By Debra Cash
Energizing, joyful, expert, close to the infallible, Chase magic was an excellent choice to reopen ART after the long pandemic shutdown.
Chase magic, Created by Ayodele Casel, directed by Torya Beard, with original compositions and musical direction by Crystal Monee Hall. At the American Repertory Theater, Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Cambridge, until October 9.
The cheerful hubbub of real, living people only occasionally stands out behind their free i [heart] art masks last night at the opening of tap dancer Ayodele Casel Chase magic moved more than one onlooker to tears – even before the house lights went out. Energizing, joyful, expert, close to the infallible, Chase magic was an excellent choice to reopen ART after the long pandemic shutdown.
Interestingly enough, this show – which does not explicitly address the pandemic – is indirectly a pandemic product. Recorded last March at the Joyce Theater in New York without an audience, the original video version of Chase magic served as a virtual trial out of town. Does the energy of a live audience help dancers and musicians? From the stage, they told us yes. Does being live help the audience? God damn it.
Chase magic opens with a black note. The dancers, patting along what appears to be a jumble of crisscrossing planes and ramps, wear beige trench coats and strike an urban rhythm similar to the clicking of a subway car entering a station. These are New Yorker, all of you: jumping between platforms with an occasional blossoming of open legs, they’ve been cramped long enough. They are ready to move.
Casel, a slight figure of black and Puerto Rican heritage who wears her hair in a bun above a braid that runs down her back, begins her first solo. Accompanied by the skillful pianist Anibal Cesar Cruz, she walks on the stage in her metallic shoes which catch the light, a rain stick trembling against the delicate high notes of the piano. There is running water in his footwork. It’s a style that returns throughout the evening, as if Casel is keeping his engine idling.
During Chase magic, she will perform a duet with dancer Anthony Morigerato in a rumba version of “Fly Me to the Moon”, her light, suspended technique and her corkscrew tricks arguing that it is not necessary to be identical in terms of race, gender or style to be friends; play a few leader follow-up games and find plenty of well-timed breaks and contrasts with “guys” – Anthony Morigerato and Kurt Csolak; and dance a sober trio that is almost severe in its precision in unison with Amanda Castro and Naomi Funaki – a lively young dancer I recognized in Caleb Teicher’s “Moses Supposes” video and I would have liked to see more.
The staging of the show, by Torya Beard, is tight. Alex Giorgetti’s balanced sound mix lets the tapper’s shoes hear like musical instruments. There’s even a sweet song led by Crystal Monee Hall where, after so many months of dealing with digital signal asynchrony, we hear each other’s voices in real time singing the repeated word love / love / love.
But there is no doubt that the most powerful magic of Chase magic is made by the combination of Casel and the great jazzman Arturo O’Farrill. If you attend the show any other night of the ART race, you’ll see a different performance than mine: this improvography (as the faucet folks call it, in memory of Gregory Hines) throws Casel into the deep end. to “thrive in the chaos” of O’Farrill’s Latin jazz. This section of the show is called “Confidence” and the confidence is non-negotiable. It may be simple for Casel to match the bass notes of the piano with lowered heels, but as O’Farrill’s playing begins to cascade like a mechanical piano slipping out of its gables, he almost dares Casel to follow. . Mostly, she does.
Ayodele Casel was very interested in exploring her presence in the tap world and the multiracial tap heritage donation: the work she created while she was a Radcliffe member 2019-2020, Diary of a tap dancer, explored the accomplishments of the tap dancers who came before her, not all of whom are as famous as they deserve. I was glad she shouted at Diane walker, which was in the house.
The closing section of Chase magic involves Castro, representing Afro-Caribbean culture, dressed in puffy white bomba skirt and work towards a trance-like frenzy as tap dancers surround her like sidekicks in a Martha Graham painting. It didn’t work for me.
Yet just beyond this overly literal framework was a hint of the next steps.
Behind the larger-than-life dancers was projected a brief loop of choreographer Ronald K. Brown moving with his characteristic liquidity, gesturing as if calling for homeland. Stanzas from his poem “Meeting Place” were also screened. Brown, born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, has been able to draw deeply into the traditional vocabulary of the West African movement to create works that speak to his own contemporary spiritual research. Casel may think that her work can support her journey as she pursues the magic of the tap.
Debra cash, a founding contributor to Arts Fuse who now sits on its board of directors, is executive director of the Boston Dance Alliance.