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For the Soul

The name of Leonardo Sandoval and Gregory Richardson’s group, Music from the Sole, is an obvious allusion to the fact that the motor behind their performances is rhythm, and that this rhythm is often produced by the soles of the feet, in the form of tap. But not only. In reality the rhythms generated by this ensemble emerge from everywhere at once: the feet, the hands, various percussion instruments, body percussion, synthesizers, singing, electric guitar, double bass. The result is a joyful, expansive, always funky noise, a music for the soul.

Performance

Music From the Sole: “I Didn’t Come to Stay”

Place

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY, January 30, 2024

Words

Marina Harss

Sterling Harris, Gisele Silva, Naomi Funaki, Ana Tomioshi, Orlando Hernández, and Roxy King in Music From the Sole's “I Didn’t Come to Stay.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

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“I Didn’t Come to Stay,” at the Joyce Theater, is the group’s first evening-length show at the Joyce, though not its first in New York. In recent years they’ve performed at Harlem Stage, Fall for Dance and in the children’s programming at Lincoln Center. What they have produced here is an hour of dance and music-making that feels both organic and full, and that gives the audience the impression of being included in the spirit of what is happening onstage. It is hard to keep oneself from fidgeting along with the infectious music, a mix of Samba, Brazilian Funk, jazz, and electronica. The strong 1980’s vibe is reflected in the fluorescent geometric projections and colorful, almost flower-power costumes of the dancers. The cast is also wonderfully varied, in nationality, body type, and dancing style. Everyone, the suggestion is, is invited in; talent emerges not from drive but from the joy and devotion of working together.

The group is directed by a musician (Richardson) and a dancer (Sandoval). Musicians dance, dancers sing. At the start and at the end of the show, the group enters and leaves together, singing Oba, Oba, in a colorful dance parade reminiscent of Brazilian Carnaval. Sandoval is from the state of São Paulo in Brazil, and brings with him the richness of Brazilian dance and musical culture (his father was a musician. Several other collaborators are also Brazilian. (Others come from Cuba, Japan, the UK, Honduras, and Detroit.)  And many of the tappers have worked together before. Sandoval has danced with Michelle Dorrance, as have Naomi Funaki and Roxanne “Roxy” King. Tap is a big, ever-expanding family. 

Ana Tomioshi, Gisele Silva, Leonardo Sandoval and Lucas Santana in Music From the Sole's “I Didn’t Come to Stay.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

Still, the Brazilian element is strong. One of the highlights of “I Didn’t Come to Stay” is a dance for Sandoval and Gisele Silva, who is also from São Paulo. They dance barefoot, and the looseness of their limbs, the way they use their entire bodies in their dancing is a testament to Brazilian, and Afro-Brazilian dance traditions—the joy of the footwork, the polyrhythms that animate the back, head, knees. 

Dancing and music-making are one and the same. But everyone is particular. The synth player, Noé Kains, sings a beautiful melody in his fine, tenor voice toward the end, adding a melancholy note to the evening. Richardson, on bass, provides a steady and engaging vibe. The cellist Jennifer Vincent proves to be a relaxed and open-hearted dancer. And each tapper has a moment to shine, to expand upon the individuality of his or her sound and particular take on the tap vocabulary.

Naomi Funaki and Music From the Sole in “I Didn’t Come to Stay.” Photograph by Steven Pisano

In particular, there is a conversation between Gerson Lanza, a tall, athletic-looking dancer from Honduras, and Naomi Funaki, a delicate and utterly fearless dancer from Tokyo. Funaki deploys her zany wit in leg shakes, turning tapping steps, back-ward moving tapping steps, bourrées, all executed with finesse, elegance, and seeming delight. Lanza watches, affectionate and amused, and interjects with his sliding and jumping, and with graceful, playful tap steps, alternating between loud and soft, jagged and refined. Competition is nowhere to be found; in its place there is repartee, mutual appreciation, experimentation. Funaki, who dances with just about every other tap ensemble in town, including Ayodele Casel’s and Caleb Teicher’s, is so unique in her imaginative, almost surrealistic approach to tap, that I would love to see her create her own show one day. 

The freedom of invention and improvisation is tempered by enough choreographic and musical structure to keep things moving along and to stave off the feeling of simply seeing a series of “numbers.” Sandoval’s choreographic are displayed in the large ensembles, in which dancers move and glide across the space, subdividing into smaller groups, each of which spirals off into its own combinations. It is controlled chaos. 

At these moments there is a feeling of almost overwhelming rhythmic richness, with different patterns ricocheting around the space. You don’t want these moments to end, and Sandoval and Richardson have the wisdom to lean in, letting the groove linger for a moment longer. Which of course adds to the open, spacious, generous vibe that make this show such a pleasure.

Marina Harss


Marina Harss is a dance writer in New York, a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the New Yorker Magazine, as well as to Dance Magazine and Fjord Review. She is the author of a book about the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky, The Boy from Kyiv, published by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2023.

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