Decidedly Jazz Danceworks discovers its inner party animal with new production

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The image of a drunken party-dweller with a lampshade drunkenly perched on their head at a party may seem a bit old-fashioned.

Nevertheless, it was one of the ideas — perhaps indirectly — that first inspired Decidedly Jazz Danceworks Kimberly Cooper when it came to choreographing the company’s newest production, Party Time. The piece, set to live music composed by Carsten Rubeling, has a simple premise on the surface: A house party gets a little out of hand as the guests start to reveal their “party animal” personas.

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“For several years, I’ve wanted to make a show where the set came to life,” says Cooper. “You have this book of ideas and when the right one seems to be the right time to make the right thing, I don’t know what the rhyme or reason was for that but somehow it seems like this was the year to do this.”

Cooper zeroes in on the idea of a lamp coming to life and after discussing the idea with costume designer Hannah Fisher who suggested she make the lamp a person. It’s clearly central to Party Time, which has the unofficial tagline ” . . . and then there is the lamp . . . ”

“It started with this idea that there as this lamp who was a character at a party,” Cooper says. “That was the seed idea and from that I started thinking of the trope of putting a lampshade on your head and become a party animal. Those were the two seed ideas that spurred this show last year when I was thinking about it and you jump down the rabbit hole.”

DJD
The cast of ‘Party Time’ pose at Decidedly Jazz Danceworks in Calgary on Wednesday, April 24, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia Photo by Brent Calver/Postmedia /Brent Calver/Postmedia

Featuring DJD’s eight-dancer ensemble, Party Time has various characters interacting with each other as the night rages on and they showcase moments of romance, friction and friendship. But it goes a bit farther by having these characters reveal their spirit ( spirits?) animal within while still grounded in the idea that they represent sort of revelers you might meet, and perhaps try to avoid, at a party

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“The party animals actually do become party animals,” Cooper says. “So we are exposed to characters that have a more human side but also have an animal side. So we have a lion, we have a bear, we have a peacock, we have a lizard and we have a squirrel and we have a character who is part swan, part fox. The bear is the kind of guy that maybe hugs everybody for too long and is really super-friendly but kind of big and bulky and takes up a lot of space and the lizard came from the idea of a lounge lizard that has become much more extreme in the direction that he goes. The peacock is forever preening.”

While the set has a 1930s art deco and surreal feel to represent the jazz age, the music is modern to help capture that celebratory, late-night vibe. Rubeling has composed a lively jazz score that he plays live on stage with Jeff Gammon, Luis Tovar and Andrew Wickenheiser and involves plenty of improvisation. While this may seem counter-intuitive for a dance production that is choreographed, it has become a key element in DJD’s creative makeup.

“It’s live and that’s another part of the equation,” Cooper says. “Jazz musicians purposely train to never sound the same every time they play. Although there are strict guidelines about form and time and feel within that there is always room for improvisation and so the show is never exactly the same. I don’t think any live performance can be the same every time. We’re human, we changed every day. There is a listening and communication that should always be apparent in a jazz-dance show so that even though everybody is a certain set of rules, there is malleability and room to breath and room from improvisation.”

Party Time will be performed by Decidedly Jazz Danceworks until May 12. Visit Decidedlyjazz.com for showtimes.

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