Zora Feels Good

This week we have a routine that was performed at Blues SHOUT! in 2010 by Damon Stone, Sara Cherny, Dexter Santos, and Elizabeth Tuazon. It’s particularly interesting because it was choreographed in sections by two people, Damon Stone and Sara Cherny, who don’t live in the same city. The way their choreography interacts with each other and the music matches how Nina Simone’s vocals interact with instrumentation in a very compelling way.

One note: Damon references TOBA, the Theater Owners Booking Association, which was the vaudeville circuit for African American performers in the 1920s and 1930s.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

Damon: I really wanted to explore the contrasts — Smooth and languid movement against sharp and angular movement, how different dancers could do the same choreography to the same song but have their own voice, their own style, and then choreography versus improvisation.

Sara: I don’t like this question. 🙂 I didn’t have a particular goal for expression, or story to tell. I just wanted to show interesting/beautiful/unique-within-the-aesthetic movement to a classic song.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

Damon: Nina Simone. ’nuff said.

Sara: Damon chose it. 🙂

What other dances and dancers influenced or inspired this one?

Damon: I’ve been getting more and more into New Style Hip-Hop and eccentric dance especially of the styles from vaudeville and TOBA, and was really interested in pulling ideas from those dance styles and filtering them through a blues lens.

Sara: None, I think, at least not consciously. A lot of my movement has been influenced by my training in jazz and modern dance, but as I become more entrenched in blues this has become less and less the case. If I were to choreograph this routine again today, it would be VERY different.

How did you go about combining your concept, song choice, and influences to create the finished choreography?

Damon: Miracles of modern technology. I had choreographed the beginning of the routine as a custom piece to teach to small group class of female dancers in Chicago. Sara and Elizabeth had really enjoyed the piece and were interested in doing the routine to the full song and when I told them I didn’t have a full song Sara jumped at the chance to finish the choreography. We started talking about it and we came up with the idea of two pieces being performed together with points of interaction and falling into and out of sync with each other. Everything was driven by the song and this idea of contrasts, but given how far apart the members of Zora live from each other, the internet was what made it a real possibility to see this through.

Sara: Lots of practice? I’m not sure how to answer this question – “how do you choreograph?” is I think what you’re asking. And what you do is listen, move around, listen again, and go with what feels/looks good. Sometimes you have images in your head or see a shape you want to represent.

What people might not realize about this routine is that there are two separate choreographies. Damon choreographed the beginning, we split on the middle with me choreographing the women and Damon the men, and I choreographed the end. Elizabeth was a strong assist in my choreography.

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