New Space Opens Up Creative Possibilities for Decidedly Jazz Danceworks

By Shawn Newman
  • Decidedly Jazz Danceworks rehearsing in the new DJD Dance Centre / Photo by Noel Bégin
  • Decidedly Jazz Danceworks rehearsing in the new DJD Dance Centre / Photo by Noel Bégin

The Calgary-based contemporary jazz company, Decidedly Jazz Danceworks, inaugurates their new space with a new full-length production, New Universe, by Artistic Director Kimberley Cooper.

Part nature show, part Hieronymus Bosch painting, Cooper’s choreography is driven by the musical rhythms of international powerhouse William Parker. Together, Cooper and Parker have developed an energetic and thoughtful work that is texturally rich and complex, both musically and choreographically, and draws on a host of jazz-related genres. The intricate tapestry of sound and movement highlights the remarkable individuality of the company’s dancers, who each have a unique and personal sense of style and groove and a richly nuanced understanding of jazz, in both mind and body, that Cooper masterfully marries with her own grounded and dynamic choreography.

New Universe speaks to the myriad creative possibilities open to the company as it inhabits its new location, which further secures Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ (DJD) place in both the local and national cultural scenes. Having held off on touring for the last few years to focus on the transition to the new building (and the transition from long-time Artistic Director and Co-founder Vicki Adams Willis to Cooper mid-2013), the company marks an important turning point with this move. The new facility has a 230-seat theatre as well as seven studios, an increase of four from the previous space, allowing for an expansion of various programs that DJD offers and creation/rehearsal possibilities.

Packing and moving almost thirty years of archives has also given DJD an opportunity to reconnect with its past. Objects found are touchstones for the company, reminding them of where they have come and their mission to maintain the rich history of the form while renewing its future.

Willis notes that audition resumés and headshots from the current creative team gave them all a good laugh and a moment to reflect on past company members. A 1999 Time Magazine photo of lindy hop trailblazer Frankie Manning, then eighty-five, wearing a DJD t-shirt, reminded everyone how transformative their work with him had been. As well as letters of praise, like one found from musical innovator and icon Dave Brubeck, who Willis says gave “wonderfully positive comments about the musicality and rhythmic integrity of the work we had created to his music.” Many more pieces of DJD’s history unearthed in the move have been donated to the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.

But the new building is more than just a home to the company and school. Part of the company’s mandate with the new space is to further strengthen their already robust relationships with the Calgary arts scene and community at large. Regular users of the DJD Dance Centre include numerous smaller dance and arts organizations, the Dancing Parkinson’s program, partnered with the University of Calgary, and Anne Flynn, as well as non-arts community groups. This vital arts hub has been long anticipated by both the company and the community and will further integrate DJD into the vibrant Calgary landscape, helping to make dance, and dancing, more accessible.

New Universe runs May 27 through June 12 at the DJD Dance Centre.

Three reasons to visit the DJD Dance Centre and to see New Universe:

  • The dancers: This ensemble is arguably the most diverse group of artists in any professional dance company in Canada. Some of their individual expertises include swing, contemporary, hip hop, Afro-Caribbean, salsa and more.
  • The score: Parker’s composition for the piece has Cooper jealous that she’s not performing.
  • The view: The theatre and studios look out over 12th Avenue SW and the Calgary skyline. (Don’t worry, the theatre is equipped for full blackout during performances!)
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