arts Society went word-crazy Saturday night at the Department of Commerce Auditorium. Their program on jazz dancing relied far too heavily on vague, long-winded verbal explanations of dances perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. Finally given the floor, four local dance companies told very different stories about the current state of jazz dance.
The Cole-Harrison Dance Company talks of glitter and Broadway and finely tuned craft. For them, jazz dance is both an out-front, let-us-entertain-you sort of thing and a vehicle for emotional expression, as in co-director Edna Long's sinuous, pain-filled solo to "Black Coffee." The Bren-Car Dancers take a breezier -- and far more specific -- approach: Their forte is precision tap, and Lord, how their feet can speak! Whether it's a challenge dance, a quaint duet to a song about Navy recruitment (replete with saultes and swimming arms), or a show-stopping ensemble number, sound is king.
Jazz dance becomes incoherent babbling in the hands of the Joy of Motion Dancers. Their feeble, narcissistic attempts at improvisation and "free expression" look like the kind of stuff most of us do in the privacy of our own living rooms when inspired by a song on the stereo. Thankfully, Melvin Deal and his African Heritage Dancers and Drummers ended the evening on an authentic and overwhelmingly powerful note. "Go back to the root," their wild hips and swinging arms and elastic backs seem to be telling. Jazz is more than an amusement; it's a statement of energy, of existence, of joy.