All Classical Radio James Depreist

Dance Review: Music From The Sole

In its enrapturing show, ‘I Didn’t Come to Stay,’ this acclaimed tap and live music company celebrated the depth and virtuosity of tap’s Afro-diasporic roots.

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Naomi Funaki, center right, and Ana Tomioshi, right, with fellow Music From the Sole dancers. Photo: Titus Ogilvie Laing.
Naomi Funaki, center right, and Ana Tomioshi, right, with fellow Music From the Sole dancers. Photo: Titus Ogilvie Laing.

I grew up learning a watered down version of suburban studio tap dance and watching musicals of white folks tap dancing and singing. While the rhythm and sensation of tap resonated with me as a young person, the pedagogy I was immersed in felt hollow and lacking – and so, I did not stick with it. In adulthood, I discovered that I had desperately been missing fuller context for tap that would have helped me better understand and appreciate the practice. I did not learn about the roots of tap in the African Diaspora until I was grown – in fact, I’m still learning. 

Music From The Sole must know this about me and many of its other audience members, for their new show I Didn’t Come to Stay, presented by White Bird at Portland’s Newmark Theatre, February 29 – March 2, invoked the intricate Afro-diasporic context of tap in all its magic. Directed by dancer Leonardo Sandoval and musician Gregory Richardson, I Didn’t Come to Stay wove together varied cultural influences intersecting with tap, including samba, Passinho, Afro-Cuban, jazz, and house. 

Composer Gregory Richardson (left) and choreographer Leonardo Sandoval, founders of Music From The Sole. Photo: SAULZ.
Composer Gregory Richardson (left) and choreographer Leonardo Sandoval, founders of Music From The Sole. Photo: Noé Kains.

The evening began with White Bird’s Executive Director Graham Cole, who gave a curtain speech directing audiences to check out a web link describing some history of tap dance. Just as Cole concluded, I heard the faint sounds of music from beyond the theater walls. A parade of dancers and musicians emerged, pouring in from the back of the auditorium, singing, drumming, dancing, and shimmying. They wore costumes of tropical 70s flare, with dancers dressed in bright green, orange, and purple tones and musicians in more muted colors. Some wore fedora hats. 

The dancers and musicians traveled up the steps to take the stage for a rousing group number. I noticed the different hues of tap shoes – white, black, and even bronze – as well as the different musical instruments on either side of the stage – electric guitar, upright bass, saxophone, drum kit, keyboard, and plenty more. In the background, a projection of a glowing circle and an acute triangle changed colors incrementally, perhaps an abstract representation of sun on water. 

A rousing group number from the Music From the Sole dancers. Photo: Titus Ogilvie Laing.
A rousing group number from the Music From the Sole dancers. Photo: Titus Ogilvie Laing.

Orlando Hernández – who both tapped and played guitar for this production – performed the first prolonged solo dance acapella. He kicked up dust onstage, dragging his feet, and seeding the theater’s atmosphere with that delicious sound of crisp metal taps on a miked stage. Following his solo, waves of dancers entered and exited to musical accompaniment, tapping in unison and syncopation. The versatile and proficient band matched the virtuosity of the dancers at every step, sometimes even joining them onstage.

As the music and dancing coalesced, I began to notice where and how various aesthetic influences converged. I observed the Afro-Brazilian influence of samba dance and music right away, made especially manifest in Music From The Sole’s Dance Captain Ana Tomioshi, her quick feet springing from side to side effortlessly. Then came the Passinho dancing, typified by a barefoot quartet, floating with almost imperceptible weight shifts as their feet moved. These dancers – Sandoval and Tomioshi, along with Lucas Santana and Gisele Silva – did a series of hip twists that reminded me of movements I had seen in dancehall, West African dance, and hip hop, expanding my frames of reference. 

The vibrant tap dancing of Music From the Sole lit up the stage at the Newmark Theatre. Photo: Titus Ogilvie Laing.
The vibrant tap dancing of Music From the Sole lit up the stage at the Newmark Theatre. Photo: Titus Ogilvie Laing.

They bounced to the bass while scooting sideways across the stage. This shift of pace and tone came as a delightful surprise, eliciting joyful responses from the audience. 

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After this, Sandoval and Silva danced a poignant barefoot duet with spinal undulations and arms waving backward – an expression of shared Afro-Brazilian roots, kinship embodied and expressed in cascades of synchronous motion. Silva diverged to find her own flow and Sandoval offered motifs of body percussion. 

Dancers Gerson Lanza and Naomi Funaki danced another duet, which could only be described as a tap battle. These two made amazing competitors, especially given their height difference (with Lanza being much taller). They riffed off one another’s movements, each finding a new groove before handing over the floor to the other. I wondered to myself if they were improvising, because their footwork looked almost too complex to be set.

José Carlos Cruzata Revé played the saxophone while Roxy King (in orange) led the dancers in an exuberant finale of music and dance in "I Didn't Come to Stay." Photo: Titus Ogilvie Laing.
José Carlos Cruzata Revé played the saxophone while Roxy King (in orange) led the dancers in an exuberant finale of music and dance in “I Didn’t Come to Stay.” Photo: Titus Ogilvie Laing.

Toward the conclusion of the show, dancer Roxy King held the down beat with precision on an otherwise empty stage, until her fellow dancers came to join her one-by-one. She put her hands on her knees and sent them in a coy circle, leading up to the arpeggio of the saxophone. To close, each cast member took a solo bow before gathering together to throw streamers out into the audience. The cast exited the way they had entered, dancing out the back of the auditorium into the night. 

One of the ushers remarked how nice it was to see all the audience members groove their way out of the theater in the wake of the show. I concurred. And, for my part, I also left the theater with a deepened context of Afro-diasporic rhythms, their capacity to expand time and invite possibility within and between every step.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Hannah Krafcik (they/them) is a Portland-based interdisciplinary neuroqueer artist and writer whose work emerges from ongoing reflections on social patterning and censorship, (over)stimulation, perseveration, and intuition. Their practices span dance, writing, new media, and sound design. Hannah continues to be influenced by their collaboration with artistic partner Emily Jones.
Photo credit: Jo Silver
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