JUST JAZZ choreography by Robert Desrosiers, Siona Jackson, Michelle Walker, Linda Garneau, Vicki St. Denys, Kari Bodrug, Suzi Taylor and Heather Cornell, directed by Patti Ross Milne, Apr 25-29, Wednesday-Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 2 pm. $25-$38, stu/srs discounts. Premiere Dance Theatre, 207 Queen's Quay West. 416-973-4000. Rating: NNNNN
it's very late on easter sunday night. Most folks are licking their chocolate-smeared fingers and readying their passed-over or stuffed selves for bed.
Not here in an east-end rehearsal space, though, where one coolly determined dancer/choreographer, six high-energy dancers and a funky stage manager look positively resurrected.
No one's complaining about missing a family dinner. These women, all in their early 20s, are actually having fun.
"That's jazz," says Siona Jackson, the artistic director of the Jackson Dance Network, one of T.O.'s first dance companies devoted to the oft-snubbed art form.
"Jazz always explores the feeling first," she continues at a neighbouring fast food joint (the only place that's open). "People think that means no discipline. It doesn't. It requires just as much technique and practice as ballet or modern. But whereas those art forms are self-exploratory, jazz communicates. It shows off."
Jackson, glowing with post-rehearsal charisma, will be showing off along with seven other choreographers in Just Jazz, a showcase of concert jazz dance directed by Patti Ross Milne kicking off this Wednesday (April 25). Last year's show, which marked her company's debut, was a sold-out success. Jackson and Milne are hoping for an encore to build a following for the dance form in the city.
"There's a big community of jazz dancers here," says Jackson. "If you go to dance studios here and in the burbs, jazz is always being done and taught. Yet there's no jazz company in Toronto." Jackson points out that she often meets fellow Torontonians in New York and L.A. who complain about the lack of opportunities.
"I feel I'm the manifestation of a lot of people wishing there were a jazz dance company in the city."
Jackson's piece, Women, which she's choreographed with Linda Garneau and company dancer Michelle Walker, explores various aspects of femalehood, eschewing abstraction for visceral emotion.
"Jazz expresses stories well, and Women explores lots of things I've been going through," she says. "The first piece is smooth, a wake-up call; the second piece is very tunnel vision, about working hard; and the third piece is about a vicious circle, blaming yourself for everything. The last few scenes build that self, to recoup and own oneself and one's craft."
The styles vary. One is hiphop-influenced. Another, choreographed to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker and called Sugar Plum Follies, pokes obvious fun at ballerinas, but with a definite edge.
"We've all done our ballet classes, and at one time or another we all probably wanted to be ballerinas," admits Jackson. "But there are definite limits to ballet in terms of form and frame. With my dancers, I like any choice of body as long as they can make me feel and they have the training. I found with ballet that I couldn't be human all the time -- you're told what to do, when and how to do it."
As far as influences, Jackson names the usual suspects: Graham, Desrosiers (who is choreographing his first jazz dance for Just Jazz) and Fosse. But her real inspiration comes from Michael Jackson, especially from the 80s, before the real weirdness began.
"He's the ultimate entertainer for me. He understands an audience," she says. "He was like the 80s Fred Astaire -- he took the craft seriously."
While she's busy perfecting the 20-minute Just Jazz piece, Jackson is also thinking ahead to presenting a full evening of works. Among her ideas is choreographing Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon. "I love the musicality, the undertones, the subliminal messages," she says, putting her producer hat on to admit that the demographics for the show would be pretty amazing, too. "I'd love to pick it apart and put it all together."