The Cohort 20/21 – Program

5/22 @ 2pm and 7pm | 5/23 @ 4pm

Rhythmically Speaking is thrilled to be producing “Jazz on Tap,” this series of LIVE, OUTDOOR jazz and tap dance show on May 22 and 23! Held at The Shed @ The Lab Brewery in conjunction with beloved local tap company Keane Sense of Rhythm, we’re calling it “Jazz on Tap” – get it?! For our shows on the series, we are presenting The Cohort 20/21, our reimagining of works by local choreographers Erinn Liebhard (RS Artistic Director) and Kayla Schiltgen and visiting choreographers Dougie Robbins (NY) and Dr. Ayo Walker (TN) originally selected for our postposed August 2020 production. Read on for more about the concept, the process, the works and the artists!


  • Masks: Encouraged at all times except when in your seat/s (and you are encouraged to wear them there, when not eating and drinking, as well). Performers will remove their masks upon entering the stage space to perform, and will put them back on when exiting at the end of each piece. We are opting to perform without masks because we are all vaccinated and the pieces are contactless and sufficiently distanced, and there is much to be gained from seeing the expressions on our faces as we perform these pieces.
  • Food and Drink: Food and beverage trucks will be available on site during and after the show/s, and all vendors will take appropriate Covid safety precautions. Please do not bring your own food or beverages (with the exception of non-alcoholic adult beverages, which will not be for sale on site).
  • Restrooms: There will be well-maintained porta-potties on site, and The Lab Taproom restrooms may also be available (TBA).
  • Show Etiquette: Prior to the show, please silence your devices, and be advised that taking photos or videos of the show is not permitted. 

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Here we are. We are here. Together. I having a hard time believing we finally get to show the public the works on this show! Work on this production began in October 2019, when we released a public call for choreographers for The Cohort 2020, which would have been our 12th annual summer show, and our second in “The Cohort” format (more on that below). The choreographers we’ve worked with for this show have been on board since December 2019, and have rolled along with us through adaptation and re-adaptation as we’ve attempted to continuing “surviving vibrantly” as a small arts company, as I’ve put it, throughout the events of the last year and a half. I’m utterly grateful to each of them for trusting RS to find a path forward for their work.

I’m also so in awe of our company of dancers, who have managed to continue forging a sense of ensemble throughout this past stretch of time, not only keeping connected to our work with one another, but deepening it. From taking company class in the park to shooting a film outside in January – in MINNESOTA – to rehearsing on Zoom, these dancers have been game to try whatever I thought we’d need to do to move our work forward safely, and they’ve done it with enthusiasm, kindness and joy.

So here we are today, bringing you a concert of live jazz dance works, with the hopes that we can help generate and share joy, introspection and connection with YOU! As if live dance (with proper pandemic safety protocols) isn’t enough, there’s also open dance jams (5:30-6pm Saturday and 6:30-7pm Sunday), live music, Greek and Egyptian street food from the Cafe Cairo food truck, and beer from The Lab! If you wish to enjoy an adult beverage, please note that this can be done before the show, during intermission or after at their taproom/ patio: due to current licensing restrictions, beers can be enjoyed on their property, but cannot be brought back to the performance area.

We hope this show buoys your spirits and helps you get ready for a great summer of connecting with people. After all, that’s what we’re doing here is all about: embodying jazz music together is our way of connecting with people: ourselves, one another and YOU! Thank you for being here to share in the joy.

JazzLove – Erinn


The Cohort is a reimagining of Rhythmically Speaking’s annual summer multi-choreographer production. After hitting 10 years in 2018 of successfully presenting the work of 7-8 mostly local choreographers and their own casts to media acclaim and sell-out crowds, we decided it was time to stretch ourselves to fulfill our mission in innovative new ways. The Cohort 2019 built on our celebrated model of bringing together both local dancers and both local and visiting choreographers to invest in staged work inspired by jazz and American social dance ideas and their sociocutural histories and innovations, while making a more significant space for visiting choreographers to share such work with our communities.

