Interview: Lil Buck's Jookin' Jam Session

Written for VOICE Magazine on October 21, 2016.

Collaboration in the field of dance, especially with a talented musician, has the potential to connect with audiences in unexpected ways. A clear example in recent history is Charles “Lil Buck” Riley’s viral video performance of “The Swan” with Yo-Yo Ma. The short clip, filmed on a cell phone camera by Spike Jonze, has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube. A further exploration of a freestyle originally performed by Lil Buck at New Ballet Ensemble and the first collaboration facilitated by Damian Woetzel, of New York City Ballet fame, has pushed Lil Buck into the spotlight - a place where he seems very comfortable.

Another performance in UCSB Arts & Lectures Dance Series at the Granada Theater, A Jookin’ Jam Session should be an evening showcasing Lil Buck’s “elegant ripple of movement and footwork, exuberant and seemingly gravity resistant” (The Wall Street Journal).

Woetzel has a keen interest in this type of collaborative work. “I am passionate about connecting different artists with different strengths. This mix [of Lil Buck and musicians from all over the world] — feels so right. The style of this performance is a blowout of the collaborative concept: a real jam session, where Lil Buck and the musicians can entirely be themselves.”

The musicians, Sandeep Das, Johnny Gandelsman, Cristina Pato, Wu Tong, Kate Davis, Eric Jacobsen and Grace Park will be playing a broad range of music for Lil Buck and Ron “Pryme Tyme” Myles to “interpret”. Each artist, regardless of their instrument, will be attributing to the larger conversation of sound and body. “The idea is that they all get to be themselves,” says Woetzel. “And then, at the same time, be saying, ‘yes, but what can we do together?’” 

Lil Buck, freshly coming off Madonna’s Rebel Heart tour, expressed excitement at the collaborative process thus far, “I am excited to collaborate: this whole thing is about the power of unity and collaboration, coming together as one to create something beautiful and to do it on levels that touch on different subjects that people understand.” This was most clear to him in the original collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma: “The interpretation of the Dying Swan to me felt like it was my last time performing. I was appreciating things that I usually take for granted, the flowers around me, the breeze… I had the utmost appreciation for everything around me.”

Woetzel says the relationship of this collaborative work with social media has not only skyrocketed Lil Bucks’ popularity but also given a platform to other artists to get their work out into the world. Woetzel’s endeavor to showcase music and dance from different cities and geographies has been aided by social media and the ability to connect with audiences all over the world. Not a replacement for live performance by any means, this new surge of excitement about forms of dance that do not often see the stage bring fresh life into the field of American dance.

As for Lil Buck, his story is not over yet; with even more projects in the works, he seems to just be hitting his stride. After recent performances with Wynton Marsalis at Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York City Ballet and in Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: OneLilBuck looks forward to even more of this kind of work in the future. “I believe that dance has the power to break down geographical and economic boundaries. It’s all about connecting with people.”