First come the drums: tuned to different pitches, throbbing and thrumming softly and breaking out into fascinating complexities, but always underlaid with an insistent, basic rhythm you can't resist.
Next you trace an impulse that unites the dancers, flowing from the center of intense, pliant torsos and out through the limbs. A deep breath draws the dancers erect, then they ride the breath through a sharp exhalation, whirling their arms in a circle-and-a-half without effort.You quickly observe that breath and its power to lift, energize and enlighten is fundamental to Jawole Willa Jo Zollar's dance. Preparing with a deep breath, then letting go in a big swooshing glide is like slowly climbing in a roller-coaster car to the top of a rise, then descending in a free, swooping fall, without apparent effort.
("I just see everything as being imbued with life-giving energy that you can tap into or not, but which you must respect," said Zollar.)
But breath won't do it all. And those who took Zollar's workshop on Saturday following the Salt Lake concert of her Urban Bush Women found themselves taxed and challenged in new and different ways.
The language was familiar, through the lineage of Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and other modern dance greats. But exciting implications dictated by Zollar's own origins and originality ran through the combinations.
("I've always loved African dance. I try to train my company to have the feeling of African dance, in terms of the approach to movement and the body and the dynamics - but with more of the gestural and spatial range and focus of the modern dancer. It's different!")
Jawole is tiny and intense, and her long hair, rolled in hundreds of long, tight mini-ringlets, flies around her head as she moves - an unforgettable bundle of energy, fiercely focused on her mission to dance the truth as she sees it.
All modern dance tends to connect the body with its origins in the earth and sky (roots and wings). What you sense in Jawole and her troupe is that earth connection, that feeling of moving in tandem with primeval forces, though she verbalizes it in language that's mostly conventional and familiar to modern dancers.
The drums, the breath, the long swooshing movements found exciting fulfillment in a wonderfully free-flowing combination, a stamping, space-devouring leap across the room, knees bent, legs far apart - a leap with the same sort of gangling grace as an African antelope crossing the veldt.
"I like to give people where we dance a sense of how we move, a taste of how we work," said Zollar, following her class. "We do a lot of dramatic, even psychological pieces, but we never forget that dance is fun too, the greatest fun imaginable. All dance should be fun, even ballet."