26 Jan 2012
Jeffrey Page is an Emmy-nominated choreographer whose work, which blends African, hip-hop, funk, soul and jazz dance styles has been featured on So You Think You Can Dance?, The Beyoncé Experience Tour and the MTV’s Video Music Awards, among other television programs. This month, Page will visit Duke to create a new piece for the African Dance Repertory class, which will be performed at Choreolab, the Dance Program’s mainstage spring production, on April 21 and 22. Recess’ Michaela Dwyer chatted with Page, hoping to hone in on his choreographic approach, which actress, dancer, choreographer and Fame star Debbie Allen called “so pure and so authentic.”
Recess: How did you first get involved with dance, and why?
Jeffrey Page: I grew up in it. I’m a child of the hip-hop era. I grew up listening to the likes of M.C. Hammer and Salt ‘n’ Pepa and…my mother playing Marvin Gaye…you can’t help but dance [to that music]. I remember when I was about 10, I saw a placard on the street that [advertised] tryouts for a pop dance troupe. I was the only boy in the group. I went from baseball and football and basketball practice to dance class. It became this relentless urge for me to dance and it just got stronger and stronger, and then I learned that I could actually make a career out of it.
R: In addition to dance, you’re involved in theater, music and film. Do you find you ‘turn off’ other disciplines to work in some fields, or do the influences blend through all of your work?
JP: I guess the way my brain works is I don’t see them as different—I see them as dance. As human beings, we have so many shades of coloring. I see extreme beauty in ballet and modern, I see power in jazz and hip-hop, and I don’t think that any of those styles is any lesser than another. For me, it’s just about language and what word I want to use to express my feelings at this particular point in time. One particular texture will hit the spot moreso than another when you’re talking about emotion and feeling. It’s not categories of ‘greater than’ or ‘lesser than’…the decision is moreso do I wanna use a little cinnamon, or a little sage or clove or basil. That’s how I think of it. The more seasonings and herbs I have to work with, the deeper and more complex my overall piece will be. I’m always hoping to learn what other people and cultures see as beautiful…I wanna understand it and see it as beautiful too. If one person does, it must be.
R: You’ve been to West Africa several times to conduct anthropological research. Could you speak a little bit about how those projects have informed your movement?
JP: I think that [my involvement in traveling and research] would be absolutely irrelevant if I didn’t have a basis of hip-hop and soul…walking down the street in Harlem and seeing a girl jump double-dutch at recess, hearing the rhythms… …it makes me want to research African culture and idioms and music, dance and folklore in a vigorous way. I have this philosophy that tradition is nothing without evolution. I was at a naming ceremony [while in Africa] and there was a saxophone playing…I thought, ‘what is that doing here?’ I learned that [the masters of ceremony] were inspired by John Coltrane in A Love Supreme and they thought his composition was this divine piece that motivated the spirit of God…[with experiences like this] you start to see how tradition is pushed by evolution.
R: You’ve worked with a lot of glitzy programs: So You Think You Can Dance, Beyonce’s tour, MTV’s VMAs. Do you find you have to adapt your movement in certain ways to these programs—do certain stipulations of these more commercial ventures change the way you think about and formulate choreography, or your artistic philosophy in general?
JP: Art is something that is self-imposed. As an artist, you have something you feel is beautiful—this selfish drive to show everyone else, or you really don’t care, you just wanna get it out of your system. Art isn’t necessarily for show. Entertainment is different. I create something based on what the audience will need. I think that without the entertainers, like Beyoncé, in the world—how would audiences be able to laugh, to cry? I don’t think you approach entertainment with the mindset of an artist. When I’m entertaining, I’m absolutely selfless. It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with my viewers. It’s been a few years since I’ve been able to focus on my art. That’s why I’m really looking forward to coming to Duke and creating art. I spend my time in other people’s heads so much that I miss being inside of my own head. But I think that there is a beauty and high craft in both [art and entertainment].