On Saturday, December 1, 2018 at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center, JazzAntiqua Dance and Music Ensemble proved itself to be one of Los Angeles’ living art treasures. Celebrating its 25th Anniversary with FREEDOM! JAZZ! DANCE! The music was live, the jazz was great, the spoken word was wise, and the vocals harmonious and bluesy. The woman who guided this incredible company forward is Founder, Choreographer and Artistic Director Pat Taylor whose choreography moved with a musicality and freedom that is rare to see. This night was proof that with a strong leader and artist at the helm, a company will grow, improve and thrive. Taylor is exactly that person and artist.
Jazz was born over a hundred years ago and some say that it was a fusion of African and European music. Others have stated that it was created to express what African Americans were not allowed to speak. It became their voice. According to my research, from African music jazz got its rhythm and “feel”, blues quality and the making an instrument the extension of a musician’s human voice. From European jazz incorporated harmony and musical instruments such as the saxophone, trumpet, piano, and others.
The first work was titled TRUTH, choreographed by Taylor to music by American jazz saxophonist, composer, producer, and bandleader Kamasi Washington and Duke Ellington, who remains one of American’s most influential jazz artists. Through movement with subtle gestures and shifts in dancers’ focal points, Taylor expressed the longing for, the searching for and need for the truth to be known. One saw the journey of that pursuit and the obstacles overcome along the way. The movement at times was pensive, with brief but pregnant pauses and moment of indecision. In this opening work, we got to see Taylor’s extraordinary musicality and sense of a people’s history, especially during the men’s section where she contrasted powerful, fast movement with a slow and persistent female procession along the back of the stage. The men evoked fear, strength and persecution, while the procession said, keep moving forward.
The exquisite cast of dancers who so beautifully expressed Taylor’s vision were Keisha Clark-Booth, Justin Edmonson, Albertossy Espinoza, Tashara Gavin-Moorehead, James MahKween, Sarah Platte, Latrice Postell, Jason Poullard, Autumn Randolph, Stacey Strickland, and Shari Washington Rhone. The Music Ensemble included Ava Dupree (vocals), Paul Legaspi (drums), Paul Livingstone (bass), Derf Reklaw (percussion, saxophone, flute), and Ark Sano (Piano).
Taylor’s ONE OF THESE MORNINGS was a touching love duet set to one of George Gershwin’s classics, Summertime from the 1935 Broadway musical Porgy and Bess. This was a jazz rendition of the famous song arranged by American musician, composer and bandleader McCoy Tyner. Performed tenderly and powerfully by Jason Poullard and Shari Washington Rhone, Taylor again told the story of a man and woman’s relationship without the aid of balletic mime. I recalled a statement that Taylor said during our recent interview, “It’s all in the moment.”
I’LL ALWAYS BE YOUR HAVEN was written and performed by poet, essayist, journalist, editor, publisher, broadcaster, educator and performer of the Spoken Word, Peter J. Harris. Harris performed this declaration of love and devotion to music performed beautifully by JazzAntiqua’s Music Ensemble. Harris performed his writing with perfect rhythm and a dash of humor.
The last work of Act One bore the evening’s overall message FREEDOM! JAZZ! DANCE! There was total freedom in the performances by the entire JazzAntiqua dancers, beautiful choreography that set them into flight, and there was music, song and spoken word that gave everyone in the audience joy and hope for justice and freedom for all humanity. Ava Dupree spoke Louis Armstrong’s “What we play is life” and Peter J. Harris’ performance of his The Ocean is Ours was powerful and inspirational for an entire population. This was not a long work, but it was packed full of the celebration of spirit, and Eddie Harris’s music Freedom Jazz Dance sent the audience out humming.
Act Two opened with a look back to a time of protest and struggle for civil rights in American. The work was titled 1960 WHAT?, choreographed by Taylor to music by Gregory Porter. Taylor had her dancers walk, gather and extend the freedom fist, doing so with great style and choreographic precision. A dancer’s troubled solo lead into dancers gathering before walking across the stage as if marching for freedom. Wonderful movement phrases and solos continued to return to this joining of forces and a driving circle enhanced the movement’s power.
Structured in three sections, BREATH was choreographed by Taylor to text by Martin Luther King, Jr and the music of B.B. King’s Three O’Clock Blues, Brian Jackson and Gil Scott-Heron’s A Sign of the Ages and Peter J. Harris’s Peace Transcends. Taylor evoked a night club atmosphere with sensual partnered social dancing to B.B. King’s music and the amazing vocals of Ava Dupree. Two solos enhanced Jackson and Scott-Heron’s music; one a lyrical expression of the music performed beautifully by Autumn Randolph, and the other a very introspective piece performed with great passion by Albertossy Espinoza.
Harris’s Peace Transcends was performed to the music of Miles Davis’ Joshua (arranged by Joe Henderson) and, although spoken, it had the feel of a sermon being presented in song. There was an amazing and dynamic conga drum solo by Derf Reklaw who then shifts to his lyrical and wistful flute. Taylor’s talent shone through the performances of Keisha Clark-Booth, Sarah Platte, Jason Poullard, and Autumn Randolph.
HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM opened with the spoken word performed by Ava Dupree and featured the incredible talents of the Jazz Antigua/LEGACY Youth Dance Ensemble, proving that Taylor’s hope of preserving and passing along the history of jazz and jazz dance is currently alive and thriving. Choreographed by guest artist Chris Smith to music by Billie Holiday, the movement is fast, filled with sudden deep pliés and includes a wonderful fusion of Afro-American, jazz and contemporary dance styles. These young women performed with clarity and strength well beyond their years, giving great promise for a talent filled future for JazzAntiqua. Those talented dancers included Tiffany Aguilar, Debreanna Helmage, Che’Lyn Lane, Jelyne Lillie, Mayumi Rhone, Shontiera Screws, and Adronni. The text was written by Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Cecil Taylor, and Plato.
The evening closed to energetic and celebratory dancing to Ramsey Lewis’ arrangement of the inspirational Negro Spiritual Wade In The Water. Taylor’s work, with the same title, featured her amazing cast and the Jazz Antiqua/LEGACY Youth Dance Ensemble and she costumed the women in beautiful dresses of creamy orange and white that flowed exquisitely with the movement. The Music Ensemble had us dancing in our seats and featured a truly extraordinary piano solo by Ark Sano. My only complaint about this work was that it was not long enough. I wanted more.
The entire production team of JazzAntiqua deserve a shout out for the professional job of producing such a smoothly run show. The richly colored and varied lighting was by Leigh Allen who not only lit a beautiful show but allowed us to see every move the performers made. The costume which lent a human touch and moved so well with the dancers were designed by Mylette Nora. The visual artists were Yrneh Gabon Brown, Karen Guyot Cheval, Michael Massenburg, and Carlos Spivey. The directors who helped produce the magical sounds from The Music Ensemble were Paul Legaspi and Ark Sano.
Taylor’s message was one of expressing freedom, love, joy, unity and yes, resistance. The latter was, however, the struggle to achieve equality. Pat Taylor accomplished all this without anger or overstatement. As she said, “It’s all in the movement.”
For information about JazzAntiqua Dance and Music Ensemble, click here.
To read the interview with Pat Taylor, click here.
Featured image: JazzAntiqua Dance and Music Ensemble – Photo courtesy of the company.