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DJD’s Party Time gets the seats shaking in downtown Calgary

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks threw a pretty catchy party Saturday night.

The Calgary dance company’s new show Party Time is a kind of celebration of springtime and it was hard not to watch the company’s dancers trace out the steps of a night on the town and feel a little spring in your step, no matter how close we are to the tax filing deadline (Tuesday!).

In fact, at DJD’s gorgeous 12th Avenue S.E. dance theatre, when a piece gets the audience’s groove, you can actually feel the bleachers move in time to the music onstage – and that’s what was happening in the first act Saturday night.

That’s when company member Sabrina Naz Comanescu, dressed a bit like a 1920s flapper, evoking turn-of-the-20th century New Orleans, acted as a kind of choreographed emcee for the evening, slowly drawing us into the dreamy, drifty world of Party Time.

What makes a DJD show special is that they have always blended their unique dance with live music.

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks’ new show Party Time opens Thursday night in Calgary at the DJD Dance Theatre

In Party Time’s first half, the soundscape is dominated by Andre Wickenheiser’s trumpet, which provides an almost elegiac soundtrack for the company as it gathers for a house party.

There’s Hugo Barry (Thys Armstrong), a mustachioed dude prone to missteps. There’s Fifi (Mara Liao Esnard), an animated presence who dreams of one day becoming a flying squirrel. There’s Zeus (Catherine Hayward), whose Van Dyck beard looks carved from a Rembrandt painting who moves like a panther.

Roshanak (Shahrzad Ahmadi) is a Persian powerhouse whose presence shrinks everyone around her.

David Kizzy Wisdom the 3rd  (Shemar Herbert) brings the street dance to the party and a pretty wicked sense of mischief.

There’s others too, the same way there is at every party: people you spot across a crowded room, smoking a cigarette or laughing in a way that makes their head tilt back and showcases their molars and makes you write a life story for them in your head.

All of it unfolds somewhat dreamily, led by Wickenheiser’s lonely trumpet that made me think of city life, sort of the way it’s depicted in Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning classic  film The Apartment or even the Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks at the Diner.

City living, as depicted in Party Time,  is a weird gumbo of loneliness and the instant intimacy that sometimes happens between strangers  who happen to be in the same place one night, listening to the same jazz ensemble melodies when a little magic happens.

Choreographed by DJD artistic director Kimberley Cooper, Party Time poignantly acknowledges both strands of city life – it bounces between celebration and meditation, between youthful exuberance (Esnard’s jubilant flying squirrel fantasy) and Hugo’s awkward efforts to fit in with a crowd he doesn’t quite fit in with.

The second half of Party Time pumps it up, replacing Wickenheiser’s lonely trumpet with something a little funkier, allowing Kizzy Wisdom the 3rd and Roshanak among others moments to shine, as the party goes deeper into the night and everyone starts to think and move and feel as one.

All of it benefits from Hannah Fisher’s sublime costume design and Scott Reid’s evocative sets. In addition to Wickenheiser’s wicked trumpet playing, there’s great musical chops from Carsten Rubeling (keyboards/trombone), Jeff Gammon (bass) and Luis ‘El Pana’ Tovar on drums.

Not to be overlooked either is the DJD Dance Centre: walking out of the theatre, you are greeted with a gorgeous, glassed-in tableau of downtown Calgary and Saturday, there were a few young women standing there taking selfies against a backdrop of the glittering city skyline – and I thought it kind of fits exactly into what Party Time explored.

I used to live in Los Angeles and one time someone asked what it’s like to live in Los Angeles and I said, “I’ve never lived anywhere where I met so many people for the first time.”

Party Time will make you feel like you’ve known the dance company and even the people sitting next to you forever.

At DJD Dance Theatre through May 5.

For tickets, go here.

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