Inspired by Herb Snitzer, a Jewish photographer who compiled a lifetime of images of black Jazz ‘greats’, Waverly T. Lucas II, created the choreography for his upcoming project— Jazzing: Memoirs in Jazz. The scheme is incomplete and was created with Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, and Myles Davis in mind. Lucas II’s Ballethnic dancers are currently rehearsing the project, one that allows the dancers to display their talents barefoot and in point shoes.
“The Breman Museum has an exhibit up of Herb Snitzer’s photography,” said Lucas II. “He spent part of his life being with them through the Civil Rights Movement so much of his photography focuses on that aspect. I talked to him and drew my inspiration from some of the pieces.”
Lucas II taught his Ballethnic dancers most of the choreography for Jazzing: Memoirs in Jazz during the lockdown portion of the COVID-19 pandemic. He says because of this obstacle, much of the choreography began as improvisational works from the dancers, sent to him digitally, and later changed.
“Once they sent it to me, I kind of had an idea of where I wanted to go with sculpting the piece around it. What would be solo? What would be a duet? Once I had that idea, I started writing it out and developing it,” said Lucas II.
Myles Davis and Nina Simone used their classical training to create their music. Lucas II, much like them, does the same. As Ballethnic’s resident choreographer, he blends classical ballet with African dance concepts.
“It was somewhat of a revolutionary act that we embarked in, daring to put two polar opposites together,” said Lucas II.
Ballethnic, a company that combines ballet with ethnic dance, is the 1990 brain baby of Lucas II and his wife, Nena Y. Gilreath. The couple met while dancing in Harlem at the Dance Theatre of Harlem where they both toured nationally and internationally. In 1990, after their dance careers, the pair decided to create their own dance company.
“We wanted to focus on dance that told the stories of our heritage,” said Lucas II.