A selection of NYC-ARTS Greatest Hits, including a profile of Ayodele Casel, one of today’s most dynamic tap dancers and a passionate advocate for her art form, and a profile of Nari Ward, whose approach to art-making evokes the folk and recycling traditions from Jamaica, where he was born, as well as the material textures of Harlem, where he has lived and worked since the 1990s.

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♪♪

Next on 'NYC-Arts,' a look back at some of our favorite segments, featuring the best in arts and cultural events in our area.

Tap dancing, for me, is magic, technical definition, a percussive American art form.

It's music in motion.

What inspires me the most are the things that people don't want to think about, things that are awkward or painful or anxiety-producing.

I'm always gravitating towards that because then I realize that the only way that we can really grow is to push ourselves.

I'm interested in questions of human condition, and then I'm trying to figure out how these works can have some discourse with a particular situation.

This painting is a large-scale painting, as many of the canvasses by Ralph Fasanella.

'Here, I show the subway riders at night after a hard day's work.

Everyone is separate, alone, but very much together.

It's noisy with the creaks and squeals, but peaceful, too, because we move to a rhythm that gets inside us.

That's comforting.

That's the noise of the city itself.

The subway makes the city work, makes the city great.'

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Good evening and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

It's been my pleasure along with my colleague, Philippe de Montebello, to bring you the very best of arts and culture in the tristate area.

Whether it's music, dance, film, theater, the visual arts, classic or contemporary, well known or newly discovered, 'NYC-Arts' has provided unique access to the people and places that represent the richness of our arts community.

In this program, we'd like to share with you some of our favorite segments.

We hope they are some of your favorites as well.

♪♪ Good evening and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

On tonight's program, we'll meet Ayodele Casel, one of today's most dynamic tap dancers.

Born in the Bronx and raised in Puerto Rico, she fell in love with tap after watching films from the 1930s starring Ginger Rogers.

Casel began taking tap lessons while studying acting at NYU, and it wasn't long before she found herself in the spotlight.

Her mentor, Gregory Hines, described her as one of the top young tap dancers in the world.

In the 1990s, she became the only female member of Savion Glover's Not Your Ordinary Tappers, a supergroup of tap dancers.

In 2017, she received the Hoofer award from the American Tap Dance Foundation.

Today, she continues to perform all over the world and is a tireless advocate for tap.

'NYC-Arts' spoke with her at The Original Tap House in the Bronx.

Let's see.

Tap dancing, for me, is magic, technical definition, a percussive American art form.

It's music in motion.

I would say that I am mostly concerned with being as musical and as expressive as I can be when I tap dance.

Who you are and, like, how you came, how you are here is what informs and influences the sound that you make and the musical patterns that you make, so I feel like you're, like, a conglomerate of all of the things you've experienced.

I started tap dancing when I was 19 years old, and for me, as a black Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx who idolized Ginger Rogers, to know that this was an African-American art form and that it had such a rich history and such a great legacy, it just...It really completely changed my life.

[ Cheers and applause ] ♪♪ I love Latin music.

I grew up listening to it.

I grew up in Puerto Rico for about 6 years.

♪♪ Latin music is something that I enjoy listening to.

I dance it socially, but I tap dance to it all the time.

I am a champion for tap dancing, and I will speak about it everywhere I go and try to put my energy in all kinds of directions.

♪♪ I'm performing with Arturo O'Farrill, a wonderful Latin-jazz composer-conductor.

We're collaborating on a few pieces there.

♪♪ If you're a musician, you're pretty stationary, right?

If you're a pianist, you sit at the piano.

We have the awesome ability to really be as musical and as melodic, but we get to move throughout space, and that's actually one of the most fun things about being a tap dancer, is being able to cover space and create music while you're doing it.

People will say and have said that tap is a male-dominated art form.

I believe now that that is shifting a bit.

I can tell you that most of my influences were men.

At a certain point in my career, I started thinking, 'Well, where are the women?'

What it prompted in me was this need to search for them because there's so many of them.

