Review: A Tap Prodigy, Growing Up in Public

Grainy and circular, the sound in the dark could be that of a scratchy old record. But when the lights come up, you see that it is the tap dancer Caleb Teicher, caressing a sanded floor with his leather shoes: not a scratchy old record at all, but a young artist trying new things.

In “More Forever,” which had its premiere in the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series on Sunday, Mr. Teicher is joined by his company and at the piano by the composer Conrad Tao. Mr. Teicher and Mr. Tao are former teenage prodigies, now in their mid-20s, garnering much attention and acclaim as they mature in public. At its best, their “More Forever” is both youthful and sophisticated.

This is a tap show without tap shoes. Mr. Teicher is reaching back before the invention of metal taps to an earlier tradition of thumping and scraping, but he applies it to his own ends. He starts quietly in a corner of the stage, and as other dancers pass through, trailing what looks like sand (it’s cornmeal) from their fists, they leave another soloist in another corner. This happens again and again, until the corners are full.

Suddenly, a dancer center stage (the ebullient Macy Sullivan) takes the dance up tempo and onto the balls of her feet. The other dancers follow, locking into diagonals, lines and circles while the rhythms change. One by one, they depart, exiting with a funny little hop.

Such compositional finesse is impressive. And the whimsy of that exit proves typical. (Mr. Tao later plays a toy piano.)

But typical, too, is a note of wistfulness. Even as those hopping exits tickle the audience into giggles, they resonate as leave-takings. The dancers often face away from us, sometimes in silhouette. In a ballroom duet, Nathan Bugh and Evita Arce clench the sandlike powder in their fists, giving their tango and salsa partnering a poignant awkwardness (they can’t fully connect) and their footwork a scouring rasp as the powder escapes.

This mixed tone, a strength of “More Forever,” may also be related to its dissatisfactions. The choreography effortlessly blends tap with Lindy Hop and same-sex partnering that’s wonderfully matter-of-fact. Mr. Tao’s piano-based score is more effortful in its use of electronics and its many modes — Romantic, Modernist, swinging jazz, all oddly with a harmonic and rhythmic undertow of Bossa Nova. But the dance and the music are tightly connected, and what they have most in common is a love of pauses, of pulling back.

The result is a work of many pregnant silences but one that is too quick to land whenever it gets off the ground — as it does, especially, in Mr. Teicher’s solos, Astaire-like in their wildness. The hourlong composition, resisting its own momentum, breaks into too many disparate pieces, nearly as loose and attenuated as the stuff on the floor.

Nevertheless, a theme does emerge, a concern with sand in the hourglass, the sound from the beginning that returns at the end. “I thought I would have more time,” Mr. Teicher sings near the end, with premature plaintiveness. Fortunately, he does.

More Forever
Repeats on Jan. 7 at the Guggenheim Museum; It travels to Jacob’s Pillow from July 24-28 in Becket, Mass.;,

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