By Jack Wannan
Informal, interactive and inclusive. Those three words perfectly encapsulate the jazz dance performances that took over Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) campus earlier this month.
From Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, The Theatre at The Creative School hosted a double-billing of up-tempo jazz dance performances accompanied by two unique bands. The first performance was from Holla Jazz, followed by Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ presentation. The music from the first show was composed by Sabine Ndalamba, with the second being lead by Rubim de Toledo.
The show gave audience members the chance to cheer, clap, howl and even become performers themselves.
The performance was a part of the Fall For Dance North festival, which returned for its eighth season this year from mid-September to early October.
The show’s goal, according to the festival’s website, was to provide a jazz dance experience that allowed the audience to “lose themselves.”
“The scenes were a dramatic peek behind the curtain of what it is like to be a performer”
The first of two performances that took place during the evening was Margarita, featuring an all-woman cast. The show followed five chorus girls attempting to make it in show business.
Natasha Powell, the director of Holla Jazz, said her inspiration for the title was quite straightforward—the idea came to her while ordering a margarita at a bar, per a presentation given before the show.
The performance was not just dancing; it included storytelling that presented a behind-the-scenes look into the performance through the eyes of the chorus girls. The show started and closed with silent skits, featuring the performers in a backstage setting. They applied makeup, looked in the mirror, shook off pre-event jitters and prepared to perform.
By showing the audience what it’s like behind the curtain, the performance was a dramatic and unique twist on a typical dance show.
“Performers’ solo dance breaks elicited claps, cheers and shouts from the audience”
In another surprising twist, the show also let its dancers showcase their musical talents. Performer Caroline Fraser sang near the start of the show and Madelyn Miyashita later closed things out with a solo performance, sitting atop a changing room mirror and desk set while playing the french horn.
The show succeeded in providing an engaging and exciting performance for the crowd quite early on through the electric atmosphere the dancers had created. Performers’ solo dance breaks elicited claps, cheers and shouts from the audience.
While the massive campus theatre wasn’t fully packed, there was a solid turnout for the final night of the presentation. Those who attended were enthralled by the first performance, constantly searching for the right time to interject audibly with a gasp or a cheer to show their enthusiasm.
Family of Jazz, a performance that was choreographed by Kimberley Cooper from Alberta-based Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, was the second act of the night. The show aimed to provide a mix of different jazz styles, including traditional, afrobeats and blues, merging them into one big family that could be celebrated.
The performers glided across the stage during energetic numbers with joy, swinging their arms in the air and linking up with each other for certain parts of songs. The cast of nine split into much smaller numbers frequently throughout the performance, allowing for duos to shine in the spotlight.
Cassandra Bowerman, who graduated from TMU’s dance program in 2016 and is currently a member of Decidedly Jazz, hoped that attendees could take their own personal experiences away from the show.
“I want them to feel something. Whatever that may be; good, bad, negative, positive, elation, hopefully,” she said in an interview with The Eyeopener. She added that the presentation personally made her feel “joyous, sensual [and] celebratory.”
“Being on stage with the dancers and the musicians, you feel it”
The weekend of shows was special for Bowerman specifically, returning to the TMU campus not as a student but instead as a performer for Decidedly Jazz Danceworks.
“[I have] a lot of memories associated with my time at TMU when I was in school. I think it will be an emotional experience and hopefully, very positive,” she said.
The performance didn’t end after the curtains closed following the second show.
Instead, the crowd was then invited to come on stage and perform alongside the dancers while a live band directed by Rubim de Toledo played in the background. The moment allowed anyone—no matter their age or dance experience—to participate in the show.
“It just really keeps that sense of community alive,” said Bowerman, who joined the audience on stage after the show. “Being on stage with the dancers and the musicians, you feel it. It’s so tangible.”
Dozens of attendees flocked to the stage to take part in this section of the show with little hesitancy. They immediately began to dance in whichever way the music took them.
Maybe the hours of dancing and jazz music that they heard earlier in the evening was what motivated them to participate so enthusiastically.
From start to finish, the evening of jazz dance was an experience catered to the audience. There was no separation between the attendees and the act of dancing, or the artist and the viewers. Through movement and enthusiastic participation, both sides were connected. It was truly a jazz dance for everyone and anyone.