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Steve Sucato  |  August 09, 2023

Tap Dance Production Brings a Taste of Brazil’s Carnival to Cleveland [REVIEW]

Music From the Sole – I Didn’t Come To Stay
Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater

Cleveland Heights, OH
August 5, 2023

By Steve Sucato

For their triumphant Ohio debut, New York-based music and tap dance troupe Music From the Sole created a joyous, party vibe Saturday night at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater with their production I Didn’t Come To Stay (2022).

Presented by DANCECleveland to open their 67th season, the hourlong production, created during the height of the global pandemic, was inspired by a “fever dream” that Brazilian company co-founder and choreographer Leonardo Sandoval says he had about missing Brazil’s Carnival celebrations. The work’s title, I Didn’t Come To Stay, taken from Mya Angelou’s poem “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings,” also refers to Sandoval’s longing for his native country during the pandemic’s isolation living in New York City.

That longing resulted in Sandoval, along with musician and fellow company co-founder Gregory Richardson, creating a bit of Carnival atmosphere for the stage that was pure delight.

Set to original music, a diverse, multinational group of eight dancers and five musicians (who played multiple instruments and also danced) established the merry mood of the work from the get-go with a mini-Carnival parade from the back of the audience area to the stage, singing, dancing, and playing drums. It was an instant invitation for the amphitheater audience to join the party, and they did—clapping along as smiles swept across their faces.

Celebrating tap dance’s roots in the African diaspora and drawing from Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, jazz, soul, house, and rock styles, I Didn’t Come To Stay was more than a tap dance show, it was a rhythmic exchange between its top-flight dancers and musicians, each bringing to the stage something glorious.

Once onstage, the dancers and musicians separated into two groups and faced off with one another in group dances. And while the dancers lit into intricate unison movement phrases, the musicians, while playing instruments, shuffled back and forth in a line a la Gladys Knight’s Pips. The segment showcased the interplay between musicians and dancers that was prevalent throughout the performance.

Next, dancer Orlando Hernández delivered a wonderfully nuanced solo number in which his tapping was both light as a feather and heavy with stomps creating a spellbinding dichotomy of motion and sound.

Another unison group dance followed with the dancers’ taps sounding like rhythmic raindrops pelting the stage and ended with several dancers standing still and leaning their bodies deeply to one side looking like a less exaggerated version of Michael Jackson’s famous “anti-gravity leans” seen in his “Smooth Criminal” video.

“Let me show you what I’ve got” moments from the dancers and musicians came in droves as everyone in the cast was given some time to shine in the spotlight including Sandoval and Richardson. Blended into the tap dancing were elements of African dance, ballet, and more along with the use of body percussion. In one section, two same-sex dancer couples ditched their tap shoes to perform barefoot in a Samba/Swing dance number to jazz music. The lively butt-shaking and slapping dance was one of many brilliant moments in the work. But none shined brighter than 2023 Princess Grace Award-winner Naomi Funaki in a friendly dance-off with fellow company member Gerson Lanza. Funaki’s ultra-fast precision footwork wowed as did Lanza’s eye-popping wings (an aerial tap step).

After the program built to a final crescendo and the dancers exited the stage one by one, I Didn’t Come To Stay, concluded as it began with the cast coming together to parade out the way they came in, this time tossing colored paper streamers out into a standing ovation from the audience. And while Music From the Sole didn’t come to Cleveland to stay either, in delivering such a feel-good performance Saturday night, those who experienced it probably wished they would.

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