The community feeling at the Nate Holden Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night was so comfortable that at key moments, often in dead silence, an infant in the house gave salient dance shout-outs. It was the second evening of ‘Dance@The Holden,’ a mini-festival curated by choreographer Pat Taylor, an event that, one would hope, could happen annually. (Friday’s program featured works by choreographers Bernard Brown and Laurie Sefton.) Saturday’s clever pairing was of two complementary, but in-no-way overlapping, Los Angeles dance companies: JazzAntiqua Dance Ensemble and Josette Wiggan Presents.
JazzAntiqua, the noble jazz-dance troupe Taylor has led for nearly three decades, aptly extended its poetic company name into live pageantry addressing the roots of jazz dance. “Congo Square — Love, Libation, Liberation” is a new work to recorded sound by Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, and Yacub Addy and Odadaa! — the latter adding a strong pulsating Afro beat.
At “Conga Square”‘s essence was a tricky juxtaposition that worked: a kind of ‘trading eights’ between a barefooted African-garbed solo dancer, Jahanna Blunt, and Taylor’s company of seven blue-jeans-clad contemporary jazz stylists. In “Congo Square,” Taylor gives form to the premise that American jazz-dance vernacular carries deep African roots. That sounds more complicated than it was to watch. The two clearly delineated forms fit like puzzle pieces, with transitions that melted like butter. At times Ms. Blunt and JazzAntiqua dancers co-existed on stage.
You’ve heard of the walking blues. Pat Taylor is a choreographer of walking jazz. Her dancers get in their minimum daily steps with no trouble at all; for, to be a JazzAntiqua dancer is to move aerobically in the most elegant and refined manner. Even their spacing, as they jazz-walk the stage, is admirable. They walk, they pace, they pause, and then walk again. In black tee-shirts (the men) and tank tops (the ladies) but with skin-tight jeans on all (head kerchiefs on woman), sometimes aided by an arm reaching on a high diagonal, sometimes stopped by a small hiccup of the spine, or a little rest on the hip, sometimes scuttling tricky foot work, these dancers move out. So relentless (and I like it) is Taylor’s walking vocabulary that she even creates romantic pas de deuxs-in-motion. And they’re gorgeous.
Picture Albrecht and Giselle, two separate creatures, walking that weighted walk, long strides on bent knees, linked by a simple hand-hold (and, what is more romantic, people?) They connect that way, then splinter for solo foraying. Then, their backbones have a little conversation. Giselle quivers with a frisson of her spine. Albrecht, in opposition, springs his back in release. In and out and back and forth they alternate: contract-and-release. And this is the wellspring of a good choreographer; it’s the marvelous way Taylor arrives at this; and conversely, the way she leaves it behind, deposited in the audience’s memory.
I never saw dance company ooze as sweetly into a curtain call as the one Taylor staged Saturday night. They danced into it, jazz-walking to the stage apron, then forming a tidy downstage line that morphed into bows before you knew it. So original. Some stunning dancers in this company. All are good — all. But, oh, the men! Sizzlers. The ladies are good too, but they could turn the heat up a notch. They dance too nice. Think Tina Turner: nice … and rough!
Josette Wiggan Presents … faced off four veteran tap dancers with a live-on-stage jazz-music ensemble for high-caliber tapping with gobs of personality. I nearly felt I was watching vaudeville; that’s how well honed and peppered with show-biz nuggets was the array of nine mini tap acts Wiggan & Co delivered. Of course, any dance showcase that opens with a work called “Under Siege” has my heart. And there they were, Jason Rodgers, Karissa Ryoster, Joseph Wiggan, and Josette Wiggen, four tap warriors covering a lot of territory. The solidly built Rodgers, a forceful tapper, still managed a graceful style that did not assault the audience. His shtick of swapping between two men’s shirts — one a multicolored patchwork, the other a plain white dress-shirt — he echoed by swapping dance styles reflective of the two differing fabrics. Very clever and funny in an understated way. Brother/sister act Joseph and Josette reinforced the fascination of shared dance DNA — so very germane in a house that lauds The Nicholas Brothers. Each a slightly built dancer of feathery footwork, Josette, who has balletic bearing, separately soloed in a killer gold-sequined mini with gold tap shoes. Ms. Royster, evincing an old-school tap diva (I’m thinking, Ann Miller), rolled out the glamour poses (‘What, me??’ she batted her eyes in faux modesty after milking it to the audience) … such a great bit.
A projected montage of much-unseen photos of historic Black heroes across the spectrum of politics and the arts added nice weight to an entertaining evening.