Jazz Spectrum Dance Company’s “The Full Spectrum,” was presented Sunday, June 27th at 2:00, live and streaming from the Curtis Theater in Brea. Gifted Artistic Director Janell Burgess has produced an apt appreciation in tribute to company founder Christine Baltes. In an effort to keep the teachings and choreography of Ms. Baltes in the public eye Ms. Burgess brought us an afternoon of dance featuring her company along with contributions from Nanette Brodie Dance Theater and Dancer/Choreographer, Michael Montoya.
Hosted with great sincerity by Wendy Ellis and Nicole Baltes the presentation began with “Santana Suite” a three-part work originally conceived and choreographed by Christine Baltes and now re-created and co-choreographed by Janell Burgess. “Jingo,” by the inimitable Santana was choreographed in 1998 but this was it’s premier and the first work of the night. The Latin-Rock music sets us up for a party but the choreography confuses the message as the dancers mimic Spanish dance movement, complete with red shawls tied around their waists, elementary hand clapping, castanet gestures, and Flamenco poses. The mixing of cultural styles, of music and dance can and often does work beautifully but this unfortunately does not. Many of these dancers do not have the technique or sophistication to get the flair of Spanish Flamenco dance and the choreography seems ambiguous and simplistic. With the electric guitar, the steady beat of the timbales and congas another approach to the piece might be stronger. Costumes of long pants slit down the side by Tomo Swan are distracting. The company dancers were Janell Burgess, Lauren Henry, Ismael Murillo, Stephanie Maxim, Estelle Verdugo and Erica Villalpando.
Part Two “Samba Pa Ti” danced by Janell Burgess was a vast improvement as she is a dancer par excellence. In a plain black dress while manipulating a white scarf she makes the most of the music using her supple back and high extensions to pull out the sexy tension of the samba guitar. The symbolism of the scarf was obscure but watching her dance was a joy. Again the concept and choreography were by Christine Baltes with re-creation and additional choreography by Janell Burgess.
The final part of this Suite “Treat” was conceived by Ms. Baltas and choreographed by Janell Burgess and Michael Montoya. We are told that this is a “work in progress” which is good to know since it had an under rehearsed unfinished feel. The basic choreography was not well executed but some good ideas came through and with more time and work there is something here. The dancers were Estelle Verdugo and Stephanie Maxim.
Nanette Brodie Dance Theater interpreted the cool style of Miles Davis’ “In Waiting.” Four female dancers in long maroon dresses do their best with the evocative mood set by Davis and with Brodie’s choreography but sadly neither succeed. Brodie has given her dancers work beyond their level and they struggle to keep up. Perhaps with more focus on the iconic score, manageable steps and interesting staging this could be something lovely but as it is, this was an unsatisfying piece. The dancers were, Brandy Factory, Priscilla Gonzales, Jana Matthews and Erica Villalpando.
Ms. Brodie’s take on “It Will Be Forever” another Miles Davis classic based on “When I Fall In Love,” does not fare any better. Dancers Jana Matthews and Ismael Murillo are in over their heads both choreographically and emotionally. A clichéd love duet can still work but the technique it requires to make something great out of something pedestrian is beyond these two dancers. Both struggle with balance and line leaving out any possibility of performance. The lifts were heavy and effortful and both dancers need to remember to continue the line of their body all the way through their feet. Again, Brodie’s choreography can improve by working within the limits of her dancers. Disappointing though this was, Brodie’s choice of music is inspired which leads me to believe better things will come.
Using the music of “Portishead” Christine Baltes choreographed a provocative piece, which again has been re-created here by Janell Burgess. “Toybox” features three chairs and three beautiful women working those chairs. This is well rehearsed, sexy and fun. Attention is well paid to the musical accents and it’s sultry lyrics. We have seen chair choreography before but when danced by these women we are entertained all over again. Janell Burgess, Camille Cardinali and Stephanie Maxim are the fierce dancers.
In ode to fellow choreographer Donnette Heath, Michael Montoya uses the music of Sting to illustrate his deep loss. This is a simple solo carried by the emotion of Mr. Montoya who infuses every move with intention and palpable love. He keeps the choreography perfectly within his limits. His excellent line and intimate knowledge of the music lift this piece out of the ordinary. We feel his pain and perhaps we feel a glimmer of light as he works his way to the other side of grief.
The remarkable Janelle Burgess is featured throughout the final three-part segment. Originally conceived and choreographed by Christine Baltes each piece is re-created and choreographed by Ms. Burgess. The concept here is “the transcendence from the physical plane to the spiritual” and this idea is very well in evidence here. With moving music by Sarah McLachlan we feel the questioning, wonder and despair one might feel facing such a reality. Janell Burgess fully embodies this spirit. She dances with an abandon only the most accomplished can render. She is the focus dressed in red as five dancers in gray accompany her on this journey. Burgess has choreographed lyrical movement that these dancers can accomplish with ease while she pushes her moves further and transcends the physical to the spiritual. With the recent loss of Christine Baltes this work has emotional heft and left me deeply moved. This is what this company is capable of and is what I hope they aspire to. Ms. Baltes would be proud.
Music for the finale is “Mercy,” “Witness,” and “Tumbling Through Eternity” all by Sarah McLachlan. The five supporting dancers were Lauren Henry, Jenni Jones, Stephanie Maxim, Estelle Verdugo and Erica Villalpando.
All costumes were by Tomo Swan. Adequate Videography by Shawn Vitale was filmed live at the Curtis Theater in Brea.
To visit the Jazz Spectrum Dance Company website, click HERE.
To visit the Nannette Brodie Dance Theater website, click HERE.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Jazz Spectrum Dance Company – Janell Burgess in “Santana Suite” Photo by Tony Mierzwicki