Charmaine Warren (CW): How long have you been working with Savion?
Ayodele Casel (AC): Savion and I first started working together in 1997 when he created N.Y.O.T.s (Not your ordinary tappers). As a group we toured the country and the world for 3 years consecutively. It was one of the best times of my life. I was so young, and young in the dance as well. I loved that time period because I learned so much. Everything was exciting and inspiring. I was learning at every moment from the absolute best people in this art form. Savion, Jimmy Slyde, Buster Brown, Gregory Hines, my peers, Dianne Walker, Brenda Bufalino, to name a few. It was a magical time. Really.
CW: Do you remember when you first met Savion? What was that encounter like?
AC: Baakari Wilder, a beautiful dancer from Maryland who was attending NYU at the same time I was, introduced me to Savion. Baakari had been mentoring me for about a year and he was so generous from the start. His love of the art form cemented my interest, love, and respect for Tap dancing as an art and it changed how I viewed putting my tap shoes on from the very first moment I saw him shuffle at Fazil's studio on 8th avenue. I remember him telling me he was working on a show with Savion for The Public Theater and I said: "Does it have tap dancing in it?!" LOL. I was so naive. I hadn't seen anything in recent times that included Tap dancing the way I was learning it. He said " Yes, definitely". Needless to say when I saw "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk" at The Public, my life changed forever. That show was brilliant, on so many levels. It spurred a movement, in my opinion. I was introduced to Savion outside of the Ambassador Theater one afternoon once the show transferred to Broadway. I remember Baakari was looking forward to Savion meeting me. It felt like he was a proud teacher. It was a very casual encounter but by this time I had been coming to see the show almost every day and I was soaking up all of the information being poured out nightly. I had developed somewhat of a reputation for knowing the choreography without being in the show—I was so obsessed with it. At the time, Savion used to do these concerts at Nuyorican Poets Cafe and at the end of the show he'd open up the floor to the dancers in the audience. One night I was itching to express myself and I took the floor and I think it was that particular evening his interest was piqued. I remember he asked me to prepare a 4-bar phrase for him to see in the near future. I didn't know where he was going with it but I was so excited and so nervous to do something good. Ironically, to this day, he has never asked me for that 4-bar phrase lol!! But our first encounter was very casual, he was very genuine and I was thrilled to meet this electrifying and magnetic dancer who was clearly anointed with something divine.
AC: In the spring of 1997, he asked me to be a part of a Monday Night Football promo that would be airing for ABC. It was that summer when he premiered N.Y.O.T.s. We did TV Specials, The Jamie Foxx Show, performed at The White House, Carnegie Hall, Savion Glover's Downtown: Live Communication at The Variety Arts in NYC and probably more things that I can't remember at this time but we were busy and it was exciting. I think it was one of the best times in the 90's resurgence of tap dancing.
CW: The time that you performed at the White House is on YouTube and it gets a lot of hits. What was that time like?
AC: It was a lot of fun, personally. It was full of energy. I was so thrilled to be doing something that I loved with people who loved it just as much and there was so much interest in tap dancing. I remember I used to take classes and later I began to teach at Steps and Broadway Dance Center and classes were always so full. It's not the same as it was then. As a group (NYOTs), we were doing so many exciting things and I was learning so much. There was never a time I took it for granted. One could say it was information overload but I knew that everything that was happening around me was valuable. During our shows, if I wasn't changing into another costume we'd be backstage watching Savion be brilliant in his solo (the same thing happens during STePz at The Joyce lol) it’s beyond inspiring. There was just a lot of greatness during that time. Buster Brown would host his tap jam at Swing 46, there was always an event honoring our greatest heroes of dance like Jimmy Slyde, Gregory Hines would be around as often as he could and it was always thrilling when he'd show up to shows or just be in town for a day. A few times he would call to let me know he was in NY and we'd go to Fazil's and dance for an hour or so. It was AMAZING. Henry LeTang was always suggesting I explore wearing heels, lol. That whole time period was very special. I am very aware of how fortunate we were to have that influence and energy around us. It's because I have such a strong personal reference for all of them that I feel a great responsibility to represent the art form in the best possible way I know how. I love them all. I get emotional when I think about them. What they have contributed to my life and who I am has been immense and immeasurable, Savion included.
CW: It’s been a while since you’ve worked with Savion, correct?
AC: Yes. It's been about 14 years since we've worked together.
CW: What has it been like working together again on STePz?
AC: It's been amazing, and awesome, and nostalgic, and fun, and wonderful, and inspiring, and humbling, and I can go on and on about the positive feelings. It's been so great to work together again being older, having a history, and a familiarity and I have the utmost respect for him as an artist. I am a true believer in his contribution to this art form and his immense talent. It even seems weird to call it a talent. I don't think that word really encompasses what comes out of him. There's no separation between him and what it is that he does. It's genius, really. There's nobody like him. Period. I've always felt that. I've always said it. It's so pure and it's so refreshing and so needed today because I feel like we are living in a time where artistry is forsaken for the need to be popular. I was craving the experience of pure dancing. No preservatives added. I honestly couldn't have predicted how great it has been but I am not surprised because the energy has been just right. I couldn't be happier.
CW: Do you have any funny, special or anecdotal moments from the rehearsal process that you’d like to share?
AC: Well, I can tell you that several times in the beginning of rehearsals I would be so excited about every phrase he would create that I would end up on my knees laughing. I'd just say "it's so good". Each and every time we'd start on a new piece I would say "THIS is my favorite one!" So now I just have a bunch of favorites. The entire show! It's hard to describe the feeling. I think we've all enjoyed the rehearsal process. It has been great to be in the room with Marshall Davis, Robyn Watson, and Sarah Savelli. It's nice to be in the room with people who just love to dance and believe in the work being done and have a mutual respect and appreciation for one another. It's refreshing. I can honestly say that we all were very excited each and every time we came into rehearsal. Also, 99.9% of the time we'd arrive an hour or more earlier than we needed. That's how happy we were to be there!
CW: What is most exciting about this reunion of sorts with you and Savion in STePz?
CW: Anything else you’d like to share?
AC: I'd just like to really encourage EVERYONE, professional dancer, student. theater and dance enthusiast, bankers, architects, musicians, everyone to come and see STePz at The Joyce. I am so proud of the show and I think Savion's work in this show is incredible. I often times think to myself how lucky we are to be alive in this time to witness such genius and purity in this art form and art, in general. I am lucky. People are going to be very jealous of us 100 to infinity years from now because WE are here NOW to experience Savion Glover. :)
Ayodele is a native New Yorker and began her professional training at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She is also a graduate of The William Esper Studio in New York City. Her work has been commissioned by Aaron Davis Hall/Harlem Stage, Playhouse Square and the Apollo’s Salon Series. Ayodele has worked with Gregory Hines, Jazz tap Ensemble, American Tap Dance Orchestra and Glover’s N.Y.O.T.s (Not Your Ordinary Tappers).
For more information visit www.joyce.org.
See Ayodele at work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toLd5TUThYg