Press review

After the first round of performances, here is a short overview of what the newspapers write about THE LEGEND OF SYD O’NOO.

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Boris Gruhl of Leipzigs main daily newspaper Leipziger Volkszeitung likes what he saw:

Tap dance? Oh yes, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, Sammy Davis Jr. (…)  You may as well forget about all of that, when Sebastian Weber reveals facets of this half-forgotten art form that probably only a few specialists might be aware of. in the latest production at the LOFFT theater.

In „The Legend of Syd O’Noo“, one can experience equally strong and deeply touching dance scenes. (…) Webers dance and Christls sounds are highlights of this original production, to which director, filmmaker and actor Stéphane Bittoun created a textbook with Weber. (…) All of this in a mix of facts and fiction, dance and ballyhoo, acted scenes, that now and again blend with the atmospheric film documents.

(…) „There comes a time“, says one of the affectionately filmed tap legends, „when you have to carry your darlings to their graves.“ Great closing words (…) 

Sound and movement correspond like they rarely do in dance theater — just one reason, why „The Legend of Syd O’Noo is long, but magnificent. Press review weiterlesen

Interview with German TAP

Tap dancer and choreographer Sebastian Weber works with director and film maker Stéphane Bittoun (Frankfurt) on a new piece. It is the first tap dance production that is funded in the context of „Tanzfonds Erbe“ by the German Federal Cultural Foundation. For Sebastian, it is a extraordinary honor, but also a notable obligation. GERMAN TAP interviewed him shortly before the final rehearsals begin.

Sebastian, your new piece is called „The Legend of Syd O’Noo“. Who the heck is Syd O’Noo?

Syd O’Noo is the genius, but totally forgotten tap dancer, whose traces our protagonist unearths. He was a contemporary of icons like Chuck Green and Baby Laurence, he hung out with the inventors of the Bebop on 52nd street. I think, he was a drug addict and a difficult guy, but apparently he danced better than everybody else. And he is gone. The material of legends!

Did this Syd O’Noo really exist or is that an invention for your play?

Let’s say: we are doing a production about legends and you never know precisely what is true and what is made up with legends. Could Bojangles Robinson really run backwards faster than every athletic professional forwards? Has King Rastus Brown really tapped off the stage and across the street to a bar and back during standing ovations of the audience? The jazz history is full of stories like these! And with our play we reflect about the relevance of this story telling.

So we are doing our own story telling. In thrillers it says often: „The story is fictional. Any resemblance with living people is purely coincidentally.“ For us it is exactly the other way around: the people are real, all ingredients are authentic. But we arrange them in a way, that it becomes fiction anyway. We mix truth and fiction, because it belongs to the topic of „legends“.

You say, you are doing „story telling“. How can I picture this? That doesn’t sound like a regular tap concert.

No, you are right: our piece is a wild mixture of drama, film, dance and live music. The pure amount of dancing is not thaaat big. On the one hand, there is this plot about a has-been tap dancer, who goes to New York during a creative crisis to draw some inspiration from his old mentor and then gets on the tracks of this tap legend Syd O’Noo. This is told pretty classically through acting. But a lot of travel experiences and encounters of the protagonist you see in film projections. And then everything is interwoven with tap dance and live music.

And where do the movies come from? Did you film them yourselves?

Yes, we made a fantastic trip to the United States and interviewed real experts of tap dance. The conversations were about dance heritage, the relationship of student and master, about our dialogue partners‘ memory of their role models and mentors. That is essentially the fundamental theme of the play: how is knowledge passed on in a dance form that actually doesn’t maintain a repertoire. What is really important? The steps? Something different? Does that change? How does the student deal with this heritage?

Who did you interview?

We had Maurice Hines, who already toured with „Hines, Hines & Dad“ as a little boy, in front of the camera. We spent a lot of time with Brenda Bufalino, who was Honi Coles‘ partner for many years. Robert Reed was an enormously generous dialogue partner. I was deeply shocked, when he died suddenly a few weeks after our interview. There were many others. An absolute highlight was the visit with Prince Spencer of the Four Step Brothers. A man, whose body is so old, he can barely walk, but who has so much dance in him, that he shines from within. It touched me very much to meet him. I even danced for him. Alone for this, everything was worth it.

How did that work? Did you just call and say that you want to drop by?

Most of the time, yes. Some I already knew for a long time, there it was easy. You can also see that in the conversations. For example, I have had many inspiring moments with Brenda. I value her very much and she knows that. So when the camera starts, you enter on a high level. With some I haven’t had any contact yet, but they knew who I was. That helped. And sometimes it also was a bit tedious. We had to accept a few refusals. Actually, when I think back now, I realize, that I already suppressed, how much work and stress it was.

Your protagonist is a German tap dancer in his mid 40s, who raves about the tap dance legend Chuck Green. Is that a self portrait?

No, the play is defenitely not a self portrait. That would be way to boring. But my co-author Stéphane Bittoun and I, we obviously write about things, which matter to us and which we know. Our protagonist is in a crisis: he thinks he is not successful enough. He can barely make ends meet, is asking himself, if he should quit dancing, wants more acknowledgement. A lot of artists my age recognize this. Many dancers give up their job in the middle years. The ones who continue have to grow with their art. This process is interesting to me. At the beginning you are a student, at the very end maybe a master- but what happens in between?

This Stéphane Bittoun: who is that? It is already the second time that you work with him.

Exactly. Stéphane is a fantastic director from Frankfurt. He is also a theater author and film maker. He develops his own pieces out of topics, that interest him and mixes all kinds of genres in his work. In this we are very similar. But unlike me, he is an absolute ace concerning acting! Very detail oriented, with strong pictures. I love that and learn a lot from him.

