From left, Duane Lee Holland Jr., Ray F. Davis, Reyna Núñez, Tyedric Hill, LaTasha Barnes, Alaine Lauture and Shana Maria Weaver perform in LaTasha Barnes' "The Jazz Continuum." (Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima)
Having a dance party? Then you need to invite Latasha Barnes and her crew.
Performing this week at Jacob’s Pillow, this ensemble of dancers and musicians, including DJ Britney Brown, had the outdoor stage at the historic dance venue bouncing (literally) to “The Jazz Continuum.”
This work is infectiously upbeat, yeasty brew that has audiences swaying and clapping. But it is also scholarly for its ability to show audience the evolution of social dance forged in the Black community. From traditional African to jazz to lindy to house to waacking, there is a connection and audience can see it for themselves in the work that plays through Sunday.
The thing that makes “Jazz Continuum” so invigorating for dancers and audience is the emphasis on social. It’s about having fun with others – not about being a refined, synchronized ensemble.
In six indistinguishable sections called “Explorations,” Barnes and six other dancers are drawn together – in choreographed circles and lines that give way for the individual to emerge.
Shana Maria Weaver offers a simmering solo. Slow and low to the ground, she draws out the saxophone (played by Christopher McBride). Together, they meld in a way that music and dance should always bond, symbiotically.
Reyna Nunez is the queen of sultry waacking, Duane Lee Holland Jr. punctuates his fancy footwork with cartwheels and flips while Alaine Lauture and Tyedric Hill are towers of the coolest house moves.
Barnes, a spitfire, is pure joy to watch. Dancing with a bright smile that never fades, she surprises with her ability to embody all styles with optimism. One could watch her all day because she radiates hope for the world.
Together or separate, the dancers and musicians do it all with a touch that is light and playful. They banter as they move, demonstrating an honest and respectful rapport.
Moreover, Barnes and her dancers, with a gestural embrace to the heavens, acknowledge all those who have gone before them – creating the dance they enjoy and embellish today. Thus, Barnes gives her party some spiritual and intellectual depth.
Barnes and troupe enhance an already amazing season at the Pillow. Since the pandemic, the dance haven has transformed to accommodate artists and audiences safely by keeping it all outdoors. But the artistic choices have also been broader, embracing dance styles not often seen on the formal stages at the venue where mostly white artists perform.
Thank you Jacob’s Pillow for creating this oasis for all dance and dancers.