Jump Rhythm Jazz Project will dazzle jazz and dance audiences

10:40:35 AM CDT - Friday, October 06, 2006

By Shannon Littlejohn

A dancer is a poet/athlete, director of dance Nick Johnson points out, and the Chicago dancers headed to WSU are also their own percussive instruments.

The Jump Rhythm Jazz Project will treat audiences to their exuberant brand of jazz dance on Friday (Oct. 6). The dancers also will lead a dance class at the Heskett Center that morning.

Jump Rhythm

Courtesy Photo
Billy Siegenfeld, right, is the award-winning artistic director, choreographer and performer who founded the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project in 1990. The company will perform at WSU Oct. 6.

Based in Chicago, the dance company is led by award-winning artistic director, choreographer and performer Billy Siegenfeld, who has been widely hailed for creating the jump rhythm jazz technique.

Johnson believes the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, founded in 1990 by Siegenfeld, will appeal not only to dance majors but to Wichita's more mature dance audience. It's a very sophisticated jazz/tap company, Johnson said.

"I think patrons will love it," said Johnson. "Billy has done a fabulous job of putting the jazz dance form onstage. Here is a whole evening concert with that technical style highlighted; it's well known for its syncopation and sexy lines."

Because of increasing popularity among young students for jazz and tap dancing, along with ballet, the timing for bringing the Jump Rhythm dancers to WSU seemed right, Johnson said.

"Jazz dance and jazz music are 100 percent American in their creation and invention," he said. "Both spread like wildfire across the globe."

Siegenfeld and company are classically grounded, Johnson said.

"Certainly he's innovative and created his own style, but he does hail from a very strong background in classical forms of jazz," he said, citing Siegenfeld's work with such classic artists as Gus Giordano.

"He's also immersed as his own artist in the Fosse era," said Johnson, noting Siegenfeld's emphasis on hands, isolated movements and hip action and the roots of jazz going back to Afro-Caribbean slave dances and Latin dances. "It's an art form-- visual poetry where the movement is the drama," he said.

Besides running the dance company, Siegenfeld also teaches jump rhythm jazz, tap and other rhythm dancing techniques at Northwestern University. In 2006 he was the recipient of Chicago's most prestigious dance honor, the Ruth Page Award, given annually to one individual in dance who has made significant contributions to the field.

Siegenfeld's jump rhythm jazz technique is a "rhythm-first" approach that can turn both "body and voice into musically articulate, energy-driven percussion instruments." Dancer Magazine credits Siegenfeld with "inventing the first genuine jazz technique in 40 years." His choreography has been performed by Jose Limon Dance Company, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Joffrey II Dancers, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks of Canada, and JazzCool of the Netherlands.

Jump rhythm jazz classes are taught to the swinging rhythms of jazz and the blues, and to the percussive rhythms of Latin jazz, blues-based funk, and hip-hop. Critics say the technique brings to mind the jazz-driven singing and dancing of such rhythm greats as Bill Robinson, Fred Astaire, John Bubbles, Fayard and Harold Nicholas, Jeni LeGon, Michael Kidd, Carol Haney, Gwen Verdon, Bob Fosse, and Gregory Hines.

The Jump Rhythm Jazz Project's Web site can be found at www.jrjp.org.

The College of Fine Arts Connoisseur Series will feature the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 6, in Miller Concert Hall. Tickets are $16 with discounts available. Call the Fine Arts Box Office at 978-3233 for more information.

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