FYI | Jazz History Unspools in Transmission


What’s up in the dance community

Some of the towering figures in jazz dance—including some you might not know of—discuss the art in Transmission, a documentary now in production.

Transmission, a documentary now in progress, traces the history of jazz dance through performance footage and interviews.
Photo by Thomas Clark

“When you ask people, ‘What is jazz?’ everyone has their own view,” assistant director/choreographer Zak Nemorin told Dance Studio Life. “We’re using the concept of the jazz tree [drawn from the essay collection Jazz Dance: A History of the Roots and Branches]: the trunk is the vernacular; the branches are tap and theater jazz; and many styles, up to voguing and hip-hop, are the leaves of the tree.”

Nemorin, director Khadifa Wong, and producer Lisa Donmall-Reeve, all native Brits, studied jazz dance with Jackie Mitchell at London Studio Centre; the documentary idea sprang from a conversation Nemorin and Wong had about the loss of jazz greats and a general ignorance of jazz history.

The filmmakers have put in considerable legwork: in the U.S., interviewees included Chita Rivera, Nan Giordano, Susan Stroman, and Sandahl Bergman; U.K. subjects included choreographer Dougie Squires, who racially integrated dance sequences for BBC programs in the 1950s and ’60s. By juxtaposing interviews with performance and news footage, the filmmakers put jazz in social, political, and artistic contexts.

“We want the next generation to have curiosity and gain knowledge,” Donmall-Reeve said, “to be more informed, better dancers.”

The filmmakers say Transmission is appropriate for all ages; they intend to wrap production this summer and release the film to the festival circuit toward the end of 2018. For details, see transmissionjazzdoc.com.