Wynton Marsalis, an American trumpeter, composer, teacher, artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the first jazz musician ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, created Spaces, a ten-movement piece envisioned as an "animal ballet," an exploration of the diversity, humor and quirkiness found in the animal kingdom through the medium of big band jazz and dance. Spaces refers to the space that different animals occupy in the world and our imagination, in particular through their sounds and movements. As one reviewer pointed out, there is a musical onomatopoeia that is found throughout this musical suite. (In literature, “onomatopoeia” is a word that mimics an audible sound such as buzz, crack, pop, whoosh, etc.)
For the performance's debut with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in 2016, Fred Astaire Award-winning tap dancer Jared Grimes and accomplished ‘jooker’ Charles "Lil Buck" Riley (jooker is a form of Memphis street dance), performed alongside (and in front of and beside!) the orchestra, and later reprised those roles when the piece went on tour. The choreographic director consultant for the dances was Damian Woetzel, retired Principal Dance for the New York City Ballet. The interplay between the music and dance creates a delightful whirl of energy and creativity, and the feeling of improvisation, which is integral to these forms of dance and music creates a perfect collaborative effort between these different performance mediums.
Each of Spaces’ ten movements highlights a different animal, culminating in the final movement, a tribute to “Bees, Bees, Bees.” From the opening buzzing swarm of bees until the end (the movement lasts five minutes), I was smiling. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do! As Jared Grimes said, there is a consistent driving musicality to the piece and a relentless beat, which left both dancers, "relentlessly being a bee."
The other movements in Spaces portray other creatures: chickens, monkeys, elephants, frogs, penguins, snakes, swallows, nightingales, and lions, with Marsalis providing an introductory speech to each movement. The video of the entire performance is included below and lasts 1 hour, 17 minutes.
The playfulness of the musicians and dancers remind us that this world is not just a majestic place, a place of heavy responsibility; there is also room for whimsy, joy, relationship, and humor. It can help us look on the world and all its creatures with a new sense of appreciation, fondness, and sense of affinity as we recognize the quirkiness common and yet distinct to each of us.
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