Jump Rhythm Jazz Project -- the Chicago-based dance company's name alone immediately reveals a sense of their style. Sure, one expects to see certain classic Jazz and tap dance elements and musical rhythms: syncopations, downbeats, a swing feeling in energetic movements. But there's much more behind the mission of the group to be presented at the Aronoff Center's Jarson-Kaplan Theater on Friday and Saturday by Contemporary Dance Theater. Engaged in multi-tasking roles as JRJP's founder, artistic director, choreographer and dancer, Billy Siegenfeld covers all that jazz and more. He cuts to the heart of Jazz-based American rhythm dancing. Siegenfeld views rhythm as the most basic element of dance. So fundamental is this belief to his work, he actually developed his own technique that permeates his signature style.
Rhythm lives in our bodies -- in our breathing, our pulse.
Rather than solely memorizing steps in a linear fashion, his dancers must learn to move "from the inside out." Paralleling the exuberant dynamics of Jazz, movements become purely expressive as the body transforms itself into an instrument for rhythm and musicality. Emotion and energy felt inside rise to the surface and flow outward to the head, hands and feet, yet a certain "groundedness" -- or sense of weight and gravity -- is maintained to maximize rhythmic impact. Unlike more balletic techniques, percussive articulations travel through the whole body more freely and democratically.
Critics have praised Siegenfeld for developing the first genuine Jazz technique in 40 years. He and longtime associate Jeannie Hill have been compared to a modern-day Fred and Ginger, based on their early touring chamber Jazz musical, Romance in Swingtime. Technique aside, this dance style derives heavy inspiration from such legends as Fred Astaire, Bob Fosse and Sammy Davis Jr.
The oddly-titled "The Sorrows of Unison Dancing," one of the works the company will perform this weekend, features an expected juxtaposition of literature with the movement, incorporating texts by Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte.
Dance should be a joy to watch -- and, ideally, to perform. It's why we keep returning to those good old American musicals -- and a compelling reason to check out Jump Rhythm Jazz Project's innovations in tap and Jazz.