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The Jump Rhythm Jazz Project continues the tradition of Hollywood's greatest dancers.

Visible Rhythms

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For those who've been enjoying Ken Burn's "Jazz" on PBS, consider attending Jump Rhythm Jazz Project at UR Jan. 23. The company, led by artistic director Billy Siegenfeld, makes jazz rhythms visible. Siegenfeld's eight-member company provide the brass, the percussion, and vocals of this pure American music. In much the same way that jazz musicians "talk" to one another through their instruments, Jump's dancers carry on a stylized conversation reminiscent of earlier jazz dancers such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The similarities are deliberate. Siegenfeld grew up in a household where he often heard recordings of Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson; he also regularly caught Astaire musicals on television. He began as a jazz drummer in fourth grade, but maintains his jazz influences were not academic, but rooted in Hollywood, "in a vernacular movement to jazz rhythms." Unlike most of the jazz dance taught today, which is based in ballet, his dance is a "kind of urban folk dance." He's not interested in imitating predecessors such as Astaire, Rogers or the Nicholas brothers, but in "continuing the tradition without returning nostalgically to it." He finds that most choreography is based on dominant rhythms. Jump focuses on syncopation, downbeats and offbeats, "accents that alternate between landing squarely on the downbeats and popping up between them with a sense of perfect surprise." Too many of today's trained dancers, he believes, "respond to movement on a visual level, and not an emotional level." He doesn't want audiences to be awed by the "tricks" and virtuosity of the performers. Rather, he wants to establish a kinship that comes about when dancers feel and share the beat inside them. "It's an energy thing, not a shape thing," he says, "it's a felt sensation, whose outward manifestation is a shape." In short, he wants the dancers' exuberance to similarly charge the audience. The program features nine works primarily choreographed by Siegenfeld, which include his own vocal arrangements as well as recordings by Thelonius Monk, Count Basie, Rogers and Hammerstein, and others. "No Way Out" showcases the company's distinctive style of sharp rhythms and exploding accents. The blues influenced "You Make Me Feel So Young" shows soft shoe and double takes, moves borrowed from classic movie musicals. Samba, swing, funk, scat and tap appear in the other works, all created between 1994 and 2000. With the resurgence of swing dance, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project couldn't have found a more opportune time to offer its sophisticated and joyful repertoire. But whereas the swing dance craze may have waned, Jump, in its 10th year, aims for longevity. The program honors its legendary predecessors and builds upon those achievements, in syncopated rhythm, of course.

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