Cuttin’ Choreography

Well, it’s high time I start posting interviews from my favorite choreographed pieces that debuted at BluesSHOUT! this year!

Let’s start with this one, which is a direct response to Dexter’s I Prefer You piece from last year.  It’s always a special moment when an artistic community becomes self-referential, isn’t it?  Actually, poking fun at your competitors has a long history in dances with an African aesthetic, and it’s great to see that expressed here.  I particularly like reading how Jenn and Julie worked to make sure this piece had bite, but still remained respectful.  I also wish you all could have been there to see Dexter’s reaction when it was performed!

What did you want to express with this choreography?

Julie: This one was all Jenn’s idea, and I was her happy accomplice. We wanted to cut Dexter & Heriberto’s piece from last year, pushing the concept that they had danced over into the range of clearly-comedic, while also poking fun at/paying homage to Dexter.
Jenn:  I can’t take full credit for it, actually. While working on my puppet piece last year, Jonathan Pechon suggested that I do a routine where I dance like Dexter. I found the idea intriguing, but at the same time, I like to tell a story and/or bring something new to the blues table with my pieces. Going out and dancing like a second-rate Dexter just wasn’t enough. And then Shout happened. After Dexter and Heriberto performed, I found Julie as fast as I could because I knew she would be the perfect partner-in-crime.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

Julie: We tried out 2 different Etta James songs, since we wanted a similar sound, but not identical to the original piece. We ulitmately chose “You Can Leave Your Hat On” because right from the beginning of the song, the guitar sound is very over the top bow-chika-wow-wow, which helps people understand right away that the piece is comedic. Also when we were dancing to the song, we were already cracking ourselves up.
Jenn: The song choice really did make us establish our priorities. The other Etta James tune had a more similar feel to I Prefer You. We went back and forth between the two for most of our first meeting, unsure of which one would make the cut funnier. Words failed us, so we got up, danced, and ridiculousness won.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

Julie: Obviously, we drew most of the inspiration from Dexter & Heriberto’s “I Prefer You,” but we also drew on many other of Dexter’s pieces & piece’s he’s been in. There are direct references to “Even Swingers Get the Blues,” “Hound Dog,” and probably a few others I’m forgetting. And I’m also only half-ashamed to admit that we watched a few Chippendale’s and Magic Mike videos for inspiration as well.
Jenn: We also watched videos of some of his class summaries. “In a Groovy Solo Blues Mood” was a particularly big inspiration for me, and we looked to his masculine movement classes to help with styling. There’s even something we saw him do at Steel City Blues. I like to think of the result as a bit of a game: how many Dexter references can you spot? As for our other sources… the Chippendale videos were a bit of bust, but I feel no shame in what we stole from Magic Mike. We wanted to be as a ridiculous as possible, after all.

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

Julie: We knew we were walking a fine line with this: we wanted to be comedic and poke some fun, but we didn’t want to be mean or hurtful. We also definitely wanted to display good dancing in an interesting choreography. To accomplish our goals, we made sure to get ridiculous and do some silly moves, as well as take a few moves & ideas from “I Prefer You,” but then make them more over-the-top. To ensure quality, we studied Dexter’s movements and tried to recreate the style as much as we could. We spent a lot of time on movement quality and making sure we looked good, again to ensure that our comedy was backed up by actually-good dancing
Jenn: The original piece was used to block out the structure and flow of ours. We picked out the statement moves from it to include in our own. Patterns can be found in anyone’s movement, so we tried to identify and use some of Dexter’s. And, for proper cuttin’s sake, we took a few parts of the routine and tried to make them even cooler. To meet the submission deadline we had to divide up the first 1:45 or so and choreograph them separately, and we each choreographed our own solos. There was a lot of geeking out and analyzing what makes Dexter’s style so unique. A lot. I even grabbed Julie during Steel City’s Blues Clinic just for this purpose. And, naturally, we had to include the underwear toss. It had to be bigger though, closer to a shower. So, we leaked the piece to a few friends and asked them to, um, participate. The thrown shoes, however, were not our doing.

Breaking the Puppet Strings


BluesSHOUT! is the place to be to see what’s new going on in the blues dancing world, and choreography is no exception! I am truly impressed with the craft and the artistry of Jenn in this piece. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seen, almost otherworldly, and there’s a reason for that – Jenn talks about putting an awful lot of effort into gathering sources and integrating them into the blues aesthetic to create the effect she wanted.

What did you want to express with this choreography?

The original idea for this piece came from a work of puppet theater. The puppet becomes self-aware and deals with the realization by plucking out its own strings, leaving it a motionless pile by the end. I loved the internal conflict and set out to express it in a more uplifting way. I still wanted to keep it a little dark, though, so I decided to play both the puppet and the puppeteer.

Why did you choose the song for the piece?

I felt that the idea would be best­ done to a twist on a classic. Everyone and their mother has done St. James Infirmary, plus the song has personal meaning. Typically, versions are slow and mournful. Hugh Laurie, on the other hand, did something much sharper with a beautifully soft piano line at the end. I heard the anger that can come with grief, and yet it still had a lighter resolution. It was very fitting for the struggle I wanted to convey.

What other dances influenced or inspired this one?

There were two main influences: South African puppets and a hip hop dancer named Hampton Williams. The puppets danced in a way that was rhythmic and relaxed, as it would be without bones to get in the way. They also used plenty of hip gyrations for comedic effect. Williams has developed his own style called Exorcist. It has tons of internal conflict manifested externally with fascinating body shapes. I also looked at various jazz and pop routines to inspire even more unusual shapes. In order to keep the piece itself a little twisted I intentionally didn’t look at other blues routines for inspiration. My goal was to find lines and movements from non-blues sources and bring them into the blues aesthetic.

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

I decided to go about this in stages. First I choreographed the routine the puppeteer was trying to perform. It was a literal interpretation of the lyrics using movements inspired by the puppets, and classic blues dances. That was the easy part. I then listened to the song an absurd number of times to plot out the puppet’s arc from awakening, so to speak, to freedom. Next I created a physical manifestation of the conflict: head vs. hands and core vs. limbs. Once that was clear I used my human influences to mess with and disrupt the puppeteer. The fabric tied around my wrists harkened back to the original idea of the piece, and it gave me a physical way to mark my puppet’s victory.