This second round of the program again supported fewer choreographers making longer works than in past years, and a cohort of 7-9 local dancers to perform them all. This shift has allowed us to create deeper engagement for collaborating artists and the presentation of more substantial works for our audiences to chew on, while providing jazz and jazz-adjacent choreographers from outside of Minnesota to share their work with new communities.

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Suite Standards: Movement #1

  • Choreographer: Erinn Liebhard, with improvisations by the dancers
  • Dancers: Doug Hooker, Amy Jones, Sara Karimi and Kathleen Pender
  • Music: “Basin Street Blues,” composed by Spencer Williams and played by Greg Byers (bass guitar and clarinet – Saturday), Chris Bates (bass – Sunday), Ben Erlich (drums), Mike Lauer (guitar) and Andrew Long (saxophone)
  • Costumes: Erinn Liebhard and dancers
  • Note: Suite Standards is a small collection of movement and improvisation scores set to classic jazz standards from across eras of American jazz music. Movement #1 features the tune “Basin Street Blues,” written by composer Spencer Williams in 1928 and popularized that same year thanks to a recording by Louis Armstrong. We rehearsed to the Louis Armstrong recording for tempo and feel, and perform it for you today with a combo of excellent Twin Cities jazz musicians, whose modern-day chops contemporize the tune and bring it into the present for us to experience together. This is the beauty of jazz standards – tunes that have become an agreed-upon-by-the-larger-jazz-community cannon: they are and will continue to be revisited by artists from all walks of life, across geography and the ages, linking us together while we enjoy our own experiences of these tunes. This is individuality within community, a hallmark of jazz, in action. g

Scat Cats

  • Choreographer: Dougie Robbins of DPR Dance (NY) (Meet Dougie!)
  • Dancers: Nieya Amezquita, Doug Hooker, Amy Jones, Erinn Liebhard, Kelli Miles and John Surber
  • Music: “Sugar Foot Rag” composed by Hank Garland and Vaughn Horton performed by Ella Fitzgerald, “Blue Skies” composed by Irving Berlin performed by Henry Edison and Ella Fitzgerald and “Dream a Little Dream” composed by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong 
  • Costumes: Dougie Robbins, Erinn Liebhard and dancers
  • Note: This iteration of Scat Cats has been a rewarding challenge. The piece set out to do a few, rather specific, things. My goal was to highlight and explore the improvisational intricacies of golden age jazz music, create a kind of story featuring a cast of characters who live and breathe jazz music, use the jazz improvisations to create a physical dialogue between characters and stay true to, while expanding on, traditional jazz dance which was rooted in Jack Cole technique. Having been created in the “before times”, the piece relied heavily on person to person contact- especially where plot and story is concerned. The first big hurtle was to attempt to rechoreograph many moments in the piece, while attempting to maintain the original idea behind the movement. The next, was to impart this massive amount of information to the wonderfully talented dancers of Rhythmically Speaking over zoom. This challenge proved to be the greater of the two! Unsurprisingly, the cast rose admirably to the challenge. When I think of what parting words I wish to leave with this piece, I am reminded of a moment in rehearsal, where I instructed two of the dancers to catch the notes in their hands.  At its deepest level, that is what Scat Cats sets out to do – catch the notes as they flit by at an alarming rate, connect with the staccato trumpet blast, the frenzied rap of the drumsticks and somewhere within the swirling storm of music, find moments of meaning.

Suite Standards: Movement #2

  • Choreographer: Erinn Liebhard, with improvisations by the dancers
  • Dancers: Doug Hooker, Amy Jones, Sara Karimi and Kathleen Pender
  • Music: “Footprints,” composed by Wayne Shorter and played by Greg Byers (bass guitar and clarinet – Saturday), Chris Bates (bass – Sunday), Ben Erlich (drums), Mike Lauer (guitar) and Andrew Long (saxophone)
  • Costumes: Erinn Liebhard and dancers
  • Note: Movement #2 of Suite Standards features the tune “Footprints,” written, performed and popularized by Wayne Shorter in 1967.

