Jazz Ballet at Marigny Opera House

Marigny Opera House’s “Jazz Ballet” (photos by: Mary Rickard)
Improvisation is the essence of jazz. And the common thread tying three very different dance pieces together in the Marigny Opera Ballet’s upcoming performance is a fresh and spontaneous expression of that singularly American art form.
Now in its third season, New Orleans’ resident dance company has distinguished itself by presenting original choreography in tandem with newly commissioned jazz compositions written and performed live by local artists in the sanctuary of an ancient German church.
“Jazz Ballets,” which runs Jan. 25, 26 and 28, 2018, opens with “Tells,” and engages six male dancers in the intriguing concept of a poker game against a backdrop of foreboding music written by saxophonist Rex Gregory and played by Susan Millar Boldissar (cello), Oscar Rossignoli (piano) and Grayson Brockham (double bass). (Tells is poker terminology referring to physical clues or betting patterns that can reveal the quality of a hand of cards.) Choreographer Kellis McSparrin-Oldenburg, also a company dancer, came up with the idea while playing cards with her family and noticing their eye movements and gestures. 

Marigny Opera House’s “Jazz Ballet” (photos by: Mary Rickard)

She describes her composition as “the poker game that spins out of control.” Starting out friendly, the mood quickly ignites as the men’s competitive natures kick in. Circling the table like predators, going after a player suspected of cheating, and arguing ferociously, they finally collapse in exhaustion.

Oldenburg’s first experience directing an all-male ensemble, she wanted to explore the “hyper-masculine” and primitive actions that cause the game’s disintegration into an “animalist free-for-all.” But cards are only a metaphor for human behavior.
“It’s less about the game and more about their inner dialogue,” she adds. 
Love in many of its variations is conveyed through three duets in “Silk and Smoke,” choreographed by Gretchen Erickson and performed to Russell Welch’s all-string, classically inspired composition for guitar (Leo Forde and Molly Reeves), violin (Karl Kummerle) and double bass (Joshua Gouzy). 
“Erickson graduated the dances from flirtatious to serious and passionately sexual, noting “they are like different chapters in one book.” 
“Wary Heat,” choreographed by Diogo De Lima is reprised from last year’s acclaimed “The Art of Jazz” performance. Danced to the sultry, mesmerizing music of Nutria (Byron Asher, Trey Boudreauz and Shawn Myers), the movements reflect Brazil’s percussive, African heritage through overt sensuality, athleticism and the dynamics of seduction and surrender.
“In Brazil, we put women on the pedastel, glorifying them,” said De Lima who hoped to capture the feminine mystique that “drives men out of their heads.”
For each of the dance segments, the choreographers met with musical composers, sharing their initial concepts. Only when the music was completed did they begin to formulate the movements, incorporating performers’ improvisations. The final presentation is a collaborative effort with every performer artistically influencing the others.
Marigny Opera Ballet Company dancers include Joshua P. Bell, John Bozeman, Gretchen Erickson, Lauren Guynes, Derwin May, Jr. Niklas O. Nelson, Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg, Sarah Noelle Prescott, Lauren Ashlee Small,, Edward Spots, and Kentro Mason-Taylor with rehearsal director Jarina Carvalho.

Marigny Opera House’s “Jazz Ballet” (photos by: Mary Rickard)


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