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Flash Review 1, 2-12:
Spirit-chasing with Tamango
By Diane Vivona
Copyright 2001 Diane Vivona
Urban Tap's "Caravane,"
seen Saturday at the New Victory Theater, is a whirlwind of trickster-percussionist
performers brought together and led by the young, gifted visionary
Tamango (Herbin Van Cayseele). This eclectic international group
presents a show that is part circus, part vaudeville, part jazz
set, part club act -- with a little African drumming thrown in.
How do all these rhythms and styles come together? Exactly as listed,
one after the other, with occasional overlap and reprise. There
is no formality, no linear structure or thematic cohesion here.
A single thread is spun from the performers' passionate desire to
share the communion they receive while making polyrhythmic sound
through their bodies. This is fun, like a happened-upon street fair
or a travelling carnival, and equally, like all outings in that
idiom, it features the hot dog tatters and soft-drink spillage that
create unpredictable excitement and/or worry. Urban Tap is original,
unusual and decidedly uncategorizeable.
Tamango is a tap dancer,
but primarily he is a musician with a lot of style and physicality.
In this show he wears a suit that combines the tails of a dandy
with the legs of a minotaur: wide pants with heavy cloth fringe.
He completes the outfit with cowboy-style boots shod with shiny
oversized taps. Van Cayseele is a modern Marlboro Man, be-spurred
and beautiful to behold. His movements reflect a unique blend of
French/African/American cultures, particularly notable in the uncommon
articulation of his dynamic range. His lightning-quick shifts from
ripple-free glides to jagged shards of elbow and knee are unexpected
and shocking. The effect is that of sticking a paper clip in a socket:
eyes widen and arm hairs prickle -- "What was that?" -- and then
it is over. It is a moment to be indelibly remembered and never
The beauty of this improvisationally-based
show lies within this type of experience: you never know whether
the outrageous physical rhythmic feat you are watching is something
that could be easily repeated, or something that will never, ever,
happen again. This keeps you on the edge of your seat and, for me,
coerced a few audible gasps. For the many children in the audience,
it produced as much giggly delight and visible glee as it did quiet
Among the outstanding
performers, vocalist Kenny Muhammad and capoeirista Cabello inspired
the most awe-dropping, jaw-opening reactions. Muhammad has the truly
extraordinary ability to simultaneously duplicate the sounds of
a DJ scratching, a drummer riffing, and a guitar twanging, all while
keeping a steady underlying synth beat. At first, my instinct told
me that Muhammad was accompanied by DJ Signify, who spins and scratches
during other jams, but I was mistaken. Muhammad was making all the
sounds. His a.k.a. is The Human Orchestra and, although the sound
of violins was notably absent in this performance, I would bet my
bottom dollar that he could make a fair stab at an electric sonata
Cabello is exceptional
in his ability to not only use his legs and arms equally (a significant
mark for any capoeira practitioner), but in his prowess in sustaining
an action exactly at the point of normal acceleration. There are
several moments when he dives with full-body force to the floor
and, instead of speeding into action, suspends into stillness. The
effect is so outrageous, so contrary to the laws of physics, that
the feeling is of magic witnessed and believed. If Cabello had split
himself in two, it would seem no more miraculous than this.
The final scene-stealer
is a stilt-walker/spirit-dancer who strides down the orchestra aisle,
flips himself with tremendous force and fearlessness onto the stage,
and proceeds to astonish with tricks of bending back to the floor
and levitating up again. This performer is clothed in traditional
costume from the Ivory Coast, complete with faceless mask, straw
hair and colorful mirrored tunic.
The entrance of the spirit
world at this point is not surprising. There have been visual references
to transformation via the Rorschach-like video images and short
entrances of various spirit guides throughout the show. In the opening,
Tamango, playing the mournful sound of a long hollow horn, coaxes
out a masked figure who rattles and jingles and hums while crawling
mysteriously across the floor. Later in the program, Tamango himself
dons a mask and becomes a spirit whose feet speak the microphoned
texture of steel and sand. The effect of each such apparition is
a little eerie, particularly within the cold climate of Roma Flowers's
moody green streaks of light. However, as striking and strange as
these images are, they are no stranger than those of the tap dancer
Rod Ferrone or the fleet-footed Max Pollak. Ferrone's physicality
is a depression-era cartoon, complete with slumped back, stove-top
hat, and wide burly chest; Pollak, though dressed as a pirate rogue,
has the innocent aspect of a trick-or-treater.
In essence, all the images
of this show are singular and unique. What is surprising is the
unabashed, unapologetic presentation of such an eclectic arrangement
of egos and talents. Only in this new millennium could such a performance
be presentationally possible. Thank goodness for small blessings.
Urban Tap continues
at the New Victory Theater through February 25.
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