Long Drag (access the film HERE)

  • Director, Choreographer, Editor: Kayla Schiltgen (Meet Kayla!), created with input from dancers
  • Dancers: Sara Karimi, Kelli Miles and John Surber
  • Composition and Music: George Ellsworth
  • Camera: Kayla Schiltgen
  • Production Assistants: Eric Elefson and Erinn Liebhard
  • Costumes: Kayla Schiltgen
  • Note: Long Drag is part of Deepwater, a project drawing choreographic inspiration from sea shanties used aboard commercial, square rig sailing vessels during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This project began in 2018 with my growing curiosity around things lost and replaced by technology in the name of speed, efficiency, and profit. Shanties were work songs used to coordinate heavy work onboard ships and each shanty was created and used for a different type of work. Shallow Brown, the shanty which the composition for Long Drag was inspired by, was used for hauling on the halyards over an extended period of time, thus the name given to this type of work song “long drag.”

    A feature of many shanties is the use of call-and-response which has origins in West African culture, and was a feature of the work songs of enslaved peoples. British and European sailors would have heard these work songs in the ports of the Caribbean and the Americas as African stevedores packed up the cargo for the ships. The songs heard in these circumstances would have been taken on by the shantymen and sailors and adapted during their voyages leaving us with many of the shanties we know today. The shanty, Shallow Brown, is a prime example of this and like many shanties it has hundreds of verse variations as a result. For this work composer George Ellsworth and I carefully chose to include the version that is sung from the perspective of an African slave being sold to a Yankee ship owner.

The Boom Boom Room in Tunisia

  • Choreographer: Dr. Ayo Walker
  • Rehearsal Assistants: Shelby Flowers and Justin Tinker
  • Dancers: Doug Hooker, Amy Jones, Sara Karimi, Erinn Liebhard and John Surber
  • Music: “A Night in Tunisia,” composed by Dizzy Gillespie and performed by the Manhattan Transfer with Bobby McFerrin, Sarah Vaughan & Her All-Stars, the Ashton Moore Organization, Christine Fawson, Chaka Khan and The Subterraneans
  • Costumes: Ayo Walker, Erinn Liebhard and dancers
  • Note (full note available here): My choreography tells the story of African people’s history through the lineage of their dances. “Social dancing is the first form of dance humans practiced for socialization through the art of dance not for spectatorship” and it is this principle that became the premise for The Boom Boom Room in Tunisia. A narrative work recounting the individual memories of five visitors (the ensemble) night out on the town at a juke joint in Tunisia – The Boom Boom Room – where the music, dancing and romance create the memories of the night. While we often share similar memories of a place, event, or moment in time, we also recount those memories from different vantage points. In this piece each dancer will illustrate a night out in Tunisia at The Boom Boom Room based on the way they remember it. And each memory will represent a different version of the song, Night in Tunisia. Despite the varying memories of The Boom Boom Room in Tunisia, one tale is true for all its visitors: 
    Each wonderful night in Tunisia is a deeper night in a world ages old
    The cares of the day seem to vanish
    You live in a dream for a moment
    The magic is unsurpassed too good to last
    You’ll find the love you long for under a Tunisia sky
    The moon is the same moon above you, its cool evening light shines so bright 
    This night in Tunisia is a swinging good tune
    The melody remains the same lingering on
    Bap ba ba da da da da da da . . .

Suite Standards: Movement #3

  • Choreographer: Erinn Liebhard, with improvisations by the dancers
  • Dancers: Doug Hooker, Amy Jones, Sara Karimi and Kathleen Pender
  • Music: “The Chicken,” composed by Pee Wee Ellis and played by Greg Byers (bass guitar and clarinet – Saturday), Chris Bates (bass – Sunday), Ben Erlich (drums), Mike Lauer (guitar) and Andrew Long (saxophone)
  • Costumes: Erinn Liebhard and dancers
  • Note: Movement #3 of Suite Standards features the tune “The Chicken,” written by Pee Wee Ellis in 1969 and popularized by bassist Jaco Pastorius in 1981.

