"Jason Samuels Smith stands at the forefront of tap, moving the field forward through innovation, respectful of the past, but not defined by its boundaries. With one number running seamlessly into the next and no intermission, the program on July 26 delivered an hour of non-stop entertainment.
The entire show takes place on a narrow raised platform, which makes a lot of sense considering the most charged space in tap lies between the shoe and the floor. Samuels Smith has assembled a diverse troupe of four dancers who can slice and dice that space with finesse and mind-boggling precision. Tap may be one of the few dance forms that allows individual style to show through amidst spot-on unison.
Samuels Smith is a force to be reckoned with, dancing with such speed in some passages that all we can see is the blur of black patent leather whooshing by our eyes. Yet our ears have no trouble picking up the rapid-fire thunder emanating from his mighty shoes. Pushing into new territory, he accomplishes an ever-growing number of original steps. At times even he seems surprised by what comes out of him. Using all surfaces of his foot, he transforms the floor into the surface of a drum. His aggressive presence and virtuoso authority form the center of the show.
Lee Howard, possibly the strongest dancer next to Smith, has a laid-back style and lanky limbs that make his dancing look spontaneous and easy. Chloe Arnold, a more athletic dancer, is not afraid to let the hard work show, especially in her solo, Hernando's Hideaway. Sarah Reich adds a salsa touch to her solo Conga. Imagine a ballet dancer who switched to tap and you get Melinda Sullivan, whose floating upper body conjured a softer side in Pure Imagination.
Accompanying the dancers were Curtis Lundy on bass, Theo Hill on piano, and Smith's father and former dancer, JoJo Smith, on percussion. Live music added rhythmic dimension, especially Lundy and Hill's lyrical touch. Father and son riffed off each other in a lively conversation between dancing and drumming in A Song for My Father, an east coast premiere. Ahmad Rashad Jr.'s poetry brought a reminder of the syncopations that speech and tap share. Smith joined Rashad in JAJA Productions Band, bringing that idea home."
- Nancy Wozny, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Review
“The second half kept up the pace with the first urban “tap off” I’ve ever seen. Jason Samuels Smith’s ACGI (Anyone Can Get It) & Friends are virtuoso tappers from the US. Three guys and three girls split into stylised street gang factions and tap duel each other - showing off their individual styles and entering into playful oneupmanship. This is no 42nd Street shuffle. The dancers have all the street cred of the Vagabond Crew in tap shoes and are fabulous solo and ensemble performers, oozing charisma and loving what they’re doing: tap like you’ve never seen it and it was the freshest thing on show tonight.”
- Flailbox, NY City Center Fall for Dance Festival Review
Smith and company dazzle with technique
"Among many exciting moments during tap artist Jason Samuels Smith’s performance with his company A.C.G.I. (“Anybody Can Get It’’) on Thursday at Jacob’s Pillow, one stood out because it also touched the heart. Everyone else had done a solo turn and was off making a costume change. Samuels Smith, premier dancer and chief choreographer, stepped onto the company’s long, narrow platform of a stage and quickly showed his virtuosity in a dense, fast, explosive style, as if he were determined to fit twice as many steps into a second as anyone ever had.
Then the man playing congas behind him came in, and it became a duet as each traded on the other’s rhythms. The dancer would do something wild, more free-form, and the older man would smile. Knowing the drummer, JoJo Smith, was the dancer’s father and a former dancer himself (Samuels Smith had introduced him), you thought, “Ah, this was how it must have been 20 years ago, when his son was trying his first steps.’’
Samuels Smith, 28, has done a lot of performing, much of it solo, since he made his Broadway breakthrough 13 years ago in “Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk,’’ as understudy for the lead dancer, Savion Glover. In 2001, Smith created A.C.G.I. with four dancers who frequented the Debbie Allen Dance Studio in Los Angeles. From their workshopping, under Smith’s eye, they’ve come up with a program of 16-plus numbers, each about five minutes long. Among them were six world premieres.
The program, which is subject to change each night, was well put together. The dancers (Chloe Arnold, Sarah Reich, Melinda Sullivan, and newcomer Lee Howard) were all brilliant solo improvisers. There were fine musical interludes by the supporting jazz trio, as well as two short rap numbers by Smith’s young cousin, Ahmad Rashad Jr..."
-By David Perkins, Globe Correspondent
DANCE REVIEW | JACOB'S PILLOW DANCE FESTIVAL
Where a Week’s Typical Fare Is Beyond a Standard Plié
"Mr. Samuels Smith and A.C.G.I. are at the Duke for two weeks (through Sunday), and his photograph is on the cover of the festival’s program.
The common denominator of those four companies was footwork. Feet were used as a prominent source of texture, variety and rhythm, reminding you why lines of verse are traditionally divided into feet. The Nutmeg dances were mainly traditional ballet, with the women on point; Mr. Samuels Smith and his colleagues are tap virtuosos; the dancers of the Cunningham company have, since the 1950s, possessed feet as articulate as those of any other modern-dance company, or more so; and few young and upwardly mobile choreographers today show a keener sense of how feet can project in time and space than Ms. Tanowitz. (As an example of dance without interesting footwork, structure or rhythm, the Inside/Out performance of Rebecca Lazier’s “My Serenade” on Friday offered a tiresomely diffuse series of unrigorous movements, vaguely tacked on to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings.”)
All five of the A.C.G.I. performers are soloists, each given a chance to shine. Mr. Samuels Smith is broad-chested, virile, bearded, powerful and open; his male co-dancer, Lee Howard, is a sly young beanpole; and the three women — Chloe Arnold, Sarah Reich and Melinda Sullivan — are different in build and manner. So it is all the more remarkable that the dance quintets are as striking as any other part of the show. They’re flexible in structure, sometimes with four dancers becoming a backup group to a soloist, sometimes with four dancers circling a fifth before arriving in a new line. But what’s most remarkable is how much excitement they can build out of a unison rhythm. It’s already a pleasure when five dancers establish one rhythm together; it’s another when they embellish it together; and yet another when the unison is sustained as it keeps changing in meter, emphasis and texture.
Live music is central here, with Theo Hill (piano), Curtis Lundy (bass), Ahmad Rashad Jr. (rap) and Jo Jo Smith (percussion) contributing. (The playing of Mr. Hill and Mr. Lundy had real sweetness and charm.) It’s something of a family business: Mr. Samuels Smith is Mr. Smith’s son and Mr. Rashad’s cousin. And Mr. Samuels Smith is an easy, enthusiastic communicator, speaking now and then (he explains that he calls his company Anybody Can Get It as an antidote to the cutthroat competitiveness he finds in the tap world) and dancing with something akin to missionary zeal. His combination of weight and lightness gives him a striking range, and he has an ear for metric variety. You sense his eagerness to keep moving on, never to be stuck in a rut, to take all the tradition of tap and extend it."
-By ALASTAIR MACAULAY, New York Times, Review of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
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