Moving in the Joy and Investigating the Possibilities of Max Roach’s Legacy in Max Roach 100 at The Joyce

Moving in the Joy and Investigating the Possibilities of Max Roach’s Legacy in Max Roach 100 at The Joyce
Spread the love

By Liana Wilson-Graff

Max Roach 100, an evening of joyful, activating, and contemplative choreographic work, celebrates the legacy and impact of this artistically immortal jazz musician and activist. A showcase of visual and performance art, Max Roach 100 opens portals to view the life Roach’s work continues to breathe into the unique creative voices of today. Commissioned by The Joyce Theater and curated by Richard Colton, this program of work honors and investigates the possibilities Roach’s undefinable and timeless sound brings to light in all its clarity and abstraction. The range of interpretation in this program is an engrossing testament to Max Roach’s role as a powerful cultural and political figure, and his signature sonic touch that will remain iconic. Although they differ in so many ways, the root that connects the works of Max Roach 100, and ultimately Roach’s work itself, is the tie to Africanist aesthetics. This show is a phenomenal assembly of artists demonstrating the cultural strength and variety held in the diasporic fabric that defines so much of our artistic world in the United States, and ultimately, the world.

Dancers from EVIDENCE and Malpaso, Photo by Steven Pisano

Showcasing four original works, the night begins with a short film by video artist Kit Fizgerald. Utilizing archival footage of the drummer jamming, eyes closed, locked in, and in Roach fashion playing with every single part of the drum set, Fitzgerald plays with interspersed editing bringing color and vibration into the shots, echoing the vibrations of Roach’s rhythms, and visually making his hands and body inseparable from his instrument — wonderfully demonstrating his embodied connection to his craft. After this introduction to the night, tap artist Ayodele Casel gives an inspired improvised performance set to Roach and Cecil Taylor’s “Duet Improvisation #2”, Freedom… In Progress. “Duet Improvisation #2” is a musical dialogue, a quippy, gripping, unsettling, grooving, piece of music where Taylor’s piano and Roach’s percussion (every instrument you can imagine, including a boxing bell) become relating beings. Casel explores what it means to exist in this cacophony before our eyes; fighting it, living in the joy of it, cowering from it, these are all ways Casel approaches the sound and none of them are “bad” and none of them are “good”, because it’s about experimenting and acting with artistic and embodied integrity, just like the music. Casel’s movement, and how she’s composed her interactions with fantastic lighting choices utilizing shadow, add to these primary ideas of legacy, moving always with your crew of ancestors behind you, and living in the collective — even when you’re solo. 

Ayodele Casel, Photo by Steven Pisano

The second act of Max Roach 100 begins with a call to Max Roach’s activism and shows a reflection of ourselves and our cycling and recycling nation, in Rennie Harris’ Jim Has Crowed, performed by his company Rennie Harris Puremovement, set to “The Dream/It’s Time” where Roach’s percussion, Cecil Bridgewater’s trumpet, Calvin Hill’s bass, and Odeon Pope’s saxophone collide and collaborate with recorded speech of Martin Luther King. A striking addition to this program, we move from Casel’s abstract to Harris’ vital clarity, showing us the ever-attached racist root of our nation, the power of bodies in protest, and the emotional power of bodies in pain. For me, this piece has a similar power and understanding of social-emotional nuance in moments of peak police violence against black bodies to Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing. Harris uses lindy hop, breakdance, modern dance, and a range of hip-hop and African diasporic styles as a foundation to bring out intricate emotion and personhood in each dancer, creating a scene of a Black Lives Matter protest, that for anyone who has been a part of one, feels amazingly real and grounded, yet in touch with the impact of police violence in a wide, atmospheric sort of way. It taps into something guttural in the body and mind of the viewer. 

Rennie Harris Puremovement, Company with Zakhele Grabowski, Photo by Steven Pisano

This packed night ends with a rousing, serenely joyful, warm, and strong piece choreographed by Ronald K. Brown and Arcell Cabuag’s Tender Warriors, danced in collaboration by Cuban contemporary dance company, Malpaso and Brown’s own company, EVIDENCE. Set to the Afro-Cuban rhythms of selections from Roach’s album “Percussion Bitter Sweet”, this piece uses Afro-Cuban, West African, and modern dance traditions and techniques to create beautiful scenes of an immovable love and connection between individuals that is shared as a people. The calm, confident joy that these dancers embody is completely infectious and I couldn’t help but smile the whole way with them. This piece had a flowing, steady, powerful, yet gentle fullness that enveloped the space with a sense of warmth, comfort, and connectedness that you couldn’t shake. “Tender” is the perfect word. 

Gregory Hamilton, Photo by Steven Pisano
Max Roach 100 a Joyce Theater production (Linda Shelton, Executive Director) is playing at The Joyce Theater from April 2 – April 7. Tickets, ranging in price from $12-$72 including fees, can be purchased at, or by calling JoyceCharge at 212-242-0800. Please note: ticket prices are subject to change. The Joyce Theater is located at 175 Eighth Avenue at West 19th Street. For more information, please visit


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.