Special Thanks: Jillian Bell and Luther Bell for video screen design, construction and operation, Brian J. Evans and Zoe Sealy for serving on the choreographer selection panel, Jolene Konkel/ Concerto Dance for costume share, The Lab Brewery for so generously hosting this crazy thing, Lakeshore Players Theatre for prop share, Joy Liebhard for costume construction and alteration, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council for the funding that helped make this possible, The Southern Theater for being a long-time partner and advocate, and Advisory Panel members Luther Bell, Brian J. Evans, Hannah Elias, Kristine Frank Elias and Kristoffer Olson for event development and execution support.


This activity is made possible in part by our generous individual donors, and the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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Nieya Amezquita (Dancer)


Nieya Amezquita is a professional dancer with Threads Dance Project and Rhythmically Speaking. Amezquita earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Georgia where she practiced ballet, contemporary, different branches of African movement and debuted as a contemporary choreographer. She also had the opportunity to perform nationally and internationally with founding company CADE:NCE. Most recently, Amezquita was selected to choreograph a piece for Ballet Co.Laboratory’s Laboratory II virtual event, and is a featured artist in the upcoming Blackness Is arts festival.

Chris Bates (Bass Guitarist)


Chris Bates, bassist / composer. Solo releases: Red 5 & Good Vibes Trio. Member of McKnight Performer Fellowship winning Atlantis Quartet (’15) & winner of McKnight Composer Fellowship (’99). Red Planet w/ Bill Carrothers April 2017.

Greg Byers (Bass Guitarist/ Clarinetist)

Greg Byers, M.M. uses his talents as a performer, composer, educator and producer to share the wisdom and beauty of great music with people of all backgrounds. In 2008 Greg became the first person in the history of University of Miami to double major in Instrumental Performance/ Studio Music & Jazz on cello and bass, Summa Cum Laude. Since then he has performed on BBC Two (Later… with Jools Holland) and Univision (Latin GRAMMYs); been a featured artist/clinician at New Directions Cello Festival, Creative Strings Workshop, and Mark Wood’s Rock Orchestra Camp; arranged strings for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Birth of a Ghost by Omar Rodriguez Lopez. He was the recipient of the 2017 Artist Initiative Grant and the 2020 Next Step Fund, a Global Music Initiative 2021 Artist-in-Residence at MacPhail Center for Music, and the winner of the International Journalists Award at the 2020 Seifert International Jazz Violin Competition.

Aleutian Calabay (Livestream Producer and Videographer)

Aleutian Calabay

Aleutian Calabay works as a Director of Photography and camera operator in Los Angeles and New York while also producing live events for the performing arts in Minneapolis. He’s had the opportunity to work with clients such as Goodwill, Best Buy, and The Minnesota Opera. Aleutian’s love of the performing arts stems from his early career as a tap dancer, which he continues to practice today.

Bill Cameron (Photographer)


Bill Cameron is a Minneapolis photographer loves photographing people.  He specializes in working with local dance companies and their wonderful dancers.

Ben Erlich (Drummer)

Ben Ehrlich is a drummer, composer and educator based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who specializes in jazz, blues, rock, avant-garde and all forms of improvised music. Ben can be heard frequently throughout the twin cities jazz scene as a part of the Graydon Peterson Quartet, Charlie Lincoln Quartet, Will Kjeer Trio, and countless others. When he is not playing or teaching music, he enjoys cooking and spending time in nature.

Eric Elefson (Production Assistant for Kayla Schiltgen’s work)


Eric Elefson’s background is in theatre performance, directing, and writing. Originally from western Wisconsin, he has been an active performance artist in the Twin Cities since 2010 and moved to Two Harbors, Minnesota three years ago to continue his artistic endeavors and to host a farmstay along with his wife, Kayla.

George Ellsworth (Composer for Kayla Schiltgen’s work)


For two decades Maryland-born musician George Ellsworth has been a staple of the Northern Minnesota music scene, wearing many hats and spreading his experiences and influences far and wide. As an in-demand bassist and keyboardist he’s performed and recorded with a myriad of  beloved Twin Ports acts, from James And Younger to  The Brushstrokes  to Todd Eckart to Snöbarn. As a songwriter and composer he’s contributed songs and scores to two independent feature films and works for local theater. Self-taught, he revels in finding the common or complementary elements of disparate genres and musical disciplines and building something new and interesting from what lies at the meeting point.

