Got that swing
The Joyce Theater has been spiffed up, with new seats and carpets (featuring the same zig-zag pattern). Thankfully, its homey feel and brick-walled warmth are unchanged. It is a particularly good theater in which to see shows where the performers’ personalities play a big role; you can really see them, feel their energies, dance with them in your mind. Caleb Teicher’s SW!NG OUT is exactly this kind of show.
Teicher has put together a spiffing ensemble of swing dancers, each of whom dances in his or her own style, for a show that displays the energy, musicality, generosity, and fluidity of the genre. The choreography and structure were developed by a six-member creative team, which Teicher refers to as the “Braintrust.” And all of this exists within the joyous sound of the Eyal Vilner Big Band, an ensemble of virtuoso players fronted by the rousing, bronze-voiced Imani Rousselle, a recent graduate of the Manhattan School of Music. (Keep an ear out for Rousselle!)
What keeps the evening lively is its feeling of improvisation and freedom. Much of swing dance (and its forbearer, the Lindy Hop) is couple dancing, but here the partners switch roles, sometimes leading, sometimes following, sometimes facing off in more ambiguous ways, each waiting for the other’s next move. A particularly touching example comes near the beginning, when Teicher pairs up with Joshua Mclean in a rendition of “My Baby Just Cares for Me,” each looking at the other, touching, guiding, responding, a surprise around every corner. This duet is echoed by another later in the evening, in which Dee Daniels and her partner come together in a moment of sweet, sexy repartee.
There are dances with canes, dances with hats, a solo (by Evita Arce) in which the dancer is in conversation with the saxophone player, another (by LaTasha Barnes) that responds directly to the sound of percussion. Barnes, who moves with a particular fluidity, her arms drawing filigreed patterns in the air, ends her solo with an impressive buckling of the limbs that draws from the vocabulary of Voguing. In a completely different vein, Nathan Bugh performs a quiet, wobbly dance, collapsing and recovering, jumping and turning, all in silence, until he begins humming to himself.
It is interesting to see how different footwear – heels or sneakers – affects the quality of movement. Heels facilitate swivels and sliding; sneakers lend the movement an extra bounce and groundedness. Laura Glaess, all flying legs and arms, is a sneaker dancer. Evita Arce comes into her own in heels, where she can work the line of the leg, the flirtiness of the arms. In one of her duets, hints of tango sneak into the footwork.
The evening’s improvisatory feel is both its strength and its weakness. A duet in which the performers were chosen by picking names from a hat fell flat. An appearance by the vaudevillian clown-comedian Bill Irwin, felt superfluous. But a musical interlude in which the dancers simply walked, or danced, in different combinations, across the stage was, improbably, one of the evening’s most beautiful passages, particularly the moment when a dancer simply glided around, tracing loop-de-loops in a pair of roller-skates.
If Teicher’s intention was to bring people to this style of dance, then SW!NG OUT is a success. Swing, and its origins as Lindy Hop, come across as the most welcoming, fun, and musically satisfying of dances. After the more choreographed half of the show, Teicher invited the audience to come onstage with the dancers and enjoy Eyal’s swinging ensemble. And they came, in droves.