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Putting jazz through the ringer

The idea for Wowandflutter, came about as most dance pieces do, from a sample of music. But when the composer of that music wasn't interested in being a part of the show, it threw a wrench in the works.

The idea for Wowandflutter, came about as most dance pieces do, from a sample of music.

But when the composer of that music wasn’t interested in being a part of the show, it threw a wrench in the works.

Choreographer Kimbereley Cooper, who has been involved with Calgary’s Decidedly Jazz group since 1989, spent many years trying to convince well-known artist Amon Tobin to work with her.

“He would always say he was too busy or that he doesn’t work that way,” she said.

So she put together samples of the work she had choreographed and sent it to him.

“After that he came to see the work I was doing as legitimate,” Cooper said.

She managed to arrange a meeting with him in a coffee shop in Montreal a while back.

“I was a big fan of Amon Tobin’s music for a long time so it was exciting when he finally he agreed to the project,” said Cooper.

Originally she wanted him to write an entirely original score for the piece, she said.

But something like that would take him a year of work and cost a lot more money than she had to spend.

So instead, she worked with Tobin to choose pieces from his existing body of work.

She made a list of all the songs he had written and ended up with more than 40 hours of music. She whittled down her selection to 21 different pieces, a couple of which Tobin had previously unreleased.

“When he told me he was willing to include stuff he hadn’t released - that was exclusive - I was delighted of course,” she said.

The music draws on a wide range of rhythms, including West African and Cuban beats that Tobin tweaks for an impressive effect.

“The first Tobin tune I heard had jazz elements to it. There were lots of jazz breaks in it,” said Cooper explaining that when Tobin started out as a DJ he would only mix drumbeats that came from existing songs.

“Now he makes his own sounds. He’s become more inventive and more developed as a musician.

‘He’s put jazz through the ringer and this is what came out on the other end,” she said.

Decidedly Jazz often works with live musicians but the musical score to Wowandflutter was so complicated it wasn’t possible, Cooper pointed out.

“With this project we knew it would be a totally different experience,” she said.

“The music may be difficult to perform live but it’s pretty easy to dance and groove to.”

But that doesn’t mean the dancers get an easy ride.

“As a dancer you really don’t get any breaks in this show - it’s relentless for the dancers and the audience,” she said.

The dancers are constantly toweling off and chugging water between sets, she added.

“It’s very physically demanding, very sweaty.”

Although there are some elements of jazz music in Tobin’s score, the type of dance the group performs can’t be considered jazz, said Cooper.

Decidedly Jazz takes a hard-line approach to what constitutes jazz.

“If you’re dancing jazz it has to be set to jazz music,” she said firmly.

It might sound like an obvious concept, but today many jazz dance troupes opt for more modern musical scores as jazz music becomes less favoured by younger audiences.

Wowandflutter is an unconventional piece that is open to interpretation.

“It helps if people go in knowing that there is no story, that they should make their own,” she said.

People have had various responses to the show, calling it “tribal,”“dream-like” and “other-wordly,” Cooper said. And the dancers morph and change several times throughout the show embodying different animals and creatures.

“If the show is about anything, it’s about glimpses of the solar system. And I know that sounds a little crazy,” she said.

The pieces all feature video art in the background, which helps contribute to the ethereal feel of the show.

It is the first time that Decidedly Jazz performs in Whitehorse and Cooper is hoping that the group will attract a diverse crowd to the show.

Wowandflutter appeals to all kinds of audiences, she said.

“The guys that get dragged to the show by their girlfriend, often they say afterwards, ‘Oh, actually I really liked that.’”

“Amon Tobin has composed music for video games before, so in some ways its perfect for teenage boys,” she said with a laugh.

“But Tobin has also composed music for world-renowned orchestras, so really, the show is for everyone,” she added.

Decidedly Jazz performs Thursday and Friday night at the Yukon Arts Centre at 8 p.m.

Contact Vivian Belik at