Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Ayodele Casel and Arturo O'Farrill team up at The Joyce

Tap dancer Ayodele Casel
(photo: Michael Higgins)


Ayodele Casel + Arturo O'Farrill
The Joyce Theater
September 24-29

As I take my seat at the Joyce, a couple of audience members to my left peruse their programs, making note of the fact that tap artist Ayodele Casel has cast herself among her ensemble in all nine dances on the bill. It doesn't faze me. I know Casel. That one--given the Yoruba name for "joy has arrived"--has energy to burn.

This season's particular display of joy, though, surely comes from the victory of sharing her prestigious first full-length program at The Joyce with six-time Grammy-winning Afro-Latin jazz musician Arturo O'Farrill. The woman who once created a solo tap show called While I Have the Floor (Spoleto Festival, 2017) took another floor this time to foreground cultural pride (she is Black and Puerto Rican). Both Casel and O'Farrill are in top form here--as introduced by Scalular, the sharp-edged, scintillating world premiere ensemble piece that opens the night. Their respective arts clearly grow from the same seed. The deep, intuitive communication and affection between these master artists could be easily read throughout the theater.

If you need any reason to be convinced that tap belongs in a bond with Afro-Latin jazz, buy a ticket to this show. As offered by O'Farrill and Casel, the combined music endlessly cascades like a crystalline stream over a long stretch of rocks, sparkling, glinting in sunlight. It gives life. Casel, in particular, finds innumerable delicate, exquisite facets to bring forth in sound--nothing expected or stale or slapdash; her discipline is steely--and she's joined by a diverse, talented young ensemble that includes Naomi Funaki, Dre Torres, Luke Hickey and Andre Imanishi. If I wished for anything at all, it might be a second program with juicy challenges for spirited artists like Hickey or Imanishi, in particular. Both look game for anything, grounded in good training and inspiration.

But I do love this program with its easy-going interlude where Casel tells of going from being a Ginger Rogers fan girl to her revelation at Fazil's--legendary, dearly-departed dance studio--when the entry-level tap she'd mastered fell embarrassingly short of the hoofer's mark. And with its feminist shout-out to Girl Power everywhere and, especially, to the once-overlooked women of color in tap's history, like Jeni LeGon. And O'Farrill and Casel's embrace of everything from Bach (Chromatic Fantasy in D Minor) to Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck and Wayne Shorter.

A grand new leap forward in Casel's career, this show is a must-see if you can manage to get a ticket. I suggest you don't delay.

Arturo O'Farrill (pianist/composer)
Keisel Jiménez (percussion)
Zack O'Farrill (drums)
Ivan Renta (saxophone)
Bam Bam Rodriguez (bass)
Kali Rodriguez-Peña (trumpet)

Carolina Gonzalez Mama (vocals)

A Broadway Foundation Leaders-in-Training (2019-2020):

Sasha Arteaga
Samaria Dalling
Karime De La Cruz
Mckayla Faye
Jasmine Mendoza
Vanessa Pavia Fuentes
Amani Varney

Betsy Chester (lighting)
Daniel Erdberg (sound)

Ayodele Casel + Arturo O'Farrill continues through Sunday, September 29 with 8pm performances through Saturday and a 2pm Sunday matinee. For information and (hurry!!) tickets, click here.

The Joyce Theater
175 8th Avenue (corner of 19th Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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DISCLAIMER: In addition to my work on InfiniteBody, I serve as Senior Curatorial Director of Gibney. The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views, strategies or opinions of Gibney.

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