Caleb Teicher & Company program perfect summer fare to close out ‘ADF in CLE’ dance festival


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(L-R) Brittany DeStefano, Caleb Teicher and Gabriel Winns Ortiz in “Variations”. Photo by Em Watson.

Caleb Teicher & Company
Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
August 4, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Playful, may be the best way to describe New York-based Caleb Teicher & Company’s program, August 4 at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater in Cleveland Heights. The trio of dance works choreographed by two and a half year old dance company’s namesake artistic director Caleb Teicher, mixed tap, jazz and swing dance styles and were all about having fun, showing out and entertaining the hell out of the assembled audience in the process.

Teicher, 24, hails from Mahopac, New York and made a name for himself right out of high school. Only 17 he garnered a 2011 Bessie Award for Outstanding Individual Performance while dancing with Dorrance Dance (who appeared as part of DANCECleveland’s 2015-16 season). He was also chosen for Dance Magazine’s prestigious “25 to Watch” list in 2012 and was the winner of Dance Magazine’s “Best Emerging Choreographer” Reader’s Choice Award in 2016.

For Teicher & Company’s program, which closed out the second annual ADF in CLE summer dance festival presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with the American Dance Festival, the comedic work “Small & Tall” led things off.

The vaudevillian duet, performed by Lindsey Jones (the tall one) and Macy Sullivan (the small one), pitted the two vertically opposed dancers in stereotypical, but humorous, dance banter centered on the disparity in their heights.

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(L-R) Lindsey Jones and Macy Sullivan in “Small & Tall”. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Set to songs from the 1920s and 30s including Fats Waller’s “We The People” recorded by former Squirrel Nut Zippers vocalist Tamar Korn and pianist Peter Mintun, Teicher brought a freshness to the age-old bit with some novel choreographic moments that were executed wonderfully by Jones and Sullivan.

The work began with the pair barrel-rolling inward from opposite sides of the stage which initially disguised the dancers’ heights and set up the inevitable laugh-getting reveal when Jones stood up to tower over Sullivan. The two then began a series of visual gags with the shorter Sullivan peeking out from under and around Jones, attempting to lift and move Jones about, and the pair competitively messing with one another such as tossing the other’s costume pieces into the Amphitheater’s empty orchestra pit.  “Small & Tall’s” finest dancing came when the pair began to one-up each other in physical choreography that included several acrobatic lifts and jumps as well as some tap dancing sans the tap shoes.  The work set the tone for the carefree and competitive dancing that would permeate the rest of the enjoyable program.

Next came Teicher’s group work “Variations,” danced to Bach’s “Goldberg Variations BWV 988” and “Fugue in E, BWV 878”.  It was the audience’s first look at the talented Teicher as dancer. In a tap solo to begin the work, he started slowly and then in time with the music, gradually built up the solo’s pace and technical difficulty. Soon he was joined by dancers Brittany DeStefano and Gabriel Winns Ortiz and as in “Small & Tall,” the three of them engaged in playful dance banter teasing one another, trying to outdo the other, and revealing that their goofing was actually some quality dancing by some really talented dancers.

Fast footwork, dazzling tricks and solid comedic timing enriched each series of dance phrases and vignette in the work. In one such moment, the dancers along a horizontal line appeared to chase one another as a unit back and forth in rapid-fire tapping and sliding steps. In other phrases, the trio appeared to move side-to-side like slalom skiers and chugged along making the sound of a passing train.

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(L-R) Brittany DeStefano, Caleb Teicher and Gabriel Winns Ortiz in “Variations”. Photo by Em Watson.

Joining the work halfway in was dancer Byron Tittle who performed a measured tap solo with his back to the audience for most of it.  Then, in perhaps the work’s best comedic moment, one by one DeStefano, Ortiz and Tittle with balletic grace swooned to the floor as if passing out while Teicher continued to dance. Unable to rouse them, Teicher, as if in an episode of sitcom “I Love Lucy,” decided to join them.  Moments later, to the giggles of audience members, he popped his head up to see if the others were awake and returned to fake slumber. Finally giving up on his ruse, Teicher began another adroit solo which by its end saw the others suddenly awaken to applaud him.

The program then concluded with the dynamic “Meet Ella”.  Performed to classic tunes by Ella Fitzgerald from a 1958 live concert in Rome and a 1960 concert in Berlin, the piece was a tour de force of jazz, silent tap and swing dancing delivered by Teicher and co-choreographer Nathan Bugh.  With the grace and moxie of Gene Kelly and the zinger attitude of a Bing Crosby, Bob Hope “Road” movie, Teicher and Bugh were at times best buddies and friendly adversaries in the finely-crafted duet born out of improvisation.

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Nathan Bugh and Caleb Teicher in “Meet Ella”. Photo by Em Watson.

Dancing to Fitzgerald singing “That Old Black Magic,” the pair hit the ground running in the work with a zippy swing duet that saw Teicher get flipped around. Then, taking their cue from Fitzgerald singing “Love is Here to Stay,” the pair held hands and refused to let go.

The duet was a lark wrapped up in clever choreography that validated the recent acclaim that Teicher & Company have been receiving.

Most memorable was a section to the song “Midnight Sun” in which the pair spun dreamily in circles as if the two were on an invisible turntable.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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