After months of anticipation of their first ever performance, Lil Buck and Ashley Bathgate hit us with a doozy: Lil Buck wasn't going to make it to the opening night of What Moves You. His cousin Ron "Prime Tyme" Myles would be dancing in his place.
I got to Woolfe Street Playhouse early so that I could gauge the audience's reaction as they walked into the sold-out show. Would people be upset by Lil Buck's absence? Confused? Sitting at my table, just a few feet from the stage, I wondered at the small stage before me. I'd never been to Woolfe Street before and the intimate setting — with the lights dimmed and candles flickering on each table — drew me in almost immediately. I realized that I would be sitting below all of the action on stage, and I got excited and kind of scared. Would this Myles guy be able to float across such a small space with the ease of his internationally acclaimed cousin? I worried for him.
I heard a few grumbles from the crowd: "We want our money back." "We don't believe the travel delay rumor." "Who is this other guy."
And then Bathgate took the stage. Sitting before us, she held her cello with ease, smiled, and exploded. Seriously. I have never heard a piece of music like the one Bathgate created with her bow and cello. Perhaps that's because she added another dimension: Reading music from an iPad and occasionally turning to her laptop, Bathgate became more than one instrument. She looped over herself, played with other soundtracks, and maintained a focus the likes of which I had never seen. I forgot, for a few minutes, that someone else was supposed to take the stage.
Bathgate stood up after her first piece and said that she was about to be joined by Myles. "Lil Buck couldn't make it tonight, but we are thrilled to have Myles here. He got off of his plane three hours ago," she began. Taking a deep breath she laughed, "I'm excited and nervous." The scene was set for something either terrible or wonderful to take place.
I'll save you the suspense: It was wonderful. Myles and Bathgate, having met just hours before their first ever collaboration, had the kind of chemistry Romeo and Juliet would live for. They were delicate with one another at first. Myles moved slowly, matching Bathgate's playing. Myles was jookin', of course, the style of dance promised by Lil Buck in the original version of the performance. In the most layman of terms I can best describe jookin' as someone smashing hip-hop and ballet together and then winding down the speed dial of those to the pace of slow motion. Bathgate's face is so expressive when she plays, and you could see her concern: She wanted Myles to do well. She wanted to play with him — not for, or against him. He found his place in her music, and while his motions did not perfectly match her notes (how could they after such a short rehearsal?), they flowed together beautifully.
Myles only danced to four of Bathgate's songs, while she played one or two pieces in between each one of his appearances. Naturally, I wish he could have danced to each piece. What Bathgate was by herself, she was something else entirely with Myles. But I understood the constraints they were working with. And Bathgate, by incorporating outside sounds to her to her immediate performance, became multiple people on stage anyway.
The pair took a break near the end of the show for Bathgate to explain that they were about to "play." "I'm going to try to mess him up," she laughed. Myles smiled and shrugged. (Like I said, good chemistry). Bathgate picked up the speed in this piece, and Myles didn't miss a beat, twirling faster and faster on the tiptoes of his Nike Air Force Ones. The crowd went wild, whooping along with their claps. There's something to be said for a Spoleto crowd that whoops, and God knows I joined in enthusiastically.
The pair closed out the show with The Swan, the dance that shot Lil Buck to stardom. It may be Lil Buck's dance, but it was Myles' night. His face, like Bathgate's, is expressive and focused, but near the end of the night he couldn't help but break into a big grin. He was having a damned good time.
Bathgate and Myles were a team who came together at the last minute to show a crowd of skeptical attendees just how powerful music and dance can be. They were an organic explosion of the highest caliber. Lil Buck will be performing in the remainder of the shows, and I'm sure he'll wow crowds and he and Bathgate will create something new and beautiful.
I don't think, though, they'll give anyone the show Bathgate and Myles gave last night. Some things are only truly special once, and I'm just glad I got to be a part of the magic.