In the program notes for Principles of Pulse, Rhythmically Speaking producers Erinn Liebhard and Heather P. Westerlund write that they’ve expanded the production, which premiered last year at Bedlam Theatre, “beyond jazz dance vernacular to explore jazz’s most basic driving principles: dance based on rhythm.” True to their word, the two young producers have put together a wonderfully diverse mix of traditional jazz dance, more experimental forms, tap, improvisation, Afro-Cuban-inspired dance, and West African dance mixed with beat-boxing.
Interspersed between the acts are little demonstrations, where the choreographers give mini-lessons about their particular styles. Tap extraordinaire Ellen Keane had the audience practice call and response, with the audience repeating the increasingly complicated rhythms she would stomp and clap for us. Heather P. Westerland gave a demo on improvisation, which she said could be used in the development of a piece, or could be used in the performance itself in the case of structured improv. (Erin Liebhard’s piece Did I Do That? utilized both kinds of improv.) Finally, Kenna Sarge’s group gave a demonstration on polyrhythms, where the audience once again attempted to clap in rhythm (mostly we failed, but had fun doing so).
I really appreciated the prominence that music played throughout the show. This was especially the case in Kenna Sarge’s piece, RhythmBox, where the dancers were literally jumping between playing the drums and dancing, with Terrll “Carnage” Woods’ beat-boxing underlaying the West African rhythms.
The dancers in Jeffrey Peterson’s a ritmo also let the music live in their bodies. Peterson chose some wonderfully sultry music by SMV and Barrio Jazz Gang, and the dancers seemed to be having a lot of fun as they swayed their hips in their ruffled skirts. They slid their bare feet along the floor, flicked their wrists, created diagonals with their bodies, and leaned on each other in what looked like a fantastic dance party at a beach cabin. The dancers really owned the music, and it showed.
Even in Jennifer Glaws’s Breakable Walls, which featured experimental jazz mixing by Nathan K Rockswold, the choreography let the music take the lead. While Rockswold’s mix of Styrofoam and Pan Sonic may have been less accessible than some of the other musical selections of the evening, Glaws let the trippy experimentation of the music influence the piece. She worked well playing with tempo, as the dancers became like pendulums with shifting weight as they moved about the stage.
Co-Producer Liebhard choreographed one piece in the show, but where she really stood out for me was as a performer. The young dancer is simply a joy to watch. She has a stage presence that radiates, and the lines she creates with her body are just gorgeous. While I hope she continues to develop her art as a choreographer, I would be disappointed if she didn’t also continue do dance with more local companies.
Note: Before the performance, Lighting Designer Lindsay Woolward made an announcement that the show was dedicated to Jeff Bartlett, former artistic director of The Southern Theater and current Dance Community Liaison at the new Cowles Center for Dance and Performing Arts, who was focusing lights in a Genie lift on Thursday when the lift fell over. For updates on Jeff, see CaringBridge.com.