17 Sep 2008
NY TIMES Dance Review - Jazz Tap Ensemble
Claudia La Rocco
Tracing Tap's Origins and Toasting Its Titans
By CLAUDIA LA ROCCO
Published: September 17, 2008
There are many technicians in the tap world these days. But the real artists — you know, the technicians with something to say — aren't as easy to come by.
Jason Samuels Smith is one such dancer, and it is a treat to find him, along with the glamorous Chloe Arnold, moonlighting with the Jazz Tap Ensemble. The company opened a weeklong run at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday evening with "Tap Roots," a homage to the greats of the form, including Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, Eleanor Powell, Gregory Hines and Jimmy Slyde, the be-bop master who died in May.
One of the night's best moments came when Mr. Smith paid tribute to Mr. Slyde in a solo during "Interplay," choreographed by Mr. Slyde for the ensemble in 1995 and marked by his signature weightless gliding elegance. Mr. Smith's style is far earthier; even when his shoes seem barely to be touching the stage, he exudes a powerful sense of weighty rootedness that makes his virtuosic explosions all the more dazzling. His jazz phrasing is delicious too, especially during quieter moments of interaction with the band.
Lynn Dally, who created the Jazz Tap Ensemble almost 30 years ago, is savvy enough to invite heavy hitters like Mr. Smith on board from time to time. By and large, though, her company is more dependable than transformative: tap as entertainment rather than art. And so it was, mostly, on Tuesday. Ms. Dally's "Bahia Dreams," a Joyce commission and a premiere, is all too familiar in its structure and presentation, from the couples' color-coded costumes to the alternation of solo moments, like Sam Weber's lovely introspective turn, and exuberant group sections.
Looking back is one way to pay tribute to your artistic heroes (though I wonder if "War Dance of the Wooden Indians," a nod to the Condos Brothers that included big feather headdresses, might be a bit too far back for audiences to look in 2008). But you can also honor the past by moving forward. You must, really, if your art is to prosper in the present.
The Jazz Tap Ensemble performs through Sept. 21 at the Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 242-0800, joyce.org.