I found out there was Lois Bright, Louise Madison and Jeni LeGon and the Whitman Sisters, Cora LaRedd, Juanita Pitts, and then the list just grew.

Jeanine Tesori, a wonderful composer and friend of mine, had asked me to create a piece for the show called 'The Jamboree.'

While I had the floor, it started out as a short piece, but it is now a full-length show that includes tap dancing and acting.

[ Audience whooping ] It is about my journey to reclaiming expression and my identity, my communication, language, and the art form.

We weren't allowed to do this.

Hollywood thought that being a chorus girl was more our speed, and they thought that we lacked the strength to perform flashy steps.

As I started just drafting, I found myself speaking a lot about not just my experience being one of the few women in that circle of mostly men, but also, again, I thought, 'What a great opportunity to talk about these women.'

And the brilliant Lois Bright, who danced with the Miller Brothers, but wasn't billed with her last name, just the Miller Brothers and Lois.

I wanted to write something that would serve as sort of my manifesto because I was concerned that I would be just like the women that nobody knew about.

[ Cheers and applause ] This space is the Original Tap House.

One of the reasons I created this space was because tap dancers have been sort of edged out out of a lot rehearsal spaces in Manhattan.

We also film 'Operation Tap' out of here.

5, 6, 7, 8.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

'Operation Tap' is comprised of three folks, myself, my friend, Anthony Morigerato, and my friend, Mike Minery.

We're all tap dancers.

We teach often internationally, nationally, and we found that in our travels, people really wanted to tap dance, but they felt that they didn't have the resources around.

They didn't have the teachers at their dance studios, or, in many cases, their tap programs were being cut out, and so we thought, 'Well, if we create something where all you need is the Internet, and you can get on, and you can learn combinations, and you can learn technique exercises.'

We have a lot of engagement with young folks, and I think that we've been really, really successful.

One of my missions in life is to reawaken the appreciation that people have already in them for tap dancing.

I feel like everybody loves it even if they don't know about it.

I feel like they love it, and I want to make sure that people are open to it, that there's a space for it in every arena possible.

If I die and tap dancing is regarded as important as ballet is, you know, and as music is, then I think it would have been really worth...worth it.

♪♪

Good evening and welcome to 'NYC-Arts.'

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Tonight on our program, we'll meet artist Nari Ward.

His intricate and immersive installations are created by collecting enormous amounts of everyday objects, which are then repurposed in very surprising ways.

His approach to art making evokes the folk and recycling traditions from Jamaica, where he was born, as well as the material textures of Harlem, where he's lived and worked since the 1990s.

Many of his early sculptures were created by using baby strollers, fire hoses, cooking trays, bottles and shopping carts.

Scavenged from buildings and streets in Harlem, he chose those objects for their connection to the individual lives and stories of his neighborhood.

In his more recent work, Ward uses language and various sculptural forms to reflect on important issues, such as racism and power, migration and national identity.

'NYC-Arts' spoke with the artist at the New Museum during the first museum survey of his work in New York.

How do you empower something?

♪♪ The way it empowers an object that is seen as being a discard of valueless is to have the viewer take a kind of agency in examining it and also in putting your imagination into what it can become or what it wants to be, you know, so that sense of mystery or anticipatory space is what I really push for.

I never really want an object to be defined as much as it becomes this kind of slippery space of experiencing something that you recognize, but then there's so much unfamiliarity in what it's becoming or how it's being used that you realize it might have another kind of purpose.

It lives in a different world.

I was walking to my studio, and I saw this one little baby stroller that was sort of an abandoned baby stroller pushed to the side, and a lot of those baby strollers were used by so-called marginalized individuals, who would use them to collect bottles and cans, and then they would just kind of leave them once they've made their deposit of the wares.

That moment of seeing that one sort of pushed to the fence, I felt like nobody is looking at this story that this thing had, and so I decided I needed to collect more of them.

They had this sense of emptiness to them, you know, this sense that any moment, something could happen with them.

