Saturday, September 09, 2017

I AM MY ANCESTORS' WILDEST DREAMS: Q AND A WITH TAP CHOREOGRAPHER AYODELE CASEL


Ayodele Solo and with Cast from Really Rosie

Close to two decades ago, I had the honor of seeing tap dancer and choreograhper Ayodele Casel perform in Savion Glover's dance troupe Not Your Ordinary Tappers (N.Y.O.T.).  I was so excited to see a female holding her own in the world of tap, and was elated to see a recent article about her in the New York Times.  There, I learned that she had performed her own one-woman show While I Have the Floor, and was in the midst of choreographing the musical Really Rosie for City Center.  In July, Ms.Casel won the prestigious Hoofer Award for her outstanding achievements in the world of tap.
After meeting Ayodele in person after a performance of Really Rosie, she was gracious enough to do a Q and A for Creative Times.  For more information about Ayodele, visit her website.

Q:  Really Rosie was a cast of young people.  What was your philosophy and/or approach to working with children and teens when it came to choreographing for them?

A:  I work with young people quite often throughout the year and am constantly amazed by their level of maturity and ability to process material that is complex and that even adults have a hard time grasping. The biggest consideration for this process was time. I knew they were capable of a high level of work. The challenge was giving them the right combination of complexity but easily digestible material so as not to overwhelm or overly complicate the City Center Encores! process.


Q:   What did you appreciate, respect, or admire about the young folks you worked with?

A:   I was inspired and floored by their professionalism, their enthusiasm, their talent, and the openness to try anything we threw at them. They had about 6 days to learn an entire production! That's incredible. They learned music, choreography, script, staging, made acting choices, everything in such a condensed amount of time and they brought their joy and work ethic to each and every rehearsal. We were all so impressed with every single one of them for bringing it the way they did. Our show was the only one of the New York City Center Encores-Off Center season to be off book by our designer run. I was and remain so proud of them and we all became very close in the process. I'm still so thrilled when I see their Instagram feeds filled with photos of their recent gatherings. I think it's a testament to Leigh Silverman's superpower ability to gather great souls and energy in a room. The cast and creative team all bonded very quickly!

I'm grateful to Michael Friedman for selecting Really Rosie to be a part of this season's Encores and to Leigh for including me. It was one of my greatest professional experiences to date.


Q:  Can you say a bit about your mantra "I am my ancestors' wildest dreams"?

A:  I love that mantra. It spoke to me immediately when I first read it.  I just try to live my life with the awareness that I am able to do my work as freely (literally and figuratively) as I can and with such vigor because of the work and sacrifice of those who came before me. It is a humbling way of moving through the world for me. I am deeply grateful for the path my ancestors have paved and my successes as an artist, as a human, are their victories as well. 

Q:   What are your thoughts about what it would take to get the respect and recognition due to women tap dancers and choreographers?

A:  I am so inspired by women. I have the greatest respect for how we work, think, nurture, motivate, create, and kick ass in so many arenas on a daily basis. I  saw Wonder Woman recently and so "warrior" also comes to mind. I think we need to keep creating work and taking up space everywhere. Demanding that we be seen and heard.

Q:  You've been tapping for a long time.  What has kept you staying with this art form?

A:  My love and deep respect for tap dancing. My search for understanding on how to dance with it gracefully and accept the challenges head on. I dance to voice the names of the women tap dancers who came before me.  Jeni LeGon, Lois Bright, Juanita Pitts, Louise Madison, Cora LaRedd, to name a few. I dance to expose audiences to the genius of the art form and it is my mission to always do so with the utmost integrity. And I dance because I love it, it's fun and it provides me with an incredible outlet for self expression.

Q:  What advice do you have for young or aspiring female tap dancers and choreographers?

A:  Do YOUR thing. Don't sell yourself short. Have integrity. Study. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Be a warrior. A champion in the ring. All of that. AND be authentic. Authenticity rocks.

Q:  What would you like for yourself both personally and professionally in the next year?

A:  I would love to continue to collaborate with artists and art venues that I respect and admire. It was a dream to work with Leigh Silverman, Michael Mayer, Jeanine Tesori in the past year. I look forward to sharing my one-woman show While I Have The Floor in NYC in the next coming year. I am looking forward to touring with my incredibly talented friends in a different show, teaching young people, vacationing and also, I'd really love a Tesla Model X! Ha ha!
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