That’s why we’re working together again: the last production „Synchronzeugen“ was a first becoming acquainted. We had to find out, how our methods fit together, where we complement each other, where we are in each others way. That was a painstaking, but still a very creative process. After that I thought: we have to continue there! Now that we tilled the field, I want to harvest as well! This crazy kind of musical, that is exactly the opposite of musical- that is worth the pain!

You have been writing the play for half a year, have been filming, travelling…what did you learn about „dance heritage“?

With a heritage it’s usually the case, that the ancestor accumulates a fortune and when he dies, his assets are passed on to his children. For example, they get a house and can see, what they do with it.

With „dance heritage“ – at least in tap dance – it’s different: the ancestor hardly passes on specific steps or repertoire. He inspires his successors. He plants a seed, that later blossoms. Sometimes the master doesn’t necessarilly chooses his students. But this doesn’t minimize his legacy, it rather multiplies it. The heritage develops by being passed on.

In retrospective – also on the conversations with our interview partners – I sometimes have the feeling, that many of the „old masters“ didn’t think of themselves as great artists. Some were very critical towards new ideas. And so I ask myself: what part, of what we see in these masters, is really there and what is projected into them? What is really from them, what comes from us? For me, that’s a new perspective on this matter.

And I realized, how much it can matter to the masters as well to have somebody who comes to them, asks questions, is interested in them. Story-telling is really pivotal and it always takes two: one who tells the stories and one who listens.

Somehow I got more awed by the tradition but at the same time more independent from it.

Opening night of the production „The Legend of Syd O’Noo“ is on November 19th 2015 at LOFFT Leipzig. More performances in Leipzig, Berlin and Cologne. Schedule and infos at www.syd-o-noo.de/en.

Tap Travels in the US

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Back from an exciting research and film trip: three weeks between New York City and Los Angeles, looking for the legend of Syd O’Noo. (And spending a third of the time on airplanes and behind steering wheels…) The aim of our trip was to meet great tap dance artists, interview them on their mentors and inspirations, research tap legends and shoot film for our stage production.

Maurice

Starting off with a star: we meet Maurice Hines in a Manhattan hotel. An enthusiastic, charismatic conversationalist who has met anything and anybody in his long career and knows how to tell the story! Next out to the countryside: the interviews with Brenda Bufalino were probably the most profound of the entire trip. Here is a lady, who looks for the most honest answer to every question, who takes time, reflects. The magnitude of her experience is spectacular, but even more impressive is her inquisitive, intelligent, creative look ahead. This artist is not done with broadening the horizons of tap yet.

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Then a whole different direction: off to Kansas, where Sebastian started to dance as an exchange student. First dance teacher, host family, old friends, all set before the endless horizons of the midwest. And almost accidentally, as a chance opportunity along the way, we meet Robert Reed. What an inspiration! The most humble, generous, knowledgeable man. A person who pays respect in his every word to this tradition of tap that changed his life and through his dedication he inspires like no other. None of us could know that he was to pass away a few weeks later.

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Then, things get rough: Dallas airport – where we are supposed to change planes – is closed due to severe weather. Unfortunately we are already in the air.  That planes fly through a thunderstorm like that is something we had only seen in movies so far. As we finally get there, after an extra stop to refuel in the middle of nowhere, there is nothing left but a corner of the terminal to spend the night at. One of many without sleep.

In L.A. we have great interviews with Rusty Frank, Miriam Nelson, and Skip Cunningham. We take pictures of the Nicholas Brothers star on the walk of fame (among others) and drive to Las Vegas. The sun rises as we get there. Chazz Young meets us in his studio. And another unplanned highlight: we meet Prince Spencer of the Four Step Brothers. Prince is fragile and for a moment we are hesitant to bother him with our questions. It seems, even remembering is tiresome to him. When we realize how much he enjoys being asked, the most magical moments happen. Also, while many interview partners danced for us, in this case things unfold differently and in the end, Sebastian dances for Prince, whose body will not do it anymore.

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In New Orleans, we experience the spirit of tap and jazz at a second line parade, far away from the Bourbon Streets and tourist hot spots, before we head back to the big apple, flying through another storm, stuck at another airport…

Back in NYC, the schedule requires several film scenes which are create with no budget but the invaluable help of friends and colleagues. Max Pollak and his wife Mary star in an important scene, Tamango films with us on the beach, the crowd on a busy street in Brooklyn steps in our way, taking a fictional theft scene for real. Still more interviews, a tap session, New York footage — and bang, we are aboard another plane. Back to Berlin.

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Tanzfonds Erbe vergibt Fördermittel an Leipziger Produktion

Der von der Kulturstiftung des Bundes initiierte TANZFONDS ERBE vergibt in seiner dritten Förderrunde 611.953,- Euro und fördert damit fünfzehn ausgewählte Projekte. Die Jury stellte fest: „Der Blick der geförderten Institutionen und Künstler auf das Erbe ist persönlich und einfallsreich. Sie laden das Publikum ein, unbekannte Facetten der Tanzgeschichte zu entdecken.“

Unter den ausgewählten Produktionen ist auch die Neuinszenierung „THE LEGEND OF SYD O’NOO“ des Autorenteams Sebastian Weber und Stéphane Bittoun, die sich mit der Kraft von Vorbildern und Legenden in der Überlieferung von Tanz beschäftigt. Tanzfonds Erbe vergibt Fördermittel an Leipziger Produktion weiterlesen