Ayodele Casel and Arturo O'Farrill

September 27, 2019
Many artists, particularly of the solo variety, project, to varying degrees of subtlety, the will to stand out. Ayodele Casel very tangibly doesn’t. Instead, she educates us of the rich lineage of female tappers of color, at which she is currently the forefront. This generosity is not the sort with which one embarks on a career, however; it comes from an active, humbling realization along the way that one is never alone.
“There was only ever room for one,” Casel explains within her recent collaboration with Latin jazz ambassador Arturo O’Farrill, to tell how she journeyed from her Ginger Rogers-obsessed teens through NYU’s drama department to becoming a sultan of tap dance. At tap jams, she discovered a connection between the conversational side of tap with the communicative capabilities of African drumming, and began researching and reaching out to tappers who were not only female, but looked like her, too, whose legacies may have been overlooked, lost to time, or transmuted to whichever “one” there was only ever room for. They should be very proud.
Casel’s tapping bears a logical resemblance to that of Savion Glover, in whose Not Your Ordinary Tappers she was the first and remains the only female member. Like Glover, her feet manage to make more sounds than their movements suggest. Where she becomes distinct is in her specific focus on salsa music, her innate knowledge of which manifests in filling rhythmic gaps versus hitting the same marks as O’Farrill’s ensemble. This frees Casel to push beyond metric limitations, functioning as the timbales player, appropriately absent from the band.
She joins her fellow tappers into tight synchronicity. As though rhythmic prowess weren’t enough, the rest of their bodies move, too, employing spatial patterning and physical counterpoint that highlights each dancer’s contributions to the percussive web. We become intimately familiar with their physical personalities one-on-one. Casel’s bound quality is able to travel swiftly in space with a look of, “Wow, I am doing this,” effervescing about her face. Andre Imanishi, lean and long, slips and slides, nearing his edge though never wiping out. His haphazard presence is balanced by Naomi Funaki’s crisp restraint. Similarly crisp but hardly restrained is Luke Hickey, who occasionally lets his hips do the talking. Dre Torres, while quieter in character, is no less solid a hoofress.
It is the greatest relief that such a talented crew only gives so much. The fast-paced show consists of short pieces, each a new bit of information. The tapping quickly explores its capabilities as accompaniment, most notably to a group of young women of color who articulate their dreams as plans. Casel deftly reels us in with entertainment to get us on board demanding that inclusivity not only be celebrated, but practiced.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonthan Matthews


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