Written by Mariko Nagashima
Shirley Jenkins has been through a lot. In the past 14 years she has survived two bouts with cancer and two major surgeries, one for a dance-related back injury and the other for a total hip replacement. After an intensive healing process, Jenkins has made a full recovery to her dancing self, and formed a new company to prove it. In its premiere this past weekend at Broadway Performance Hall, DanceJenkinsDance!!! displayed the resiliency of the human spirit and Shirley Jenkins’ unwavering passion for dance.
Dear Williamopened the show with both charm and poignancy in references to Jenkins’ struggles. With canes, a rocking horse, and a walker as props, Jenkins painted a picture of both her own physical struggles and the general difficulty of aging. The dancers’ campy, vaudeville-esque dance with the canes garnered more than a few chuckles, and Holly Batt’s sweet solo on a rocking horse evoked the child still inside everyone. Most touching, however, was Belle Wolf’s solo with the walker. Initially tethered to its metal frame, she moved with an alluringly beautiful anguish, slowing plodding across the stage on delicately arched feet and draping her limbs over it. When the music shifted to more uplifting piano chords, Wolf found new strength, pulled the walker behind her, and eventually walked stoically off stage, leaving it behind.
Annalisa Peterson’s solo In a Sacred Manner We Dance, was a soothing, meditative work set to the Native American flute music of Mary Youngblood. In a flowing, white tunic, Peterson whirled feather-light, parting the air around her with swooping curvatures and lilting arabesques. Her deep connection to Youngblood’s ethereal chanting made the piece all the more powerful, bringing greater depth to Jenkins’ choreography.
Jenkins Soul-Sisters On Tap, was easily the most impressive number of the evening. Shirley Jenkins and Maya Jenkins (no relation), broke out their tap shoes and wowed the audience with remarkably complex rhythms and cool finesse. Though it seems impossible that so little movement could produce such auditory clamor, these skilled women easily shrugged off ever-more intricate patterns. Shirley Jenkins looked most comfortable with the movement here, teasing the audience several times throughout her jazzily rhythmic solo, each step proclaiming “I’ve still got it,” which she does. Maya Jenkins, too, seemed cool and aloof in her solo while her feet rapidly fired off an urgent Morse code. When the two donned suit jackets and were joined by Wolf and Carrie Dossick, the four hammed it up in a fun, splashy number to the big band music “Flat Foot Floogie (with the Floy Floy).”
In the final piece, Soliloquoy of a Soul, Jenkins drew inspiration from the Portuguese Fado music of Mariza. Divided into five sections, the piece featured bold, lush movements augmented by whirling black and red skirts. There is a tender yearning throughout the piece, especially as Jenkins dances with the rest of her, mostly younger, company members. In one scene she echoed a dancer’s movements as if relearning old patterns or reliving past experiences. She knew when to surrender the stage, however, and gracefully exited at various points, leaving quick impassioned footwork and luscious battements to be carried out by the rest of the cast. Wolf and Amie Baca had the most genuine flair, but an excess of sultry stares and skirt-flipping felt hollow from the rest of the dancers. The final image, however, of the ensemble continuing to dance as the red light faded, seemed a fitting ending. Love of dance and continuing to dance in the face of adversity was the message here, and Jenkins’ display of resiliency by the very existence of her company, offered this with ample enthusiasm.