Decidedly Jazz Danceworks pays tribute to the lighter side of vaudeville with Modern Vaudevillians, the first variety show put on by the dance company.
Audiences can expect an array of acts, including dancing and clowns, at the show that takes place at DJD Dance Centre from April 20 to May 6.
“I think there’s something for everyone,” said Kimberly Cooper, the artistic director for DJD. “It’s a real variety show.”
DJD is a professional dance company that specializes in jazz dance and music, creating original performances with live music. It also offers professional training for aspiring jazz dancers and outreach programs meant to educate the public about jazz.
Cooper joined DJD as a dancer straight out of high school. Over the years, she grew to become a choreographer for DJD and eventually its artistic director in 2013.
“It was kind of an organic process,” she said.
Cooper has largely given up dancing and sticks to doing choreography, simply because there isn’t enough time for her to do both. However, she said it was helpful for her to have a background in both areas.
“For me, these two went hand in hand.”
Having recently presented Juliet & Romeo, Cooper has turned her attention to creating a more expansive production that features numerous kinds of performances.
“It’s a reference to the vaudeville era,” she said.
Vaudeville was largely popular during the ’20s until the arrival of cheap cinema. It consisted of a series of separate acts that often included song, dance and burlesque.
“I wish I had a time machine to go back and check them out,” Cooper said. “It’s been really fascinating to do the research.”
But she also said there was a darker side to this era, such as the common use of blackface.
“It reflected what was going on in those times.”
Modern Vaudevillians is meant to celebrate the positive aspects of vaudeville and what it had to offer its audiences. Cooper said DJD also decided to do a variety show because vaudeville was popular around the same time jazz had emerged.
“It just seemed fitting.”
She described the show as highly collaborative, with a number of guest artists contributing. Michèle Moss, Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg and Linnea Swan have also been invited to do some choreography along with Cooper.
“There are different aspects of their work that I like, and they all have a good sense of humour,” she said.
Cooper is being careful not to give too much away, but she said her show is going to have plenty of singing and dancing. She is even trying to work in a juggler.
“We try to cover all the events in vaudeville.”
The show will also feature clowns, which Cooper said have achieved a rather mixed reputation over the years.
For Modern Vaudevillians, the clowns won’t be wearing noses or makeup.
“People think clowns are freaky people,” Cooper said. “If people are afraid of clowns, they have nothing to fear from this show.”
Modern Vaudevillians is primarily meant for adults, but Cooper said there isn’t too much mature content, so children are also welcome.
At the time of this interview late last week, many details were still up in the air. The fact that so many performers and creative minds are involved means Cooper has had to do her own juggling act.
“I haven’t even seen the whole show yet,” she said. “It’s almost like a person, and we are still getting to know this person.”
For more information, go to decidedlyjazz.com