Jason Samuels Smith’s Newest Tap Piece “Charlie’s Angels”
Jason Samuels Smith has created a new, ground-breaking tap work, parodying the classic “Charlie’s Angels” television show. He intended to mimic the television show, having a similar “Charlie” character assigning musical missions to three gorgeous tappers to transcribe music into tap dance. He also showed how Parker parallels the individual experience of each tap dancer. He chose three great dancers to portray Tap’s newest “angels.”
“All three girls are different personalities and have different character traits and strengths,” Samuels Smith stated. “Dormeshia [Sumbry Edwards] was the initial inspiration behind my wanting to express this music through the dance because of her personal style. She is the most precise and articulate tap dancer alive today. Her attention to detail is unrivaled. Michelle [Dorrance] has very big energy and is a fun and playful tap dancer who adds lots of personality to her particular style. Chloe [Arnold] brings great energy and sex appeal to her style.
The featured music in the girls’ assignments transitioned into bebop music. Samuels Smith became interested in bebop music about five years ago, and developed a special interest in the music of Charlie Parker. “I always thought that my attraction to Parker’s style made me feel that he was connected to tap dance and influenced by his rhythmic approach to melody and his phrasing was reminiscent to a tap dancer's approach.” The facts justified Samuels Smith’s “feelings.” According to Ken Burn’s documentary on jazz history, Parker’s father was a tap dancer.
Producer Dule Hill met Samuels Smith at an audition years ago and they both danced in “Bring in ‘da Noise/Bring in ‘da Funk." Their friendship continued through the years. After seeing a video of the first Chicago performance of Charlie’s Angels, Hill contacted Smith to compliment him and became the producer.
“I felt there had not been a new tap piece since “Noise/Funk” and thought a show with Jason’s choreography would be ground breaking,” said producer Dule Hill. “All artists have unbelievable technique and show tap at the highest level. It is the next place that tap is going and I wanted to be a part of it.” Hill, also a tap dancer who danced in “The Tap Dance Kid,” “Black and Blue,” and “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk,” moved to California and landed a several year role on the television show “West Wing.” He has just finished four seasons of “Psych” on the USA Network.
Jason Samuels Smith
“All three ladies have great foundations that enabled them to prepare for a challenge like this. They all have great work ethics. In the rehearsal process they paid attention to detail and it all started flowing. They were hard on themselves and wanted to get it right. They made me feel that I created something fun and intense for them but highly challenging. They had different knowledge of bebop and appreciation and I hope this experience helped them gain more appreciation for it.”
“Charlie’s Angels” showed a range that allowed the dancers to execute intense and difficult choreography in both high heels and flat tap shoes. Samuels Smith preferred that the majority be done in flats mainly for accuracy of execution.
Dormeshia Sumbry Edwards
“I’m pleased to have been a part of something that raised the choreographic bar,” said Dormeshia. “Jason had no mercy on us when he was creating the choreography. It didn’t matter if we were in heels or flats; he wanted nothing but the best for us and from us. We had an intense week and a half, learning music (phrasing, tonality, and feeling) as well as learning, retaining and executing Jason’s choreography which was mapped out to match the music note for note.”
“We had moments of what we called “Angel frustration,” but we helped each other through these tough moments. I was familiar with a lot of these songs but they now have new meaning and memories that will be with me forever. Jason told us, ‘The idea is to bring Charlie Parker’s music to life. Go out there and show the people what the music looks like.’ That statement put it all in perspective for me and also helped me bring the music to life. I know this is just the beginning of what’s to come of Charlie’s Angels I can’t wait to see what Jason is going to come up with. I’m sure it will be mas fuego (more fire)!”
“Jason’s choreography was the hardest I have ever performed in my life and it was exciting. We had to be on our technical and musical edge. I loved bebop as a teenager and was inspired by it rhythmically. The music was colorful when translated to the audience. I danced to most of the trumpet solos of Miles Davis or Dizzy Gillespie. I found it to be a lot of fun to work with the timing and improvisation of these solos.”
“Dormeshia has been an inspiration to me and is the kind of dancer I want to be. I love the great movement and energy in Chloe’s style.”
“The highlight was working with all of them. I admire all of them as artists and as technicians and we all carry the same respect for our art form and the music that we are paying tribute to.”
“This experience changed my life and was truly unique both artistically and intellectually,” said Chloe Arnold. “The Parker music was the work of genius and also the choreographic interpretation of choreographer, Jason Samuels Smith. When Jason asked me, I was extremely honored by the opportunity to dive into this complex music with dancers that I hold in the highest esteem.”
“Jason is not only an incredible choreographer, but the way he ran rehearsals was like boot camp. Everyone involved gave their entire soul to the project. We worked so well together and there was much love and respect. The rehearsal process was the most challenging that required every morsel of my being to be completely immersed in the music and choreography. The next layer of the challenge was to embody the music and choreography in a way that captured our individuality.”
“I am inspired by Dormeshia and Michelle. Dormeshia is a role model for the elements of mastery that are required to be a great tap dancer. I adore her generosity by being encouraging with her honesty and support to work as a team. The unity was the most special thing in this journey. Michelle has energy that is contagious. I get excited to watch her dance and to share the stage with her. I love her unique style and attack to the dance. Both of these women really inspire me to become better as myself. We all have our different approaches but we are bonded by our relentless passions.”
Charlie’s Angels originally opened in Chicago in 2007 in “Global Rhythm” at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project. It was next performed at the New York City Tap Festival, the Black Choreographer’s Festival in Oakland, and at the Kitchen in New York.
The show at the Kitchen opened with the trio dancing to Donna Lee (the bebop version of “Back Home Again in Indiana”) followed by recorded monologues by Craig Mums. During the monologues, saxophonist Stacy Dillard played behind a scrim with the audience seeing only his silhouette. Sue Samuels, Jason’s mom, designed the exquisite lighting. After every two dances, there was another monologue and saxophone performance that embodied the spirit of Charlie Parker. Dule Hill recommended Craig Mums for the monologues, and James King to be the director for the project. Gingie McLeod/Dindi Designs, designed the costumes. Samuels Smith is grateful to the curator, Rashida Bumbrey, of the Kitchen who expressed interest in presenting the show.
When the trio danced at the New York Tap Festival, Sali Ann Kriegsman recalled that Jimmy Slyde stood up during the applause and yelled approvingly “That shouldn’t be allowed!” This was high praise to the performers and choreographer. The trio and Samuels Smith danced at Slyde’s memorial tribute in New York last May. Slyde would be proud and overjoyed with this tribute.
Samuels Smith hopes he can find and book a place in New York to run the show continuously. With hope and interest from the Tap community, the show has a big future.