Jump Rhythm Dance Project | Dance | Chicago Reader
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Jump Rhythm Dance Project 

When: Oct. 30-Nov. 2 2014
Price: $30
On opening night, in recognition of Jump Rhythm Dance Project's 25th anniversary, founder Billy Siegenfeld was presented with a small carved basket made from the branch of an olive tree—an apt gift for a basket case. That's not necessarily a criticism; Siegenfeld has always embraced his zaniness and reputation for being bad. He lovingly refers to his patented Jump Rhythm® technique as "the art of misbehavior." The style is a combination of tap, jazz, and swing dance, supplemented with percussive vocals—syncopated shouts and aspirant whispers, nonverbal murmurs and grunts that break the music down to its smallest rhythmic units and impressively replicate its ridges and contours. All that's endearing, and Siegenfeld's dancers have exemplary training. But this retrospective program is riddled with disappointments. No Way Out, a revival of the first piece Siegenfeld devised for JRJP, is a satirical portrait of Broadway, land of tourists and creeps. Two hardened criminals with permanent sneers do a striking tap-comedy routine poking fun at the visitors' silly compulsion to photograph everything. That could be the end; instead comes a band of roustabouts in biker gear who lope around pugnaciously in an endless slog of footwork. It's a cautionary tale: Siegenfeld might break songs into their smallest rhythmic parts, but how about building back up to a captivating whole? Siegenfeld's new 40-minute meditation When Little Enough Is Good Enough might be seen as a portrait of the artist as an unpromising young man. In it, the nutty professor looks back and marvels at his youthful efforts to develop new techniques—a quest he admits to starting by ripping off Isadora Duncan. But he can't quite pull off channeling her. Instead, an encounter with a dragonfly, the story's leading "Zen" metaphor, prompts a partnered sequence that's slow, generic, and fatally inhibited by a back alignment that cuts down on lifts and bends. Oddly, this deep-seated physical grounding seems to have prompted a belief that the dancers are going deep psychologically, an idea reinforced by all the primal noises. Yet the piece ends without a definitive demonstration of the results of Siegenfeld's soul searching, so we have to assume we've been looking at them. Hopefully nobody's still accusing him of being a rebel. —Jena Cutie


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