Rhapsody: The Company Rhapsodize
The Duke on 42nd Street
229 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
Jennifer E. Wesnousky
July 23, 2004
A flash of words across the enormous screen which encompassed the entire backdrop of the performance of Rhapsody: The Company last Saturday, June 17th at the Duke on 42nd St., offered the audience some insight into the term: "RHAPSODIZE…to express oneself in an immoderately enthusiastic manner". And truly, the dancers in Rhapsody: The Company did just that. No wonder then, that when implored by the dancer/ announcer, Flash, to cheer wildly upon each of the dancers' entrances and exits, the audience was eager to oblige.
Choreographer/Artistic Director, Rhapsody James' opening number, Puppet Master, called to mind a sort of rave version of the Nutcracker's party scene as a masked puppeteer conducted from atop a podium the puppets'/dancers' every move. While both the music and the movement became increasingly frenetic as the piece went on, the highly-trained performers maintained an exquisite quality of movement throughout this piece and the remainder of the show. The dancers' stylized steps ranged from funky to balletic, and even evoked occasional memories of Thriller's dancing corpses as kaleidoscope-like images were projected behind the company onto the enormous screen.
This screen was used effectively throughout the performance both to broadcast the titles of each piece prior to its onset and to project the sort of interesting, abstract images as often appear at rock concerts. It was also utilized, in the number entitled TAPestry, to display photographs of such African-American icons as Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, Denzel Washington, Tupac, Martin Luther Kind and Mohammad Ali. TAPestry was a cathartic piece in which highly-skilled hoofers tapped away their daily frustrations. It was interesting and admirable to encounter a female choreographer displaying such keen insight into the diurnal struggles- both internal and external- of African-American men and the importance of their uniting in the face of turmoil. As the name implies, the vehicle to do so was tap dancing, and Rhapsody employed it amazingly to demonstrate dance's ability to free the individual as well as to unite those who might otherwise be in conflict- both with each other and with themselves.
Rhapsody's choreography furthermore demonstrated the turmoil of an individual in Cassidy Noblett's technically and emotionally brilliant solo, Poetry in Motion. Here, Rhapsody again shows off her range with the show's most purely modern piece, which incorporated elements of ballet, modern and even yoga-like poses as Noblett exhibited his seemingly superhuman strength. Poetry in Motion was both awe and tear-inspiring as Mr. Noblett, shirtless yet sheathed in intricately-tied white cloths which resembled bandages, unselfconsciously revealed his raw sentimental range and determination to continue on in the face of lost love and pain.
However, despite such jabs of emotional awareness and social consciousness, make no mistake: Rhapsody's choreography and the dancers' delivery seldom ceased to be funky and fun. The performers remained consistently in the moment, and despite most of their obvious ballet and modern training, the company stood out by never losing their raw, street energy and aggressiveness, even in the more modern pieces. Numbers, such as Breakdown, allowed the performers to be at their outright funkiest, where they definitely seemed most at home. In another scene, the audience was amused both by the lyrics and the performers' portrayal of them as women actually competed with one another to be "the original bitch" and "whore" that you "just can't admit you adore". Lip-synced segments of this and other numbers in the show, which might have come across as strained with a less adept cast, actually worked here as the girls teased and taunted one another in a kind of choreographic catfight. Still, in spite of the undisputable attitude of each of the onstage characters, all were thoroughly likeable as individuals and as a team.
Yasuyo Yamada's costumes, ranging from baggy jeans and sweatshirts to hot pants, bikinis, and even snazzy white gloves to add a sleek touch to the otherwise mundane uniforms of jeans and white tees, served to emphasize Rhapsody's choreographic versatility. Of course, Yamada had a lot to work with, from the exquisite physiques of the male dancers to the chorus of cut, exotic beauties who never ceased to amaze. Most compelling about Rhapsody: The Company was that while each dancer was both physically and technically compelling, and was clearly "selling" him or herself in the best sense of the word, they never lost their ability to constantly relate to both one another and to the audience. And, the dancers had to be as versatile as Yamada's costumes to keep up with the nuances of Rhapsody's musical and choreographic choices.
Mirror to Mirror, for example, took yet another creative turn with its unique use of masks (which the dancers wore both in front and on the backs of their heads) and choreography that made the most of this effect. And the second act opener, Relationship Results, was a visually stunning piece in which the artists, bedecked in black and red, were literally and figuratively bound together in a kind of onstage love triangle. The energy here portrayed anger, urgency and blatant sexuality as the performers executed occasionally tango-infused moves. Later, the audience was treated to the aptly named breakdancer, Flipz, who performed not only several of those, but by far the best breakdancing that many had ever witnessed, spinning surreally and seemingly endlessly, top-like on his head. Fans clapped ecstatically following Flipz's performance, seeming to affirm the extent to which breakin' had evidently evolved significantly since Electric Boogaloo.
While the audience was exposed to the choreographically intricate workings of Ms. James' mind throughout the performance, they had the chance to witness Rhapsody both in mind and body as this voluptuous diva danced in the show's finale, Carnival. As the funky, raw energy pulsated to a new maximum, a flash across the screen informed the infectiously enthusiastic audience that they had "…just been Rhapsodized". Indeed.
Artistic Director/Choreographer: Rhapsody
Musical Director: Jeremy Skaller
Theatrical Director: Nathaniel Nicco Annan
Costume Designer: Yasuyo Yamada
Graphic Designer: Ablemindz Inc.
Co-Production: On the 2 an 4, LLC
Personal Assistant: Jessica Warfield
Choreographer's Assistant: Dana Foglia
Tap Choreographer: Jared Grimes
Technical Director: Jason Anderson
Set Design/Construction: Steven Williams
Stage Manager: Claudia Rahardjanoto
Dancers: Alexandra Ali Aguiar, Autavia Bailey, Ilia Jessica Castro, La Jon Danztzler, Dana Foglia, Jared Grimes, Wynn Homes, James Jackson, Jr., Brandy Lamkin, Jonathan McGill, Joanna Numata, Desiree Rausch, Keith Anton Avant "Smoov" McPhearson, Cassidy Noblett.