ARTISTS REACH OUT: REFLECTIONS IN A TIME OF ISOLATION
Senior Curatorial Director Eva Yaa Asantewaa dreamed this series of interviews, Artists Reach Out: reflections in a time of isolation, out of grief for her work both as a documenting arts writer and curator of live performance.
“In this time of social distancing, we are called to responsibly do all we can to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors. It is, literally, a matter of life and death.
But there’s no distancing around what we still can share with one another—our experiences, thoughts, wisdom, humor, hearts and spirit. In some ways, there are more opportunities to do so as we pull back from everyday busyness out in the world and have time to honor the call of our inner lives.
So, let me introduce you to some artists I find interesting. I’m glad they’re part of our beautiful community, and I’m eager to engage with them again (or for the first time) in years to come.” – Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Senior Curatorial Director
This interview features Caleb Teicher, dancer, choreographer, and Gibney artist.
Caleb Teicher is a NYC-based dancer and choreographer specializing in American dance traditions and musical collaboration.
Teicher began his career as a founding member of Michelle Dorrance’s critically acclaimed tap dance company, Dorrance Dance, while also freelancing in contemporary dance (The Chase Brock Experience, The Bang Group), swing dance (Syncopated City Dance Company), and musical theater (West Side Story International Tour and London).
Since the founding of Caleb Teicher & Company (CT&Co) in 2015, Teicher’s creative work has expanded to engagements and commissions across the US and abroad including The Joyce Theater, New York City Center, the Guggenheim Museum (NYC and Bilbao), Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, and Lincoln Center Out of Doors. Over the next year, Caleb’s work will be presented in over a dozen cities across the United States.
Teicher is known for his choreographic collaborations with diverse musical talents: he has created full collaborations for CT&Co with world-champion beatboxer Chris Celiz and composer/pianist Conrad Tao; performed as a soloist with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center; recorded percussion and sang duets for television with Ben Folds; and most recently choreographed Regina Spektor’s residency on Broadway.
Caleb is the recipient of a 2019 New York City Center Choreographic Fellowship, two Bessie Awards, a 2019 Harkness Promise Award, and a 2019 NEFA National Dance Project Production Grant. His work has been featured by The New York Times, NPR, Forbes, Vogue, Interview Magazine, and most recently, as the cover of Dance Magazine’s September 2019 issue.
Caleb continues to engage with dance communities as a teacher for international tap and swing dance festivals.
Nathan Bugh (left) with Caleb Teicher in Meet Ella, photo by Scott Shaw.
Do you have a current or planned project whose progress is affected by the pandemic?
As of writing, I’ve had fourteen engagements cancelled. They range from my annual visit to teach and perform at Paris Jazz Roots to my dance company’s five-show engagement at Spoleto Festival. Gigs are gigs, though, and can hopefully be rescheduled. And I’ve no doubt that this is the best choice for our communities—dance and otherwise, local and global.
The artistic practice/progress hindered by the pandemic is mostly circumstantial: I can’t tap dance in my fourth-floor apartment (for the obvious reasons), and the majority of my dance practice is based in Lindy Hop, a social dance tradition. At a time of social distancing, social dancing is certainly off the table.
I’ve channeled most of my artistic drive at this time into reading—currently, Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything—and jazz piano.
Briefly, tell me about how you got involved in the arts and in your particular practice.
I moved to New York City (from Putnam County, New York) in September 2010 to take a “gap year.” I had left high school early, unsure of what to do next, and I didn’t want to go to university as a default.
In high school, I was in New York’s young-tap-dancer scene, so my earliest explorations into the freelance dance world were as a tap dancer. I made a fortuitous connection with Michelle Dorrance within my first few months in New York, and her acclaimed tap dance company, Dorrance Dance, formed at the same time as my first few months of work with her. It was a great stroke of luck for me—I was 17, and I had landed in an artistic family led by a brilliant woman with a clear vision for tap dance.
I danced with Dorrance Dance from 2011-2017 and, in the spaces between that work, I danced in various other mediums: rhythm-driven contemporary dance with David Parker/The Bang Group, contemporary-theater dance with The Chase Brock Experience, musical theater with an International Tour of West Side Story, Appalachian clogging with Good Foot Dance Company, and a Lindy Hop company called Syncopated City Dance Company.
As my own choreographic practice grew, I found myself drawn most to my experience with American music and dance traditions, most specifically Tap, Lindy Hop, and Vernacular Jazz. Dance that has social tradition and a deep connection to music is my primary practice now as a performer and choreographer.
In a more specific way, what are you practicing? And what are you envisioning?
Prior to the pandemic, my work for the past couple years has been focused in creating new dance in tandem with new music in existing idioms. These new pieces (say, a tap dance work scored by beatboxer Chris Celiz, or a multi-genre sand-dance piece with a score by pianist/composer Conrad Tao) further blur the lines between dance and music that are already very blurred within American dance traditions. My newest work, Swing 2020, is a new swing dance production with 12 all-star Lindy Hoppers and a 10-piece big band; it re-envisions the “big band swing show” not as a glitzy, sterilized, acrobatic spectacle but as a staged manifestation of a social dance community (where swing dance currently lives at its highest power).
How does your practice and your visioning align with what you most care about?
I often talk about concert dance being a sort of PR campaign for dancing itself: we do it, and now you should do it. When an audience member at our show says, “Your performance made me want to dance!”, I feel a great sense of peace. Shouldn’t our performance of personal exploration, of embodiment, be an instigator for others to take that same journey for themselves?
My work has always been about collaboration, egalitarianism, social and structural justice, and social embodiment as a means of promoting healthy relationship. But these ideas are embedded in American jazz dance traditions whether or not I make new steps. My hope has been that, by making new steps to new music, I place these philosophical ideas in our present and future, not just our past. In that way, the work I do hopes to ‘spread the gospel’ of what jazz has always been and also what it could be.
How does your practice function within the world we have now?
I haven’t done a great job in rapidly altering my practice to current conditions, but our current conditions seem to change every week.
I imagine that the world on the other side of this pandemic will function very differently than the world prior. And, even if it doesn’t, I imagine that I will function very differently. The pandemic has not shaken my long-held beliefs that dance is a powerful catalyst for personal discovery and community connection; if anything, it may radicalize them or propel me to express these values in a different way.
I’m using this time to do some deeper thinking about how I can best contribute to the world I want to live in. I have no grand conclusions yet, but it seems that we have many more weeks of social distancing ahead of us. I’ll keep working.
To read all of Eva Yaa Asantewaa’s Artists Reach Out interviews, visit infinitebody.blogspot.com.
Top photo by David Needleman.