You won’t find Vicki Adams Willis watching the current batch of dance-?based TV reality shows. She’s too immersed in the real thing.
“I guess they’re making more people aware of dance,” says Willis on the phone from Calgary, where she’s artistic director of Decidedly Jazz Danceworks. “But I’m not comfortable with the competitive aspect. The heart is missing.”
That heart should beat strongly when the company hits Harbourfront as part of A Rocky Mountain High, a weekend-?long celebration of work nurtured or inspired by the 75-?year-?old Banff Centre.
DJD grew out of research Willis was doing at the University of Calgary in the early 1980s. The choreographer was concerned that the elements that had defined the form – specifically, its connection to West Africa – were disappearing.
“Most jazz dance wasn’t being performed to jazz music, but instead to disco – this was the 80s – and pop. It was fun and crazy, but as far from the jazz groove as you can get.”
Willis and the company began exploring jazz dance’s West African and Afro-?Cuban roots. They even spent five weeks in Cuba studying dance and music. Many of their shows were developed through residencies at Banff.
One of the troupe’s highlights was working with Frankie Manning, one of the original Lindy Hoppers, who toured with Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and other jazz greats.
“He was in his early 80s when he came to work with us, and you could see the entire history of swing music and dance in his body,” says Willis. “I wept a few times watching him move.”
DJD’s mixed Toronto program includes excerpts from their work Tinge And Tone – inspired by choreographer Sarisa Figueroa’s obsession with old photographs of her parents – as well as a piece performed in trench coats with a 1950s noir film feel to it.
“Because the company will be performing in a park, there are lots of light and fun pieces,” adds Willis.
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