Northwestern University's Jump Rhythm Jazz Project Review - Great Choreograpy and Dance

Northwestern University’s School of Communication and the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Center for the Performing Arts presented “Getting Down, Going Forward”, featuring the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, and the Next Generation of Rhythm Inspired Choreographers, with Northwestern University's guest performers on June 12-13, 2015 in the Josephine Louis Theatre, Evanston. Billy Siegenfeld, Emmy-Award winning founder, artistic director, and dancer starred in three of the evenings outstanding pieces, and dedicated the show as a tribute to the long collaboration between the Jazz project and the University.

Northwestern Guest Performers

Siegenfeld has paraphrased Joseph Cole in writing “the essence of jazz is feeling”, and a torrent of feeling is both demonstrated and evoked by these works, many of which combine humor and pathos with sheer exuberance.


Jump Jazz Ensemble


Much has been written about the “energy-driven” approach of the Project’s dances…they combine modern, modern jazz and even tap dance techniques, all infused with style and many have the dancers expressing uncanny vocalizations, like yoga-exhalations combined with Gregorian chanting…not obtrusive in the least, the sounds form their own melodic line or counterpoint to the melodies, which literally help express the bodily movements, like wind through swaying branches, or the strange sighings of cavorting whales.


Emoting with a Chair


Siegenfeld and Batta as Jimmy and Margie

A unique and extremely gratifying aspect of this group effort is that both the performers and the performances, fail to conform to stereotype…the languid and attenuated bodies of ballet dancers) are conspicuously absent. Certainly all the dancers were strong athletes, but a good number of them were sturdy and virtually corpulent, yet the overall impression was of freshness and vibrancy, and together the ensemble displayed the true range of the human form in the varied aspects of athletic dance artistry.


jazz Energy


There were 10 pieces, all group work except for a charming duet with largely balletic underpinnings, entitled “Jimmie and Margie Do A Dance”, a premiere with text and choreography by Billy Siegenfeld, danced and acted by Siegenfeld and Jump Rhythm Ensemble Member Jordan Batta, with music by Cy Coleman and George Gershwin, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and Ira Gershwin and recorded vocals by Nancy Wilson, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.  Siegenfeld and Batta take turns talking to the audience and each other about their relationship and their dancing, dance together and apart, and the finale includes Siegenfeld, as Jimmy, reciting a poem in a pronounced Brooklyn accent about Margie, about whom he's “crazy”. The duo wear 1930’s style clothes and the pacing and footwork are impeccable.


A Tap Duet


Another elegant duet, “Walk This Way”, was joyously tap danced by two Northwestern University guest performers, multitalented Aric Barrow and the incandescent Susan Morimoto, who also designed their street wear-inspired costumes…Barrow was responsible for sound design (recording by Aerosmith) and choreographed the piece.


It's Your Thing

One recurring theme throughout the evening were groups of performers using chairs…and not as just stage props; they danced on and around them, climbed over and half stood upon them, slid under and around them, all the while gesticulating, miming, and expressing themselves vocally.


Two dancers Engage


This reviewer’s favorite piece was called “The Sumptuous Screech of Simplicity”, to the tune “It's Your Thing” (Do what you Gotta Do, I Can’t Tell Ya Who To Sock It To) with choreography and Vocal Arrangement by Billy Siegenfeld, danced (on chairs) by Siegenfeld,  and ensemble members Brandi Coleman, Kevin Durnbaugh, Peter Hammer and Lizzie Perkins. This extremely high-spirited, rousing and hilarious exhibition rendered an old rock classic reminiscent of The Talking Heads. The performers appeared to enjoy themselves as much as the audience.

The Finale


Photo credit: Johnny Nevin


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