A toy piano in a sandbox might suggest a show featuring the “Peanuts” gang, with Schroeder at the keyboard. Actually, “More Forever,” which the Celebrity Series brought to New England Conservatory’s Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre this weekend, is the sophisticated creation of tap prodigy Caleb Teicher and his company in collaboration with composer/pianist Conrad Tao, who does get into the sandbox but spends most of the evening at his grand piano and computer. It’s an ambitious project, not fully realized, but fascinating every step of the way.
Teicher began tapping at age 10. In 2011, when he was 17, he appeared in a piece by Michelle Dorrance and won a Bessie Award for Outstanding Individual Performance. It was also in 2011 that his path first crossed Tao’s, as the two were both National Young Arts Foundation finalists. Teicher became a founding member of Dorrance Dance before creating his own company in 2015. Along the way, he and Tao reconnected. Commissioned by the Guggenheim Museum, “More Forever” evolved out of a series of residencies (the first at Jacob’s Pillow, where Teicher is an alumnus of the school); it premiered at the Guggenheim in January 2019 before being presented at the Pillow in July.
This is anything but a conventional tap show, since Teicher’s idea of dance takes in vernacular jazz and the Lindy hop. And then there’s the sandbox. Tap is a percussive form — like a piano with no sustaining pedal. The dancers in “More Forever” don’t have metal taps on their shoes; the result, as they trickle sand through their fingers and swish it about with their feet on the wooden surface, is tap with a sustaining pedal, dots but also dashes.
Tao, stage right, starts the show with the falling four-note figure that begins “The Girl from Ipanema.” Over the next 55 minutes (no intermission), he tries out ideas that include reaching into his piano as he interlaces with what the seven dancers (including Teicher) are doing. Sometimes he’s silent and the alternation of scuffing, shuffling, and sliding with stamping creates its own music. Evita Arce and Nathan Bugh do a ballroom segment, and we get a bit of Lindy-hopping with same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Overall, though, it’s dancers soloing or hoofing briefly in pairs and trios, all starts and stops. Tao carries the toy piano into the sandbox and plinks out “Ipanema” riffs; there’s an exhilarating sequence with all seven dancers downstage and rocking out in unison. But nothing in “More Forever” is forever.
The last section finds Teicher standing near the grand piano, trickling more sand, singing about the things he’s going to do “sometime soon” and concluding “I thought I would have more time.” He breaks into a wild, almost desperate solo, as if he could keep time at bay. His fellow dancers enter, form a ring round him, then leave, one by one. He’s the last to go; Tao follows and darkness falls. After close to an hour of exuberance, the sands of time run out.
Choreography by Caleb Teicher. Music composed and performed by Conrad Tao. Set by Christopher Marc. Costumes by Márion Talán. Lighting by Serena Wong. Performed by Caleb Teicher & Company with Conrad Tao. Presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston. At the New England Conservatory Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre, Thursday, Jan. 30.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.