Growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar liked to party: “In my generation [she’s now 49], it was completely different. We danced to live bands when we would go out to clubs. Oftentimes r&b was jazz-infused.” Friday and Saturday at Aaron Davis Hall, her choreography for Soul Deep, a collaboration with jazz composer David Murray, evokes this period. Murray’s Octet shares the stage with 10 dancers: Zollar, her Urban Bush Women, and three male guest artists.
“I felt like I needed more than seven dancers to match the power of the Octet,” Zollar explains. “I wanted to make this piece so that lovers of Murray’s music would come and feel satisfied. They wouldn’t be sitting there saying, ‘I wish those dancers would get out of the way so the band could really play.’ I wanted to create something where it really is an equal marriage. Music is often seen as an accompaniment for dance. It would be unfortunate to look at this piece that way.”
Soul Deep‘s first section, “Saturday Night,” will be followed by “Sunday Morning—From a Whisper to a Shout.” “I have to admit that I named it a little bit as my own in-joke after the Joan Acocella article,” says Zollar, referring to Acocella’s New Yorker description of Alvin Ailey’s masterpieces as “Saturday Night” (Blues Suite) and “Sunday Morning” (Revelations). “There’s more than one way to do Saturday night and Sunday morning. She states it as if it’s a stereotypical idea, but in fact it is very much rooted in African American culture. I’m hoping people will see that there’s such a connection between the sacred and the secular. What is happening when people are partying is not so much different from what happens when you are taken by the spirit in worship.”