They were somehow mysterious in that way.

Somebody told me about an old firehouse in Harlem, and I presented 'Amazing Grace,' the baby-stroller piece, within that old firehouse space.

So the firehouse really became my studio and sort of living space.

Why I really wanted to do it in Harlem in that firehouse is I think I really wanted to have a dialogue with the community.

That kind of helped to cement what my intention would be for, you know, many years to come, which is the idea of the found object is about connecting a kind of folk sensibility to the regular person's experience.

'Hunger Cradle' is actually a installation that I worked with two other friends of mine, and I said, 'Well, if I collected things from the firehouse, the things that were left there, it would be the life of the firehouse that I could kind of suspend and make this quilt out of,' and so that's what 'Hunger Cradle' became, so the idea is that it would accrue additional material based on where it was shown, and the work kind of expands and builds and devours other materials as it comes in, so 'Hunger Cradle' is a really important title for me because is it hunger in terms of devouring and consuming, but also cradling in terms of nurturing and care?

And this iteration at the New Museum is probably the most ambitious presentation of it because the height and the sheer length of the space, but we had enough materials because the firehouse was not only a firehouse, but it was also a piano-moving company, so there was just a lot of rope that was left, and so the ropes are part of the piece that are coming from that life cycle of that building.

The materials that I used, it's sort of like, 'Okay, this thing is in some way mundane, and now I have to figure out how to make it special,' so it's all about using the hand and techniques to patternize it, to really create a kind of rhythmic dialogue with space around the thing, you know?

How does that get dynamized and visually animated, so all of the knotting and tying, nailing and scraping, that's all about patterning mystery into the work.

I was really looking at religious spaces, and I was thinking about within the church how when you walk into a church, you can feel this sense of a kind of spiritual urgency, you know, just the way within the skylight, within the structure, within the silence of the space, the volume of the space, so I was thinking about the dome and how the dome within the church is a kind of metaphor for the heavens, and I thought, 'Okay,' and I wanted to try to create a dome out of material that you take for granted, a material that you literally walk on, so something that you walk on becomes something that you correlate to the heavens, and then when I pulled it up, I realized that this kind of form looks like an angel.

It's another metaphor for the heavens as well, and so I said, 'Well, maybe that's what the piece needs to be.'

Symbols, for me, get layered with the personal, and that's how I sort of want to take the journey with these kind of grand archetypes, is to bring in the personal to sort of fracture it and then hopefully bring another kind of reference to the viewer.

That kind of diamond pattern that shows up in the copper pieces, when I first saw that, it was in the First Baptist African-American church in Savannah, Georgia, and it was on the floors, several areas of this.

You know, these holes were drilled in, and they all had this same pattern, and this pattern is a symbol that comes from the Congo that talks about a cycle of life, and that site was a site for the Underground Railroad, and they were sort of made into breathing holes that folks can hide underneath the floors in the day and at nighttime go north.

For me, that was a really magical and powerful story that I really wanted to figure out how to give form to.

I'm trying to use as many kind of rhythms.

There's a visual rhythm.

There's a sonic rhythm.

There's a kind of smell.

That, for me, is another opportunity.

In 'Super Stud,' the smell is really important.

For me, it's a smell of, like, a marketplace, either at sea or at the market.

It talks about religion, talks about power.

The sea is a symbol of power in the way that it's, you know, mythical.

The marketplace is a different kind of power, but it's a power of commerce.

Cod fish, it's not only the national dish of Jamaica, but it's also the food staple that allowed for Vikings to come to the so-called New World, so it's the kind of first imperialist food, you know, because that preservation of food allowed them to take that journey, so for me, the symbolism within it is really so layered and powerful.

One of the things that inspires me the most are the things that people don't want to think about, the things that are awkward or painful or anxiety-producing.

I'm always gravitating towards that because then I realize that the only way that we can really grow is to push ourselves.

For instance, in these empty lots in Harlem, you know, you would see entire lives being thrown away.

