Born from the same improvisational roots, jazz music and jazz dance share a sometimes fraught relationship. In the 1940s, a 30% “cabaret tax” on venues offering “music and dancing privileges” hastened the decline of the big band era. More recently, the mingling of jazz dance with ballet and other forms has sometimes obscured its connection with the music from which it sprung.
So argues performer, musician and choreographer Erin Morris. Over the last two decades, Morris has advocated, both on stage and in the classroom, for the beauty, power and contemporary relevance of jazz and vernacular dance, especially the lindy hop.
On March 25, Morris will debut “Bodies in Jazz,” a new work featuring 10 dancers and six musicians, as part of “No Boundaries,” the 2023 MFA Student Dance Concert at Washington University in St. Louis.
“‘Bodies in Jazz’ is at heart an exploration of how movers and musicians work together,” said Morris, now a master of fine arts candidate in WashU’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences. She explains that the piece, which spans the history and potentials of jazz dance as well as her own artistic evolution, was largely developed through a series of intimate jam sessions.
“While this piece has been crafted in dialogue with social theory, historic archives and movement philosophy,” Morris added, she also “invites the audience to discover their own sense of meaning and participation as they witness and feel. Embodied and vocal responses are welcome during the concert.”
Following intermission, “No Boundaries” will continue with the “The Light,” a new work for 12 dancers by Olin Fellow and MFA candidate Kendra Key.
“My choreographic process prioritizes the artists in a way that encourages authentic and meaningful collaborations,” Key explained. “Together, the dancers and I work as equals to create a space for encountering and caring for each other’s humanity to then produce movement that has the capacity to share life experiences and emotions.
“The goal of each piece is to reach a level of honesty that opens up the shared space for viewers to have moments of opportunity to connect with those artists and their stories,” Key added.
“In times of darkness, we use light, whatever that may mean for you, to find ourselves again.”
Presented by the PAD’s MFA Program in Dance, “No Boundaries” will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25, in WashU’s Edison Theatre.
The performance is free and open to the public. Edison Theatre is located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6465 Forsyth Blvd. For more information, call 314-935-6543 or visit pad.wustl.edu.
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