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Your weekend arts forecast: Jazz and dance improv for Valentine’s Day

Bill DeYoung



Dancer Alex Jones and musician Jeremy Carter. Photo: Denzel Johnson-Green.

“Jazz Theory,” which Alex Jones is mounting Friday and Saturday at thestudio@620, is an “event,” he insists. It’s not a “show,” nor is it a “performance.”

Jones, a professional dancer and choreographer, is the venue’s dance-artist-in-residence. He’s well known in the area through numerous innovative performances with the University of South Florida dance company, and with his own Project Alchemy.

Dancers from that group, including Jones himself, will provide the movement alongside – and onstage with – saxophonist Jeremy Carter and his quartet.

It’s a collaborative venture that Jones has been planning for many months. He remembers going to see the Carter Quartet perform in a St. Pete Beach club.

“They play the melody together,” Jones says, “and all of a sudden they stop and there’s an improvisation moment. They don’t talk about who’s going first – it’s a feeling. Which then made me think ‘OK, let me go back to dance and figure out how this applies to us in our world.’”

Right away, he could see certain similarities. “A lot of my choreography, there’s set things and then there’s structured improv. And we don’t talk about who’s going first or whatever. Yeah, we set some parameters, and maybe they set some parameters too, but for the most part there’s a lot of listening. And a lot of non-verbal communication that’s important.”

At grad school, he explains, he’d been learning about a dance concept, “‘ritual and possession.” And naturally, he applied it to the Jeremy Carter Quartet. “In the composition of jazz music, it’s the melody, before they have their improvisational moment, that’s their ritual. And then their possession moment happens in their improv. Where they go someplace else. And that’s when you start to hear beautiful things happening.”

So he asked himself, and his dancers, “’What’s the moment we lose ourselves in the improv?’ You’re letting the music kind of help you to get lost in whatever movement you’re doing, but this conversation’s still going.”

At a recent rehearsal, Jones says, “Jeremy was playing, and he was almost like a pied piper, in a sense, and then the roles switched. And he was no longer leading the dancers, he was actually being informed by them, through his improvisation.”

In other words, there’s no script for “Jazz Theory.” It’ll go where it goes, when it wants to.

“What we’re trying to do with this show – um, this event – is make many possession moments within each song, with the hope that the audience will come up and dance. Uninvited.

“I’ve been to jazz events in St. Pete, where people are moving. And I’m like, I want that. So much. I want to get you up, I want to get you moving.”

To that end – and because it’s Valentine’s Day weekend – the stage area at thestudio@620 has been converted into a dance floor, with subtle creative lighting. Visitors can sit at tables for two – or for four – and there’s even a comfy sofa.

Catered appetizers, wine and beer will be available. Tickets and additional info here.

The ‘Swedish’ invasion

The Raschèr Saxophone Quartet. Photo provided.

The Swedish pop phenomenon known as ABBA has been defunct for nearly 40 years, and apparently there’s a lot of nostalgia for those great old songs (Bjorn, Agnetha, Benny and Anna-Frid, of course, made practically perfect pop records like “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me Knowing You” and “Mamma Mia.”).

This week, it looks like Pinellas might have finally overloaded its strained tribute-act circuits, because there are TWO phony foursomes here over two consecutive days: “Almost ABBA,” Friday at the Central Park Performing Arts Center, is sold out, while “ABBA Mania,” Thursday at the Mahaffey Theatre, is not.

Still the all-time champion of fake ABBA acts: “Bjorn Again.” No word on when they’ll next come through.

Sax and two cities

Stuart Malina is conducting The Florida Orchestra this weekend. Guest performers for the “American Masters” concert are the four members of the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, who are based in Germany. The Americans being referenced are the composers – the performance will include Philip Glass’ extraordinary 1995 composition Concerto for Saxophone Quartet and Orchestra (Glass actually wrote it for the Raschers), plus An American in Paris (that’s George Gershwin, and the sax quartet will play on that one too), Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture, and Symphony No. 1 from Texan Christopher Theofanidis. The concert is Friday (8 p.m.) at the Straz Center, at Sunday (7:30 p.m.) at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Both include a pre-show conversation (one hour before curtain). Tickets are here.

And now, this

Standup comic and actor Marc Maron found his niche with the WTF podcast, on which he interviews comics, actors, musicians and writers (and even President Obama) in his L.A. garage – he’s been doing it for 11 years, and it’s estimated that he gets six million downloads every month (through Stitcher Premium). This wry, witty comic has a way with a conversation. He’s on what he calls his last-ever standup tour, and it brings him to the Straz Center Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are here.

It’s a weekend of returning favorites at the Palladium Theater. Vocalist Whitney James and her trio are onstage at the Side Door Friday with their annual “Jazz Valentine”; Saturday brings back Barry Cuda, Dr, Blues and Liz Pennock, Rob Rio and Victor Wainwright for the ever-popular Boogie Woogie Blues Piano Stomp concert; on Sunday, catch the 120-voice One City Chorus in concert along side the the gospelizing Alumni Singers. Here’s a link for all tickets.

Be forewarned that very few tickets remain for freeFall’s Marie and Rosetta, and Jobsite’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both of which are in their final weekends. Both shows have been tremendously successful throughout their runs. Calling about last-minute ticket availability might be your best bet here.

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