You know, like, somebody would be thrown out, or maybe they're under some duress, and they just leave their albums.

They leave personal mementos, a children's toy.

That idea of displacement, so 'Exodus' became about finding a repository for these discards that seem to belong in no place, right, and now they were going to be in this object, in this sculptural installation that insinuated movement, and the mandala, the big, round form, is actually the skin of the fire hose.

I really wanted to reference the body, and I felt like that felt like entrails or even the tension of force that the body is exerting on a material, so the mandala form sort of became the guide for these objects that seem to be en route.

I'm interested in questions of human condition, and then I'm trying to figure out how these works can have some discourse with a particular situation.

The starting point for 'Sky Juice' was this family album.

Hanging from the umbrella are actually pictures.

The images were put inside a Pepsi container, and they were sealed and dipped in Tropical Fantasy soda.

There are all these objects that collected from the world, and I wanted to sort of sugarcoat them literally, and the sugar became a kind of metaphor for promise or unfulfilled promise.

I was really flip-flopping my strategy of working.

You know, from looking at things that nobody wants to look at anymore, discards and sort of fly-below-the-radar, to things that people see so much that they no longer see it anymore.

'We The People,' I was like, 'You know, people... I don't even know what this means anymore,' so I wanted to find a way to bring the body into a conversation with the text and slow the viewer down and also the fracturing, so when you look at it in certain spaces from the side, you don't even know what you're looking at, you know?

And as you move around it, it starts to become more legible, so I like all of those options because it became a way to think about initiating a dialogue of looking.

I feel like the best way that I would want somebody to walk through this space is to sort of look at as if it was made by nature, and that would be the best compliment they could give me, just to forget about me and just try to see it as something that kind of got made through its own reckoning with environment.

♪♪ ♪♪

Welcome to the American Folk Art Museum.

My name is Valérie Rouseeau.

I am curator for all the 20th- and 21st-century self-taught art at the museum.

Ralph Fasanella was born in the Bronx in 1914.

His parents were Italian immigrants.

His works are reflecting social reality and are carrying messages of hope, of liberty and the respect for the rights of workers.

Ralph Fasanella was a union organizer and started to paint mid '40s.

Early on, Fasanella helped his father to deliver ice, and the organization on his large-scale canvasses with a lot of horizontal lines and stacking of objects and architecture referred to his experience working with his father, where he was placing and replacing ice cubes in the refrigerators.

'Subway Riders' was made from sketches he made in the subway on his ride back from work.

He said, 'I drive the subway every day, back and forth to my machine-shop job.

I'd ride and ride and sketch and sketch.

I loved the subway.

I pulls the city together, pulls people together in a magic way.

Here, I show the subway riders at night after a hard day's work.

Everyone is separate, alone, but very much together.

It's noisy with the creaks and squeals, but peaceful, too, because we move to a rhythm that gets inside us.

That's comforting.

That's the noise of the city itself.

The subway makes the city work, makes the city great.'

This painting is a large-scale painting, as many of the canvasses by Ralph Fasanella... Some of them are as wide as 10 feet.

He said specifically that those paintings were meant to be seen by a lot of people at the same time, so it's one of the reasons why he wanted to have them large and also full of details.

You can learn something about the personal life of each of those objects.

This painting were carrying two messages.

I think the main message is that he was there to fight for the laborers' rights, and also I think it's a celebration of New Yorkers.

♪♪ ♪♪

I'm Paula Zahn at the Tisch WNET Studios at Lincoln Center.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Good night.

♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪

Funding for 'NYC-Arts' is made possible by... Additional funding provided by members of Thirteen.

'NYC-Arts' is made possible in part by First Republic Bank.

First Republic Bank presents 'First Things First.'

At First Republic Bank, 'first' refers to our first priority, the clients who walk through our doors.

The first step?

Recognize that every client is an individual with unique needs.

First decree?

Be a bank whose currency is service in the form of personal banking.

This was First Republic's mission from our very first day.

It's still the first thing on our minds.