BWW Reviews: James Brown - Get on the Good Foot: A Dance Celebration
"Give the people what they came for" James Brown said in reference to his shows, and it seemed that the Apollo set out to do just that on the opening night of "James Brown - Get on the Good Foot" dance celebration concert in Harlem. It was fitting that the concert opened with a welcome speech by Rev. Al Sharpton, given the historic relationship between the Apollo Theatre and James Brown. Sharpton reflected on his connection with Brown on the very stage that we were about to experience the evening's performance.
The hour-long performance that followed showcased a variety of choreographers exploring the music of James Brown, danced by the Philadelphia Dance Company (PHILADANCO) and three (3) non-affiliated featured soloists.
The show opened with a dynamic and exciting sound play with music and voice-overs of Brown that was effective in setting up the scene for the legacy that was being honored. The fault of the program, however, was that you ended up watching the first three choreographers before you realized that the show was not going to have breaks between each work. This made the flow seem unorganized and unclear. Despite this, "Too Funky," choreographed by Otis Sallid, saw a vibrant, young, and talented group of dancers let loose to the funky sounds of a well-arranged set of songs. The team did such a great job of setting up the excitement of the evening that I found myself a little disappointed by the lack of structure in Sallid's work. It often seemed too improvised; as these highly technical dancers often weren't best at the funky freestyle feel. There were moments when the stage was empty as we listened to voice-over and music clip to little effect. This approach to choreography was repeated in "Live," where Sallid used dancers in very predictable ways of mimicking James Brown's performances, rather than challenging a new way of movement exploration.
The evening also featured tap dancer Derick K. Grant. Sallid, along with Grant, created a brilliant rhythmic tap solo to Brown's "Superbad, Superslick". Grant displayed brilliant quickness in his footwork and effectively channeled Brown's footwork nuances and merged it with great tapping skills. True to the Apollo's audience, they were very engaged in this performance. I only wished that they had put as much effort into his costume as he did into his dancing.
Choreographer Souleymane Badolo followed with "Benon"which showcased Phildanco's dancers exploring Brown's signature style in a series of solos and group work. I commend the versatility of the dancers in this piece, as they were fully committed to this exploration. I didn't always connect to Badolo's artistic vision of this section. Again, it seemed often like random improv, and there was little effort of giving these moves an updated and modern interpretation. Michael Wimberly did a great job in the music arrangement in this section, so much so that you enjoyed the section because the music was well done.
Thang Dao, in his work "Bewildered," featured strong partnering work and contemporary interpretations of Brown's music. This is the strength of Philadanco. The work demanded strong modern dance technique with exciting moments of dexterity. I am always impressed by the strength and agility of the male dancers of this company, and the female dancers were not outdone in their control and precision. This often made the dancers dance competitively rather than complimentary.
Dancer and choreographer Aakash Odedra in his work "Ecstasy" stopped me in my tracks and pulled me into his performance. With additional musical arrangement by Ronobir Labiri, Odedra mixed traditional Indian percussion music to Brown's "Get on the Good Foot" and "Make It Funky". His technical play with the Indian classical technique, Kathak, with Brown's signature nuances and footwork was the sort of artistry I expected in the show. Odedra represented the global influence of Brown's work in his mesmerizing solo. With brilliant subtleties, he brought the Apollo's receptive audience into his trancelike turns and knee work. He raised the bar for the show and was a fitting tribute to the legacy of Brown's work.