Feeling the Music

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar directs a new program on improvisation at Jacob’s Pillow this summer.  

The founder of Urban Bush Women (below) brings her expertise to Jacob’s Pillow.

Ring shout and hard bop likely aren’t techniques offered at your dance studio, but this summer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, artistic director of Urban Bush Women, will bring these styles of movement and other African-American improvisational traditions to Jacob’s Pillow. 

Improv Traditions & Innovations: From Ring Shout to Blues to Jazz is part of Jacob’s Pillow’s 2016 Professional Advancement series. The 24 dancers—selected through auditions for this program—will help drive how the week unfolds. “I always work from who is in the room,” Zollar says.

The program will dive into various types of music and the dance forms that emerged from each style, such as blues, ring shout (a traditional African rhythmic circle dance), bebop, early R&B and hard bop. “I’m looking at these artforms, where you bring your own individual style and point of view. I won’t be teaching a certain technique; I’ll be asking people to listen to the music and find how they enter into that musical space through the historical perspective of who they are,” Zollar says. She’s most excited to “look at the historical lens of dance’s relationship to music.”

Both her mother and brother are jazz musicians, and Zollar grew up with an appreciation for improvisation. “For anything you’re raised with, you don’t even realize how much or how it’s seeping in. It’s just a normal part of your life,” she says. “It gave me a profound love of jazz music.”

Each day Zollar and the teaching artists will lead a range of movement classes (such as somatic, strength training, vernacular and modern dance) as well as seminars, based on a curriculum that includes readings, film screenings and discussions. Each day will end with a rehearsal with Zollar in preparation for sharing these artistic practices with the Jacob’s Pillow community.

“J.R.” Glover, Jacob’s Pillow director of education, asked Zollar to be the 2016 program director because “she is a connector for what has and is occurring in our communities and how that is voiced through the body in society, in the studio and on the stage. Her presence will charge the Pillow’s air with why embodied inquiry is important and the generosity of spirit we share as a community when dance unites us.”

The program runs June 27–July 10. Dancers will showcase experiences from the program on July 2 and July 9, as part of the free outdoor Inside/Out performance series. DT

For more: jacobspillow.org 

Emily Macel Theys writes on dance from the Pittsburgh area.

Photos (from top): by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy of Urban Bush Women; courtesy of Jacob’s Pillow

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