Jason Samuels Smith and A.C.G.I.
Jason Samuels Smith and
A.C.G.I. (Anybody Can Get It)
Ted Shawn Theatre
Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
July 22–August 2, 2009
Reviewed by Nancy Wozny
Photo by Karli Cadel, Courtesy Jacob’s Pillow.
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.
Samuels Smith’s show leaves the impression that tap is a big place, where old-school competition is a driving factor, yet where there’s still plenty of room for new ideas to flourish.