For its debut New York Season, Jazz Roots Dance Company took the stage at Peridance Capezio Center’s Salvatore Capezio Theater for a two-day, three performance run. Certainly not a new name within the NYC dance community, Sue Samuels is a highly regarded teacher, choreographer and performer, also holding the role of Artistic Director for Jazz Roots Dance Company.
Since 2009 Jazz Roots has sought to bring the classic jazz dance style to audiences in a time when the dance scene is largely dominated by the fusion of styles, commercially-driven work, and experimental performance. This commitment to the classic form was evident in the hour-long Season program, and the audiences’ enthusiastic reception of the performance proved that there will always be a place for the good ol’ classics.
The company is made up of an assortment of seventeen dancers. Though their technique levels vary, they are well-versed in the aesthetic that Samuels teaches, which calls for poised upper bodies, carefully placed arm movements, a mixture of a bouncy, high-energy quality with sleek fluidity, and long, clean body lines.
Opening with Kelly Carrol’s “The Swing is the Thing,” the dancers come out all smiles with jazz hands and a musical theater-like energy. Samuels’ and Carrol’s “Rat Pack” turns the heat up with a sultry, gowned trio rolling their shoulders between slow body body rolls to “Too Darn Hot,” soon joined by an ensemble. A departure from the classic tunes of Billy Grey, Sammy Davis Jr., and Frank Sinatra, Samuels’ work, “Listen” features a trio with dancer Yumiko Suzuki highlighted as a soloist in the emotional, passionate performance to Beyonce’s song by the same name.
“Shaft Revisited” (set to Ellie’s Love Theme/The Theme from Shaft) epitomizes the classic form that Samuels and company keep alive. Dressed in colorful satin nighties, the dancers’ movement is sprinkled with pirouette turns and stag jumps; it is upbeat within the framework of clean timing and body placement. Interestingly, it nods to Samuels’ own roots as it features the original choreography of JoJo Smith, with whom she co-founded JoJo’s Dance Factory in the 1960’s. Today this dance hub is known as Broadway Dance Center where classes across all genres are offered, including Sue Samuels’.
Any jazz dance enthusiast knows “Fever” is an undeniable go-to as the music lends itself to the sultry, sleek style. Set to a rendition by Ray Charles and Natalie Cole, Samuels’ and Judy Emmett’s “Fever” is a revolving love triangle between three gals and a guy, with ensemble work peeling away into fleeting duets.
“The Emerald Forest” (which debuted on the grass by the Hudson River) shows Samuels’ thematic side, taking on a safari/animalistic nature with more full bodied movement, pinning the dancers as creatures rather than solely “jazzerinas.” One of the most captivating pieces of the program is “Blackbird” (original choreography by Bob Fosse, restaged by Samuels) which highlights dancer Bri White as a perpetually off-the floor “blackbird” moving organically from one lift to the next, at one point simulating swimming across the stage, above the dancers’ heads. All the while, the company members flock around her, accessories to their collective journey.
William Daniel Grey served as the Music Director and host (on April 28) for the program, and also performed his original composition, “Frim Fram Sauce” live – including the jazz trumpet solos. After his entertaining number, the program closed with Sameuls’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” comprised of angular arm movements, movement patterns criss-crossing the stage, bringing us back full circle to the jazz technique (turns, kicks, leaps, layouts, and the like) that was brewing in the ’50s & ’60s.
Jazz Roots Dance Company’s 2013 New York Season took place with a Gala and opening night performance on Saturday April 27 (including special guest Jason Samuels Smith) and a matinee and evening performance on Sunday April 28 (with special guest William Daniel Grey).
For more information on Jazz Roots Dance Company, please visit their website and facebook page. To view Jazz Roots Dance Company’s performance reel, please click here.