Jazz company brings new technique to dancers’ rhythm

Alyssa Sparacino

Kent State dance majors rehearse Monday evening for a piece they will perform in “Dance 007: Live and Let Dance” at the end of November. The piece is choreographed by the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project. DANIEL OWEN | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Rhythm is always first. For the Chicago-based Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, rhythm is at the core of the company’s contemporary-jazz dancing technique.

The company was recently on campus for a week-long “intensive,” working with students cast in the company’s piece for the “Dance 007: To Live and Let Dance” concert, which opens Nov. 30.

The dancers rehearsed for three hours a day and were taught a piece by listening to beats, vocals and scatting.

Funding from the Thomas Schroth Visiting Artist Series gave the dance division within the School of Theatre and Dance the chance to bring the company to campus. Melanie George, rehearsal director for the piece, said the company members and the way they dance is “unlike anything else out there.”

“We are always looking, every year, to give students the broadest possibilities,” she said. “We want them to have experience with several choreographers before they leave so they are able to do many things.”

About 60 students auditioned for pieces in “Dance 007: To Live and Let Dance.” George said Jump Rhythm Jazz Project members based their casting decisions only on what they saw during the audition.

“It doesn’t matter if you’ve danced for 30 years or three days. If you can dance, you can dance,” she said.

Ten dancers were cast for the blues-style piece, selected by the company. Brittany Klein, sophomore dance minor, was originally cast as an understudy, but because of casting changes will now be performing.

Klein said the company’s technique was taught through vocals and scatting only, and the company never went through the piece step by step.

During the intensive, she had to master the technique in only two days, which she said was somewhat embarrassing for her at first.

“If one of us felt stupid, we looked over and saw someone else who felt the same way,” she said. “If you feel like you’re going to look stupid, you’re going to look stupid.”

George said there is one significant aspect about the group’s visit. Usually the university will bring companies for the dance ensemble, but with Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, the entire dance program had the opportunity to learn.

The company taught a few classes during its week-long visit on campus and worked closely for many hours with its cast during the intensive.

“When they came in they were very excited, very open and very supportive of our students.” George said. “I think the students had a very enriching experience, because it wasn’t just someone who was there to do a job – they were connecting with them.”

Klein said that by the end of the week the company knew each dancer personally and was able to give individual criticism.

The company knows how to deliver information so that it’s a learning experience, George said.

“These people understand that we are an educational institution,” she said. “Within just the first day they were here, I felt they really cared about making it a positive experience for our students.”

Students not only got the opportunity to work with a contemporary form of jazz, but working with Jump Rhythm Jazz

Project gave them a connection to the industry that they will have throughout their careers.

“This sets Kent State apart from other dance programs,” George said. “This is an internationally recognized program coming to our campus. That’s a big deal.”

For Klein, who has been dancing since age 2, her work with the company is more about the opportunity to perform than the credentials.

“It doesn’t matter if it looks good on your résumé,” she said. “It’s good for character building.”

The basis for all the company members’ work, and the piece they taught the dancers, is “rhythm is always first.”

“Their approach is different because so much of contemporary jazz looks like contemporary ballet,” George said. “Blending tap and musical theater with African rhythms is the foundation of their technique.”

The piece will contrast with more slow-moving modern pieces in the “Dance 007” concert, but Klein recognizes that as something new that people will respond to.

“It’s going to totally shock the audience” she said.

Contact performing arts reporter Alyssa Sparacino at [email protected].