In the Pocket
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Nov. 5, 2004
In the PocketParamount Theatre, Oct. 30
Last fall, Acia Gray could scarcely move, the pain and exhaustion from aggravated health problems having crippled the Tapestry artistic director. Eight months ago, she led her dance company through a comeback show, the intensity of which signaled a fierce resolve to survive. Now, here she was, alone in the spotlight before a bank of clouds painted with light, as about her floated Eva Cassidy's voice singing, "Heaven ... I'm in heaven." And so Acia Gray appeared to be. In the warm, white radiance, she danced with a pleasure as evident in her every syncopated step as in her blissful smile. Whatever cares had hung around her through the week (or month or year) had indeed seemed to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak. She looked happy, just happy to be alive.
That look, that feeling of joy in life, showed up again and again in Tapestry's season premiere. Maybe it had to do with the company's brush with death in September, when aggravated financial problems threatened to kill the season before it had begun. The generosity of Tapestry's fans and patrons enabled the show to go on, and perhaps that was the reason the dancers looked so often to be pleased to be there, doing what they so love to do.
Taking as their muses a number of great female jazz singers, the company capered, clattered, stamped, and spun through a host of swingin' and smokin' standards. To Stephanie Biddle's buoyant "They All Laughed," Brenna Kuhn moved with the carefree innocence of one in the first blush of love. As Alberta Hunter slyly turned up the flame with her list of all the things her "handyman" could do, D. Poet Powell would leisurely lift one leg high in the air or slide his hand along his bare torso, the languorousness of the gestures adding to the sensuality of the song. Tasha Lawson, Andrea Comola, and Jacqueline Coleman used Carmen McRae's lush vocals on "Billie's Blues" to propel them along as a trio of Sex and the City gamines, their loose, twirling wrists and smoothly swaying hips conveying the sexy confidence of a flirt who knows she has the upper hand. Likewise, the smoky vocals of Diana Krall on "Temptation" drove the duet by Acia Gray and Jason Janas; only in their case, it slowed the moves into an achingly sultry and amusing mating dance, in which a befuddled Janas circled Gray's bouncing hip. On his solo turn, Janas' sharp, slicing steps proved a nice match for Nina Simone's serrated vocals on "Love Me or Leave Me."
The jazz groove in which the company was working really contributed to the tone of the evening, that sense of aliveness in the air. Jazz demands an awareness of life, of the moment, of launching from the written into the unwritten, into air, into freedom. Without that, you have no improvisation, no scatting, no swing. And as the Duke laid it down for us long ago, and as we were reminded at the program's end by the righteous, ringing voice of Tina Marsh, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing." Well, cats, I'm here to tell you that Tapestry was swingin' the other night, playing off one another's vibes like one hot little combo and making the Paramount feel like a smoky little club between Birdland and heaven.