Finding a place to rehearse in New York City was the hardest part. After all, if you managed a dance studio in one of the most expensive cities in the world, you might be hesitant to let anyone come in and throw sand all over your floor.
“No one will let you put sand anywhere,” said choreographer and dancer Caleb Teicher, one half of the creative team behind “More Forever,” a Bessie Award-winning exploration of sound and movement that comes to New England Conservatory’s Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre next week. “We do a lot of dry runs.”
An ambitious collaboration between Teicher, his namesake dance company, and pianist-composer Conrad Tao, “More Forever” places tap, jazz dance, and Lindy hop in an onstage sandbox. “Putting sand on this floor and miking it really equalizes all of [the dances],” said Tao in a phone interview. “Suddenly, horizontal gestures take on this extremely powerful sonic quality.” While the sand under the dancers’ feet amplifies quiet footfalls and muffles taps, Tao performs his original score for piano and electronics.
Tao and Teicher first met in 2011 at National YoungArts Week, but they didn’t really “meet-meet” at that point, Tao said. That happened two years later, when Tao wrote a piece for the organization’s gala featuring piano, cello, electronics, and Teicher’s tap dancing. After that, the pair’s paths kept crossing; they bonded over their mutual love of Björk and sending each other random YouTube clips. “I got him hip to watching skateboard videos,” said Teicher, an avid roller skater.
Tao, a sparky classical pianist and composer, taught himself how to make electronic music with the intention of having “a space to make stuff, and make it for the express purpose of making people happy.” While he was performing in concert halls around the world during the 2010s, he was posting his creations to Tumblr; when his mashup of Britney Spears’s “Everytime”and Angelo Badalamenti’s theme for “Twin Peaks” went “mini-viral," his friends urged him to come forward as its creator, which he did, but for him, the best part was “people could really just connect with it however they wanted to.”
The seeds of the score for “More Forever” were planted by conversations between Tao and Teicher about lightness and dreaminess. “[Teicher] talked about going to this ballet panel discussion where Jacques d’Amboise described being a ballet dancer as like — you’re up in the clouds, and everything’s perfume,” Tao said.
As a tap dancer, Teicher wanted to touch those clouds as well — but most people don’t think of tap that way, Tao explained. Together, they explored the idea of “trying to express a feeling of lyricism and softness ... without betraying the dance.”
Though “More Forever” doesn’t specifically pay tribute to the Black roots of swing, jazz, and tap, respecting the tradition is critical — and the dancers of CT&Co aren’t just dabblers in these styles, Teicher said over the phone. “When we make something new, it is steeped in an understanding and respect of where the dance came from ... we’ve spent our lives studying these, and we’re constantly thinking about how we can do it right.”
Over the course of a residency at Jacob’s Pillow in the depths of winter 2018, the piece came together. “It really didn’t feel like I was creating music for these dancers. It was a collaborative writing process ... it was responding to choreographic ideas compositionally, bouncing back and forth,” Tao said. “To this day, the piece doesn’t have a full conventional score at all.” The piece also leaves generous room for everyone to improvise, and no two performances are ever the same.
So what does “More Forever” actually mean? Like the shifting sands on stage, the deeper meanings behind the title overlap and blur. Tao and Teicher were trying to imagine new possibilities for those dance forms without diminishing their legacy or history; they were each experiencing the end of relationships, friendships, and other things that they wished wouldn’t disappear. “‘More Forever’ is an aspiration, I suppose,” Teicher said, at last.
“I think we’re trying to express some joy at being alive,” Tao said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean happy all the time ... [but] the very real joy of being alive that we get to experience by just doing the damn thing.”
Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston. Jan. 30-Feb. 1. Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre, New England Conservatory. 617-482-2595, www.celebrityseries.org