Written by Brett Levine
Photo by Beau Gustafson
For dancer and choreographer Jamorris Rivers, you could say creativity is all about inspiration—and his inspiration comes from a diverse range of sources. “I’m inspired by the way dancers express themselves on the floor,” he says. “I get excited to see how we can work together and challenge each other to discover something new.”
Rivers, artistic director of Arova Contemporary Ballet, has a vision for his Birmingham dance company that involves engaging communities and individuals from an early age and focusing on students who might traditionally be disadvantaged. “I see Arova as having the potential to have a one- to two-year pre-professional dance program modeled on those like they have at the Joffrey, Ailey, and New York University,” he shares. It is a contagious enthusiasm that is most evident when he speaks, even though he can be a self-professed introvert.
Instead of words, Rivers prefers to let movement be his language. “As a choreographer, I prefer to develop works that have an underlying message,” he says. “At the same time, I enjoy works that are both physically demanding and ones that can take you in with just a simple gesture. I think of dance as bodies in motion with a story, theme, or message. There is a lot of emphasis on whether or not a performance is technical, but in the end, I think people also want to be entertained.”
Rivers also prefers to blur the distinctions between styles of dance. “I love to see beautiful arabesques done around street dancers,” he explains. “Hip-hop is a style, and it has its own language. It is all dance, and the language of dance itself is universal. It is simply a matter of finding ways that the language can be shared.” To that end, Rivers sometimes tackles subjects that may seem unconventional for contemporary ballet. His most recent work, Boomerang, explored subjects including prejudice, discrimination, bullying, and youth suicide. “I think [that] as a choreographer I have a responsibility to connect creatively and socially to where we are today,” he says. In Boomerang, Rivers explored the complexities experienced by same-sex, traditional, and single parents and their children, represented through dance. “We had a tremendous response,” he says. “I always try to have a question and answer session after performances,” he says, which is just one example of how he connects the beauty of performance with the realities of life.
Rivers is always working, creating, exploring, composing, and choreographing. “I usually work in three phrases, a series of steps I choreograph after a series of experimentations—I seem to like the idea of working in threes,” he says with a laugh. “I spend hours listening to music, and often the music can form the basis of an improvisation that I can develop further.” When asked what he regards as his biggest challenge, Rivers says, “I think the biggest challenge is being able to educate the audience about what it is we do, and then being able to earn their support through hard work and emotion.”
Next season is Arova Contemporary Ballet’s 10th, and the company will be presenting a number of favorite ballets as well as working to launch a new series of support groups. At his core, Rivers is most concerned with the service he and Arova can provide to those who can benefit from it the most. “I want Arova to be able to provide programs that mean it can be a home away from home,” he explains. “I’m always inspired by Arthur Mitchell, who founded the Dance Theatre of Harlem.” It is this type of vision, as well as Rivers’s humble manner, that will likely result in his success. He does not necessarily shun the spotlight, but he simply prefers that it shine on him only when he is onstage.