20 Apr 2007
Ko-Thi taps into different style
By TOM STRINI
Journal Sentinel dance critic
Posted: April 20, 2007
Roxanne Fair had a hunch about Jason Samuels Smith, so she took some Ko-Thi Dance Company dancers on a field trip to Chicago to see Smith last year.
Ko-Thi Dance Company
Tap dancer Jason Samuels Smith will be at the center of the Ko-Thi Dance Company's "Words from the Soul."
If You Go
Who: The Ko-Thi Dance Company, the Ton Ko-Thi youth ensemble, guest soloist Jason Samuels Smith, spoken word poets Kwabena Antoine Nixon, Muhibb Dyer and Element Everest
What: "Kuumba 2007, Words from the Soul"
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Alverno College Pitman Theater, 3431 S. 39th St.
Tickets: $35, at the Alverno College box office, (414) 382-6044
As a result, he will be the featured guest artist on Ko-Thi's upcoming "Words from the Soul" concerts at Alverno College.
"We were right up front at that little theater in the Chicago Art Institute," Fair said. "I was astonished at the level of showmanship and technical skill. Jason and three members of his company were there. They kept us mesmerized for 90 minutes."
Smith, a New York tap dancer, is open to reaching out.
In Chicago, he was also working with an East Indian dance company.
He got that barefoot crew to put on tap shoes, just for something different.
"I thought it would be so cool to see him improvise with some of the West African stuff that we do," said Fair, Ko-Thi's associate artistic director and second in command to founder/artistic director Ferne Caulker.
Fair is to a large extent building the show around Smith.
She intends to have him weave into and out of a South African Boot Dance, a long-time company staple, have him tap dialogues with a Senegalese sabar drum and with the spoken-word poets that Caulker has brought into the mix.
"It will be like a three-tiered call-and-response," Fair said. "Jason can't come until production week, so there will be some serious improvising in the show."
Fair also asked her father, former Ko-Thi music director Dumaah Saafir, to adapt his music for Caulker's classic, "Juba," to include a significant solo for Smith.
"I just thought that music might work for tap," said Fair, a composer and musician as well as a dancer and choreographer. "I wanted him to be bigger than life for that solo, so we're building a runway that's 15 inches high and runs all the way across the stage."
Smith, 26, is the founder of the Anybody Can Get It dance company.
He started his professional career at age 8.
Smith has many television credits, and he's danced lead roles in Savion Glover's groundbreaking "Bring in Da' Noise, Bring in Da'Funk" tap show at age 15. He was also a member of Glover's NYOT (Not Your Ordinary Tappers).
In a phone interview from New York, Smith said he had worked with musicians from cultures all over the world, including Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon.
"You need to be conscious of the artist's approach when you collaborate," he said. "It's good to go in prepared, to know something about the culture. But the most helpful thing is just listening, to be in the moment, so I can add something relevant to the (musical and choreographic) conversation."
He's comfortable coming in during production week, for a short, intense rehearsal schedule.
"I'm used to coming in and grinding it out," he said. "That's how we work."
E-mail Tom Strini at firstname.lastname@example.org.