30 Sep 2007
‘India Jazz Progressions’
San Francisco, Cowell Theater
by Renee Renouf
Chitresh Das is no Akram Khan; instead of Sylvia Guillem he has a youthful tapper by the name of Jason Samuels Smith. With the support of his chief disciple, Charlotte Moraga, and Smith’s associates, Chloe Arnold and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, supported by Das’ ensemble, and two banks of appropriate musicians, rhythm and Indo-American cross-cultural exchange, dance style, is alive, well and mostly exhilarating.
The Das-Samuels Smith collaboration started at the American Dance Festival and premiered at the Cowell Theater before apparently wowing them in India. India believed tap was a la Fred Astaire; Das made it possible for Samuels Smith to give Indian dance lovers a different take on this quintessentially American dance form.
Moraga started the evening with clear turns, strong footwork and a steady dynamics, both constant hallmarks of her work. Sometimes she seems to be Das’ Shakti in near mirror image of his approaches to this North Indian classical style.
She was joined by Chloe Arnold, in frilly collared black sheath, dancing up her own storm with a similar direct attack before the two exchanged riffs. Immediately apparent was an ambiance of warmth, equality and mutually adrenaline rousing, an atmosphere sustained throughout the evening.
Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards came along next is a solo before being joined by Jason Samuels Smith. Sumbry-Edwards is a willowy shaped woman, one you might see in a retrospective revue relating to the Cotton Club, swaying down the avenue with a picture hat to admiring glances by black dudes. She taps that way, with an elegance belying the hard work and sweat evidenced as she turned while executing some intricate sequence. She also smiles in a most beguiling manner when she is not listening to the rhythms of her feet and inner voices.
Jason Samuels Smith joined Sumbry-Edwards for a scintillating duet. Smith is built square, a shape accented by his shirt, hanging straight from the shoulders. They paired like friends; as colleagues they have appeared together on Broadway.
Das brought the first half to a close with some of his energetic turns and a dose of abhinaya relating to Shiva’s destruction of the God of Love for having interrupted his meditation - a chance to show the different characters of Rati, the Goddess of Lust and Parvati, ultimately Shiva’s consort, and the ill-fated God of Love, destroyed for having sent his arrow to disrupt Shiva’s meditation on Mount Kailash. Das’ upper back is now stiffer, but his hands remain elegant, his facial expressions clear.
Following intermission, we got Das’ company performing an example of Das’ Kathak Yoga, involving his ensemble singing, marking the tal, using the hand cymbals; the leader wielded the harmonium and sets the pace, turning and returning to the musical instrument. An engaging, impressive exposition, I kept hoping there might be some individual variation.
Jason Samuels Smith tapped an engaging, intricate solo followed by an exchange with Das, where Das wielded the tabla and set rhythms which Samuels Smith met with his taps, an exchange which delighted the audience and which the two artists also obviously relished.
Throughout the performance a small white line wended its way up the inner side of one leg of the artist, apparently to amplify the rhythm, tap or bell. Slightly distracting visually, at the end, one artist practically threw the line off the stage.
Moraga, Arnold and Sumbry-Edwards comprised a trio with variations and ensemble rhythms as part of the dynamic finale. With the musicians, the five principals, and, presumably the Das ensemble, Das and Samuels Smith will dance a series of performances later in October, October 10-12 in Denver, Colorado and 13-14 in Richmond, Virginia.
The audiences will be in for a treat. All the artists present with warmth, confidence, rapport and mutual respect, obviously a winning combination.