A Nov. 5 Style article incorrectly referred to a choreographer-performer as Bill Siegenfeld. Siegenfeld goes by the name Billy. (Published 11/13/04)
When people think about jazz dancing, they imagine hip isolations, slinky movements, sex appeal. Choreographer Bill Siegenfeld has stripped jazz dance back down to its essentials -- rhythm and swing.
Siegenfeld has perfected his own technique for teaching jazz through his years on the faculty of Northwestern University. His professional troupe, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, took his rhythm-centered approach to the stage Wednesday night at George Mason University's Center for the Arts.
The dancers play around, just as good jazz musicians do. They punctuate musical accents using their bodies as instruments, sometimes on the beat, sometimes off in a syncopated rhythm. The result is a technique that looks less flashy but imparts a visceral and visual feel for the rhythmic complexities of the traditional jazz music accompaniment.
It was refreshing to see movement that wasn't meant to look good. In "Too Close for Comfort," the dancers' rigid hands hammered out staccato bursts of what looked like air piano playing by the possessed. Throughout the show the dancers rarely were carbon copies of one another, even though most group segments were in unison.
Siegenfeld's technique encourages each dancer to feel the beat from within, allowing for personal differences of expression. His premiere "Sorrows of Unison Dancing," performed to original music by Christian Cherry, plays with this idea. In the piece a ballet master strives to create a class of clones, admonishing them to "look the same" and "feel the same." Ultimately he fails to stifle the bubbling enthusiasm of his students. The infectious energy of one passes to the others, leaving the ballet master the odd man out.
The other premiere on the program, "The News From Poems," begins with a long solo by Siegenfeld. Lonely at first, he mimes the action of sifting through sand on the beach until things turn nightmarish. He begins throwing imaginary bombs, then making sound effects for the blasts, and it feels like we have become privy to his unstable mind. The company comes out wearing khaki-colored T-shirts and pants and looking very militaristic, forcing Siegenfeld to don a field jacket. The end is ambiguous: To the nostalgic "Manhattan," by Richard Rodgers, the women wear skirts and dance smoothly with partners, acting as if nothing is amiss.
"No Way Out," the last piece on the program, highlights the company's ability to hit beats square on, pulling away slowly, only to accent and syncopate in new ways. The company combines vocalizations, exhalations on the beat and character acting to the music of "Broadway" by Henry Wood, Teddy McRae and Bill Byrd.