The Joyce Theater has rarely felt as electric as it did on Tuesday, when 14 musicians burst through a door at the back of the house, singing and drumming as they paraded through the audience toward the stage. Within seconds, the crowd was clapping and cheering, some people on their feet.
That party spirit persists throughout “I Didn’t Come to Stay,” the latest evening-length work by Music From the Sole, a talent-packed tap and live music ensemble led by the Brazilian choreographer Leonardo Sandoval and the American composer Gregory Richardson.
Tap, in any context, is at once a form of dance and music, and the company leans into that oneness, setting up porous relationships between the five-piece band and the nine dancers, all of whom consider themselves musicians. Early on, the band members leave their instruments to gamely join the dancers in a passage of body percussion — sneakers and loafers and flats stamping alongside tap shoes. Later the saxophonist José Carlos Cruzata Revé wends his way through a cohort of dancers, as if it’s right where he belongs.
“We are not trying to think of ourselves as a dance company or a band — we are something that is in the blur,” Sandoval has said.
There is a skillful blurring, too, in Sandoval’s melding of movement traditions, an approach that accents tap’s African diasporic roots, teasing out Afro-Brazilian connections in particular. Flashes of samba, house, Lindy Hop and Orisha dances (which honor Yoruba deities) punctuate a steady stream of percussive footwork, a blending reflected in the soulful layers of Richardson’s original music, composed with Sandoval and the band. (Sandoval and Richardson met while working with the tap innovator Michelle Dorrance and began their collaboration busking in New York.)
The hourlong work unfolds against a simple geometric backdrop, part of Kathy Kaufmann’s holistic lighting design: a circle and a triangle that, as they change hues or fade or reappear, suggest a sunset or a moonrise, the transition of day into night into day. The bright prints and slinky fabrics of Dede Ayite’s costumes evoke 1970s fashions. Sandoval has called the show a “Carnival fever dream” and “celebration of celebrations”; commissioned during the depths of the pandemic, it’s a tribute to being together, to hanging out — and maybe to staying out all night.
The company showed a shorter version of “I Didn’t Come to Stay” at Fall for Dance in 2022. (The title comes from the prologue of Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”) Could the energy of that 15-minute or so piece stay afloat through an evening-length work? Smartly, Richardson and Sandoval have added more shading, essential moments of softening, silence and stillness. A barefoot duet for Sandoval and Gisele Silva, their torsos undulating as they scoop and knead the air, feels like a meditation and, as it builds to a call-and-response with Revé, like a religious ritual.
The performers share an easy rapport, out of which distinctive personalities shine through. Tightly choreographed group sections, full of satisfying unison, open out onto improvisatory solos and duets — like a friendly face-off between Naomi Funaki and Gerson Lanza, brilliant speed and precision emanating from two very different bodies. In an engrossing, too-short solo, Sandoval skates backward in big, lanky strides with a buoyancy that makes his movement look like magic.
As the work progresses, its structure meanders slightly, as if trying to stretch itself to an hour. The final moments don’t have quite the punch of the opening. But with this crew, even meandering is a joy.
Music From the Sole
Through Feb. 4 at the Joyce Theater, joyce.org