Shelby Flowers (Rehearsal Assistant for Ayo Walker’s work)


Shelby is a native of Mesquite, Texas and a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Dallas, Texas. Currently a graduating senior at Austin Peay State University, Shelby is working on her BFA in Theatre and Dance with a concentration in Dance, where she started the student-run department based dance company, “The Company.” She is also the treasurer of the Student Organization Dance Association and teaches dance at Lana’s Dance Center out in Clarksville, Tennessee. Shelby’s impressive student leadership in her classes with Dr. Ayo Walker landed her the unique opportunity as one of four student rehearsal assistants for Dr. Walker’s “The Boom Boom Room in Tunisia,” and the opportunity to travel to the Twin Cities to help set the piece on Rhythmically Speaking.

Doug Hooker (Dancer)

Doug graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Dance. He has had a variety of professional performing opportunities, including with the Santa Clara Vanguard Drum & Bugle Corps, the Broadway show Blast! and the Dancing People Company, and locally with ARENA DANCES, Threads Dance Project, Shapiro and Smith Dance and Collide Theatrical Dance Company.

Amy Jones (Dancer)

Amy graduated from Luther College with degrees in Theatre/Dance and Management. She has performed concert and commercial work in Minneapolis and NYC and has worked with Noemie LaFrance, Alternative Motion Project, Stuart Pimsler, Morgan Thorson, The Mystic Dancers (Herb Johnson), among others. She is the Listings Manager at Dance Media and is a pilates instructor and aerial fitness teacher-trainer. 

Sara Karimi (Dancer)

A native of Wisconsin and a graduate of University of Iowa (BFA in Dance Performance, BA in English), Sara has danced and toured nationally and internationally with Kayle & Co., 10,000 Feet Dance Company, The Architects and Threads Dance Project, among others. Upon relocating to the Twin Cities seven years ago, she has worked with regional and local choreographers; and is in her sixth season with Threads Dance Project and her seventh season with Borealis Dance. Sara is also a 400 hour certified yoga instructor and has taught workshops and classes in Colorado, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Mike Lauer (Arranger, Music Director and Guitarist)

Mike is a Minneapolis-based guitarist, arranger, composer and band leader with a degree in jazz guitar from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Lauer is the Director of Music at Central Lutheran Church in Elk River, and can be seen playing live with Justin Ploof and the Throwbacks, the Monday Night Jazz Group and with various other accomplished artists in the Twin Cities area. 

Erinn Liebhard (RS Artistic and Executive Director | Producer | Choreographer | Dancer)

Erinn is a dance artist (MFA University of Colorado Boulder, BFA University of Minnesota) making opportunities for people to experience the reflective and connective power of groove through performance and education. In performance (besides RS!), she’s a member of Afro-Brazilian company Contempo Physical Dance and performs as entertainer “Nerdette” for Saint Paul Saints Baseball. In education, she is an active residency artist, a Teaching Artist for the Cowles Center, and is on faculty for Muhlenberg College (PA), St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, Winona State University, and Zenon Dance School.

Andrew Long (Saxophonist)

Andrew is a woodwind instrumentalist living in Saint Paul. He pursued classical saxophone studies as an undergraduate and is now expanding his musical vocabulary to the ends of the earth.

Kelli Miles (Dancer)

Kelli is a Minneapolis-based dancer, choreographer, teacher and arts manager. She graduated from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities in the Spring of 2018 with a BFA in Dance and a minor in Leadership. Throughout her training, she has spent time dancing in New York City, San Francisco, Nashville and Israel. She has had the honor of performing works by Ohad Naharin, Banning Bouldin, Gina Patterson and Angharad Davies. Kelli is constantly inspired by way in which this movement form sparks conversation, invokes visceral reactions and creates community.

