“Continuing the Legacy” is an annual concert presented by Orange County based Jazz Spectrum Dance Company (JSDC) to celebrate, preserve and to regenerate the works of Founder Christine Baltes who passed away in 2018. JSDC was founded in 1982 and is currently led by Artistic Director, choreographer and dancer extraordinaire Janell Burgess. I attended an intimate performance of JSDC on Sunday, November 7, 2021 at the AfterHours Dance Studio in Costa Mesa that was simultaneously live streamed, and I was impressed with how strong the six member company looked.
Featured on the program were dances by guest artists Nannette Brodie, the Artistic Director of Nannette Brodie Dance Theatre, and choreographer Joey Doucette, the program creator for the new innovation of Luigi’s Jazz Technique, Jazz Dance Legacy. In addition, it was announced by the host of the evening, Claudia Hernandez Magee – a former company member, that JSDC has just launched Spectrum 2, a pre-professional company whose members may eventually perform with JSDC.
The majority of the seven pieces presented were excepts from longer works and the evening lasted just over an hour which suited the studio setting quite well. The program opened with a flamenco flavored, extremely rhythmic Part 1 of Santana Suite, originally choreographed in 1998 by Baltes and re-created in 2021 by Burgess. Though the posture footwork of the dancers were definitely flamenco, the movement was clearly classical jazz. The company looked well-rehearsed and eager to perform, and one hopes that Burgess will one day revive the entire work.
The performers included the entire company: Janell Burgess, Jeni Jones, Ismael Murillo, Stephanie Maxim, Estelle Verdugo, and Erica Villalpando. The costumes were by Tomo Swan and the music by Santana.
Ever Near at Hand is a duet from a larger work by Nannette Brodie titled Heartland- The Immigrant Song. The is exactly as the title suggests, about immigrants traveling long distances in search of a better life. The duet was beautifully danced, but there was little or no emotional connection between the two performers Alfonso Fuentes and Marin Asano. Ms. Asano is a lovely dancer but she needs to research the physical toll traveling hundreds of miles across unfamiliar lands takes on a person. Her movement, though clean and strong, was far too lyrical and balletic for the subject matter of this duet.
Next was Part 3 of Baltes’s work titled Witness (2011) re-created by Burgess in 2021. The piece was beautifully performed but without knowing the first two parts, I can not write about how it related to the entire work. For example, the section with the three women using red scarfs felt out of place because the scarfs appeared unnecessary and in that vein, the exit of each woman walking slowly off felt too long.We were not clued in to what they had endured or witnessed.
The six dancers, however, gave a powerful performance with special mention to Burgess and Stephanie Maxim, both of whom have a stage presence that takes command of the stage. The other four wonderful dancers included Jeni Jones, Jessie Levasheff (Spectrum 2 company member), Estelle Verdugo and Erica Villalpando. The costumes were by Tomo Swan and the music by Sarah McLachlan.
Torero was choreographed by Brodie and performed very admirably by Ismael Murillo to music from the film “Man on Fire.” It is about what a matador experiences in the ring while facing a raging bull. Murillo did an amazing job considering he suffered a stroke in 2017, and it was great to see how much stronger he is dancing. Kudos to Brodie for working with Murillo to help him recover and to continue performing.
One of the highlights of the evening was an excerpt from a much larger work by Baltes titled Toybox (2000). With hints of Bob Fosse’s work with sensual movement for women in his Broadway hits “Sweet Charity” and “Chicago,” Janell Burgess, Stephanie Maxim, and Estelle Verdugo lit the stage on fire to the song Glorybox by Portishead. Again, this section longs for the entire work to be seen.
Spectrum 2 members Mikayla Flemming and Jessie Levasheff made a wonderful first impression with their performances in Excerpts from Syncopated Style choreographed by Baltes and re-staged by Burgess. The music was “Reggae Man” by John Hanks and the style was definitely a direct tribute to Bob Fosse. Watching these two young performers gave me hope for the future of dance.
The evening closed with the premiere of guest artist Joey Doucette’s The Indigo Swing. In his program notes Doucette states that “Jazz brings a feeling of joy and joy births the movement and expression in the dance.” I felt the joy from the dancers, but I was not overly impressed with the choreography. Perhaps it suffered from the lack of space or it needs time to mature. Right now it does not live up to the potential of this company.
The Costumes for The Indigo Swing were by Tomo Swan. The music was “The Indigo Swing” by Indigo Swing.
JSDC will soon be moving into its own space in Irvine, California and I look forward to seeing what is next for this small gem of a company.
For to learn more about Jazz Spectrum Dance Company, please visit their website.
For more information about AfterHours Dance Studio, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Jazz Spectrum Dance Company – (L-R) Stephanie Maxim, Janell Burges, Estelle Verdugo in Christine Baltes’s Toybox – Photo by Tony Mierzwicki