Advancing on a 'Territory of Jazz'

Choreographer Valery Tereshkin had a very long day ahead of him as he sat in a hotel lobby in Glendale this week. Just days before, his Russian Jazz Ballet had performed "Territory of Jazz" at the Alex Theatre, dancing to popular songs from the likes of Duke Ellington, Harry Connick Jr. and Prince. Now he was prepared for the 20-hour flight back to Moscow, then another four hours farther east to Krasnoyarsk and home.

Young dancers with luggage stood nearby, talking and waiting. Tereshkin's hair was dark and hung past his shoulders, and his coat had a thick fur collar. He would need it: Krasnoyarsk's temperatures this week are well below zero. The traveling party was about 20 dancers and musicians, including Tereshkin himself, who not only directed but played live percussion last weekend at the Alex.

This year marks the dance company's 25th anniversary, though it's been 10 years since it last performed in the U.S. Most of the dancers were too young to have made the Jazz Ballet's last trip here, but Tereshkin, 60, said he hoped to return again soon. The performances Dec. 28 and 30 were sponsored by Rosneft, a Russian oil company.

Before leaving Glendale and the U.S., Tereshkin spoke of the performance and of being inspired by American music — his words translated into English by Olga Sergeeva, the company's artistic director and a solo dancer in the show.

How was your experience at the Alex?

A little unexpected. It was interesting to perform for a simple American audience — just people. It was not a competition, like Jazz Dance World Congress, where we're competing and thinking about the first prize. Here it was a normal show, as it is in Russia and different countries where we perform. For us it was a great pleasure. Of course it was a big surprise for us that it was such a warm atmosphere in the theater. I think people enjoyed it.

Was this a show you've performed many places?

We have different programs, depending on where and when we perform. This program was special because we were getting ready to meet American people who like jazz. This country is absolutely the atmosphere of jazz, so you must be very attentive choosing music and preparing the show. All the music was American.

How did you go about choosing it?

I choose what touches my soul. Sometimes they are unknown and not very popular musicians and composers.

Why this rather than more traditional music?

I supposed this is the best presentation of our feeling about American jazz. Of course it is based on our traditions, but mixed with American traditions in music. Maybe in the future I will choose other kinds of music. Now, after 10 years of break in our relationship with this country, I will choose other kinds of music, new choreography, new pieces. Now we have refreshed our insight.

Why was there a 10-year break between U.S. performances?

We won prizes at the Jazz Dance World Congress — two bronze and one silver and gold. So we were special guests at the Congress, then we performed very often in Europe and in Russia, China and Japan, and time passed so quickly. You never know where your next tour is.

Will you be back?

It is a great honor for us and we do hope we come back. America's atmosphere gives special inspiration for a choreographer, for a musician. Even in a cafeteria, in McDonald's, in the market, you hear very nice music. Sometimes we ask the manager who is singing — that was when we first heard [singer-pianist] Diana Krall. When you know so many fantastically talented musicians and choreographers live right here and were born here, it gives you additional inspiration.