Music from the Sole’s Partido, a premiere at Harlem Stage, is a marvelous feast of rhythm, both visual and aural. Partido’s six tap dancers change dance patterns and at the same time tap out changing rhythms, sometimes a cappella, sometimes backed by or interacting with the four-piece band that is as much a part of Music from the Sole as the dancers.
The company was formed about four years ago by Leonardo Sandoval, a tap dancer and rhythm-maker, whose Brazilian origins sometimes inflect the moves and rhythms with Brazilian elements, such as samba and choro, and Gregory Richardson, a bassist and composer, who loves both jazz and Brazilian music. In an aftertalk with Sandoval and Richardson, putting Partido together – its working out interrupted by the pandemic – was likened to a jigsaw puzzle. And so it seemed – its complexity of changing dance patterns and multiplying rhythms ran in courses of varying groupwork and chances for each of the six expert tappers to solo.
Partido is variously translated as a party or fiesta, a game or match. Music from the Sole’s Partido started with a huddle, including all the dancers and musicians. From there the dancers splayed out, tapping a cappella at first. But much later the musicians got to move along with the dancers, and dancers made rhythms with body parts, besides the feet, or took up small percussive instruments.
Still, intricately tapping feet, making intriguing and changing rhythms, whether by the group of six, including two Brazilian women, Gisele Silva and Ana Tomioshi, as well as Naomi Funaki, and two men besides Sandoval, Orlando Hernández and Lucas Santana (also Brazilian), or smaller groupings or solos, took pride of first – and returning – place. (Phew – what a sentence! Ed.) Frequently crossing feet or turning with a knee up were distinctive elements. Solos, interspersed throughout the show, with each excellent dancer having a chance to show elegantly intricate rhythms or flying legs and space-eating turns, gave a chance for improvisation, but most of Partido was fully choreographed by Sandoval. It included satisfying unisons, with all feet and bodies etching out the rhythms, and varying forces and patterns that sometimes crossed and meshed into further complications.
Blackouts led to new sections and surprises. Sandoval and Tomioshi clapped hands and their own thighs, as if playing a very rhythmically sophisticated children’s game, before other dancers came in. Sometimes the audience clapped too, encouraged by the company. Later there was even more complex body slapping, so that it seemed any part of a body could be part of rhythm-making. Three dancers took up small percussion instruments, a tiny drum, metal to strike and they returned with these later. The musicians, too, produced intricacies of percussion, not only with the drum set played by Josh Davis, but with smaller instruments, too. The pianist, Noé Kains, made squeaky, very Brazilian sounds with a cuica, a hollow friction drum, which is played by inserting a hand into it.
There was quite a bit of a cappella dancing or body percussion, but the band was also essential. It meshed rhythms with the dancers or backed them with swoops of intriguing jazz or suggestions of Brazil, and had attractive moments alone, too. Gregory Richardson, the music director and composer, plays bass, grounding the band with his subtle rhythmic sense. José Cruzata is Cuban, also composed some of the music for Partido, and with his saxophone pealed out encouragement.
More blackouts, more surprises. The Brazilian women samba-ed. Sandoval danced barefoot, still making audible rhythms on the handsome special floor set out for Partido. The band came out to be part of a dancing procession. For some final spurts of individual tapping, because, of course, we expected it, Sandoval returned with his tap shoes on and each dancer briefly showed off. And, if I remember correctly, it all ended, with once again, a huddle of all ten performers.