Kathleen Pender (Dancer)

Kathleen Pender is a performer, dance educator, and arts administrator with a B.A. in Dance from St. Olaf College. She teaches for the Northfield Arts Guild and Young Dance, where she also works as Communication Assistant. She has performed in works by local choreographers Erinn Liebhard, Suzanne Costello, Gretchen Pick, April Sellers, Julie Warder, Taja Will, and Pat Taylor/JazzAntiqua (LA), among others. She has performed in several Rhythmically Speaking productions since 2013 and has been a member of the Rhythmically Speaking Cohort since 2019. Kathleen is currently pursuing certification in Massage Therapy at Northwestern Health Sciences University. Kathleen is passionate about community and relationships cultivated through movement exploration, education, and performance.

Dougie Robbins (Visiting Choreographer)

Dougie Robbins is director and choreographer. He began his career in Musical Theater, and created DPRdance to provide an intersection between theater dance and concert dance. Scat Cats has performed at the LPAC, Dixon Place, Movement And Dance Festival in Rochester, Tada! (off-broadway), and Uptown Rising. His favorite Musical credits include Peter Pan, Footloose, Addams Family, and Joseph…Dreamcoat!. He is also a passionate teacher bringing his enthusiasm for all dance styles to competitive studios, SUNY Cortland’s BFA MT program, and Taiwan. Visit the DPR website to learn more.

Sarah Salisbury (Stage Manager)


Sarah is a freelance production and stage manager around the Twin Cities. She has worked for many dance organizations, as well as the Southern Theater. Currently, Sarah is a stage manager at Ted Mann Concert Hall and a receptionist for Secondhand Hounds. Her and Erinn have been besties for a really freakin’ long time.

Kayla Schiltgen (Local Choreographer)

Kayla Schiltgen is a Two Harbors MN-based artist working at the intersections of dance, film and the natural environment to create emotive experiences. Her work is a glimpse into her inner space and a reflection of her experience as a Highly Sensitive Person. Before moving to Two Harbors, Mn in 2018, where Kayla currently practices, she worked in the Twin Cities as a dancer and choreographer performing in works by Paula Mann, Eclectic Edge Ensemble, Alternative Motion Project, Erinn Liebhard, Becca Cerra, and Kinetic Evolutions. Her work has been seen at the Walker Art Center, the Southern Theater, several Minnesota Fringe Festivals, Dances on the Lakewalk, Dances at the Lake Festival and Inbox@Artbox.

John Surber (Dancer)

John Surber is a professional dance artist and teacher out of the Minneapolis/ St. Paul area who graduated Cum Laude from Gustavus Adolphus College with a B.A. in Dance in May of 2017. John started dancing in college, training primarily in modern, and dabbling in the areas of jazz and hip hop. John has performed with Rhythmically Speaking, Arbeit Opera Theatre, 16 Feet, Kinetic Evolutions and the Christopher Watson Dance Company and 8:20 Dance Company.

Justin Tinker (Rehearsal Assistant for Ayo Walker’s work)


Justin is a native of Nashville, Tennessee. He graduated from Hillsboro High School in Nashville, Tennessee and is currently attending Austin Peay State University, where he is earning his BA in Dance and Graphic Design. He is concurrently a member of a student run dance ensemble The Company and the president of the Student Organized Dance Association. A strong recommendation from Shelby Flowers landed Justin a position as one of four student rehearsal assistants for Dr. Walker’s “The Boom Boom Room in Tunisia,” and the opportunity to travel to the Twin Cities to help set the piece on Rhythmically Speaking.

Dr. Ayo Walker (Visiting Choreographer)

Dr. Ayo Walker is a Performance Studies Practitioner, Choreographer, and Dance Educator. Ayo’s latest works, “The Breedlove’s Pas de Duke” and “Do Hashtags Make Black Lives Matter?” were produced by her project-based dance company, Ayo & Company and commissioned by PUSHfest, National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), Sacramento Black Art of Dance (S/BAD), the DC Black Theatre & Arts Festival, and Emergence Dance Festival. Ayo is honored to join Rhythmically Speaking’s The Cohort 2020.

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Thank you for joining us for The Cohort 20/21 at “Jazz on Tap!”