Critic’s Notebook: ‘After Midnight’ Harks Back again to the Cotton Club Days

November 29th, 2013

Is great faucet dance on Broadway a factor of the past? In a single sense, apparently not. “After Midnight,” the jazz revue that opened at the Brooks Atkinson this thirty day period, showcases some of the best, most state-of-the-artwork tapping introduced in a Broadway theater in several a 12 months. Amusing issue is, it’s established in 1932.

The present has been deservedly praised for its massive and gifted solid of singers and dancers and especially for its band, the 16 musicians named the Jazz at Lincoln Middle All-Stars who carry to lively daily life the audio of Duke Ellington and some of his friends from the 1920s and ’30s. But as an aficionado of tap and a scholar of its background, I discovered myself wondering what it may mean that just about the only way that virtuosic jazz tap has produced it onto Broadway in the twenty first century is in a car that purports to leap back again eight many years.

I need to level out that “After Midnight” isn’t a faucet-hefty show. Of 26 quantities, only four attribute faucet, and these are spaced out. Of twenty five performers, only 5 faucet. But two of these — Jared Grimes and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards — are two of the best faucet dancers all around. I’ve noticed them a lot of times prior to, but mostly in the specialised context of faucet live shows and faucet festivals and faucet-centric productions, the individual globe in which the biggest faucet dancers mainly keep to themselves these times.

1 function of “After Midnight” is to restore them to an older, broader context. In the ’20s and ’30s, tap was a part of several much more displays than it is now, but it was only a component. “After Midnight” is loosely primarily based on the type of revue you may well have seen in a Harlem nightclub like the Cotton Club, back when this kind of revues proliferated and tap experts shared the phase with other acts.

In its treatment method of dance functions, the choreography, by Warren Carlyle, who also directs, is sly about historic precision. Mr. Carlyle reproduces a single of the few Cotton Club quantities captured on movie, a program in which 5 males dance as one particular, as if stuck collectively in a queue. But he elaborates it nicely — the original quantity is slender — and he efficiently juxtaposes its restraint with the goofiness of another novelty dance, the self-explanatory Peckin’.

The dancing of the great Earl Tucker, known as Snakehips, probably could not be reproduced by any individual else and it’s not likely that it could be enhanced on. Swiveling his toes, Tucker despatched waves rolling out from his pelvis, swelling undulations that fractured his entire body into zigzags, and that was just to start off.

In Tucker’s spot, Mr. Carlyle gives contemporary-working day equivalents. Virgil Gadson and Julius Chisolm specialize in the kind of avenue dancing — gliding footwork, body areas knocked out of joint — that tends to make them Tucker’s heirs. The way that these youthful guys do their possess factor, specifically timed to period-best preparations of jazz, exemplifies this production’s appealingly peaceful perspective to the previous.

In this regard, the faucet quantities are more combined. The first one is a double act, in the custom of the Nicholas Brothers. But although Phillip Attmore and Daniel J. Watts flash up their tapping with the requisite splits and acrobatics, they lack the daring and rhythmic verve of their predecessors. Their schedule is common of Mr. Carlyle’s choreography in becoming skillfully made but not also original or imaginative.

I know of faucet dancers who could knock a variety like that out of the park, but I’m not certain that Mr. Carlyle would want them. He runs a extremely tight ship, and has a keen feeling of the bigger arc. More stunning dancers in that slot may not go away enough room for the relaxation of the demonstrate to construct.

This is why Mr. Grimes will get the solo location foremost into the team finale. There his showstopping faucet does not end the show. It’s his position to astonish, and he does. But what is intriguing right here, way too, is how he does not endeavor any historical pastiche, like a Bill Robinson program. He dances to Ellington like Jared Grimes.

What that signifies is an alternation among the brain-boggling footwork that has escalated precipitously among the faucet dancers of his technology and far more massive-scaled dancing — sleek spins and phase-crossing stuff — that absorbs tap tradition whilst also incorporating hip-hop. Mr. Grimes does not appear historic.

Ms. Sumbry-Edwards, the show’s other faucet virtuoso, appeared much more hemmed in. Her faucet amount will come in the center of the display, and although it’s great to hear her sing a little bit, and although she fills the place she’s allotted with brilliance, it is a disappointment when Mr. Attmore and Mr. Watts be part of her. What could be remarkable turns cute and contained.

But perhaps Mr. Carlyle is aware of what he’s undertaking. From a dance critic’s point of view, what is most extraordinary about “After Midnight” is not the choreography as choreography so much as how the entire present dances with out becoming a dance present. The straightforward motions Mr. Carlyle offers his singers are exactly where he demonstrates some of his greatest ability. Almost everything has its place.

Somewhere together the line, for factors to a variety of to listing, the tradition of faucet to which Mr. Grimes and Ms. Sumbry-Edwards belong missing its area in this kind of enjoyment, after its home. Their variety of tap was final on Broadway in 1999, when “Bring in da Sound, Provide in da Funk,” choreographed by and starring Savion Glover, closed. Because then, the aspiration of numerous dancers in that demonstrate or who arrived up soon after has been to return in a production like that, a faucet present that expands tap’s possibilities.

Perhaps that was not the appropriate dream, or the only one particular to have. Perhaps what was essential to influence Broadway producers that faucet has a location in the current was to remind them of the location it experienced in the previous.

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