(This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Claire Christine Spera.)
The very presence of the question mark in the title of Tapestry Dance Company’s latest production at the Long Center — “Passing It Forward: The American Dream?” — intrigues. Before the production even starts, we’re greeted with a scenic design mimicking a construction zone — or is it a destruction zone?
That is the question.
Scaffolding, buckets, crates — scattered about the stage, these are the platforms upon which the cast rest, including Artistic Director Acia Gray and Tapestry’s four company members (Jeremy Arnold, Siobhan Cook, Andrea Torres and Yuka Kameda), as well as several guest artists: poet and rapper Zell Miller III, who serves as a kind of emcee; 12-year-old African American tapper Skyler Johnson; ninth grade Indian dancer Sanjana Aluru; and Syrian singer Zein Al-Jundi.
Throughout the production, the cast announces who they are (“I am…”) and what they will be (“I will…”), each dancing in turn to music typical of their roots. Interspersed are videos highlighting issues of race, class and gender, some now moments a part of history books and others very much a part of today’s political consciousness: World War II footage centered on Japanese internment camps, for example, contrasts with a video addressed to Donald Trump, made by the daughter of a Mexican migrant worker.
“Passing It Forward” is clearly a deeply personal production. Through both dance and spoken word, Tapestry’s dancers share intimate details of their lives, self-identifying as everything from being a survivor of physical and sexual abuse to being a lesbian — and even to being “ashamed to be white.”
In the first solo, Jeremy Arnold, who comes from Jewish roots, improvised to a Yiddish number, tapping calm and frenetic energy to give us a playful number complete with intricate footwork, snaps of the fingers and I’m-falling-but-not-really slapstick-y moments. Artistic Director Acia Gray’s choreography, danced to Chuck Jonkey’s “Choctaw Nation,” hit upon her Native American ancestry, while Japanese tapper Yuka Kameda highlighted her culture by performing with a red fan.
Siobhan Cook’s mixed heritage (she’s the daughter of black and Irish parents) was punctuated by Irish music and allusions to traditional Irish stepdance. Mexican-American Andrea Torres, who originally hails from the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, grooved smoothly to Carlos Santana’s “Corazón Espinado,” her face in a loose smile.
Then there’s the charming mini tap solo by Skyler Johnson, the grandson of Louisiana natives who proudly proclaims himself an “entertainer”: “I am a piece to a puzzle greater than myself,” he says with certainty. His voice betrays how young he is; his confident, strong dancing does not. Indian dancer Sanjana Aluru, just a couple years older than Johnson, broke from tap to give a barefooted performance with bells strapped around her ankles. Her delicate, almost imperceptible head motions contrasted with her full arm circles and exacting legs.
“Passing It Forward” is an unflinching look at America’s diversity, a diversity that, in and of itself, is the basis for the storied American Dream. Even amidst the prejudice, the bigotry and the unnecessary violence shown in the videos, these dancers demonstrate that the American Dream isn’t dead — it’s just something we have to keep fighting for. America will always be under construction.