Dance Review-Jason Samuels Smith
23 Oct 2009
DANCE REVIEW | JASON SAMUELS SMITH
These Heels, and Flats, Are Made for Tapping
By CLAUDIA LA ROCCO
Published: October 23, 2009
When Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards started teaching a course on how to tap in high heels in 2006, some older female dancers were not happy. They had battled to escape the chorus line and wear the same shoes as their more celebrated male colleagues and now this?
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Michael Nagle for The New York Times
From left, Michelle Dorrance, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Chloé Arnold at the Kitchen in Charlie’s Angels, a work choreographed by Jason Samuels Smith.
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One rebuttal to such feminist ire is that it’s no longer an either-or world. A compelling assertion of choice opened on Thursday night at the Kitchen with “Charlie’s Angels,” created by Jason Samuels Smith in collaboration with three of today’s most prominent tap dancers: Chloé Arnold, Michelle Dorrance and Ms. Sumbry-Edwards.
Yes, the title is provocative, especially considering the work was conceived by a man. But Mr. Smith, himself one of the best hoofers around, does not ignore obvious parallels between the racism faced by Charlie Parker and other jazz musicians and the sexism that black female tap dancers endure.
Nor does he dwell on it in this deeply enjoyable 50-minute show, which features text by Craig (muMs) Grant, improvisations by the marvelous saxophonist Stacy Dillard and lots of Parker. Instead, he presents a theatrical world in which the chorus line and the headliners are one as the three women attack the slippery rhythms of bebop in solos and tightly choreographed routines.
They do so on a raised rectangular wooden stage, lighted with austere sophistication by Sue Samuels and backed by a black scrim; we see Mr. Dillard only through this fabric, his shadow looming large, his saxophone glinting in the light. Finally, Mr. Smith seems to be saying, we men will play backup to the women.
And rightly so. Are there enough words in the dictionary to praise Ms. Sumbry-Edwards? If ever there were a performer to prove that tap is equal parts dance and music, it is this singularly authoritative artist. Fiercely elegant, she uses her entire body to create rhythms and finish phrases, while never suggesting mere decoration. You see and hear the music most clearly in her dancing, but you also see beyond it. She is dynamite, no matter her style of shoes. (The women switched between flats and heels, while sleekly imaginative costumes by Gingie McLeod/Dindi Designs suggested various historical periods through fringe, corset tops and, of course, feathers.)
Ms. Dorrance and particularly Ms. Arnold, the weakest technician of the three, are less sure in heels, sacrificing richness and clarity of tone. But Ms. Dorrance has a wonderful comic timing and a compellingly syncopated physicality, and it is a treat to see how she and Ms. Sumbry-Edwards suggest different approaches to femininity on stage.
It is a treat, in general, to see a full-evening show of high-level tap. When are American presenters going to wise up and give us more?
“Charlie’s Angels” runs through Saturday at the Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street, Chelsea, (212) 255-5793, thekitchen.org.
Claudia La Rocco