Thursday, June 16, 2022

Tribeca ’22: Nicholas Brothers Stormy Weather (short)

Nobody could match the moves of Fayard and Harold Nicholas. This short documentary [inadvertently] proves it. Although their prime Hollywood musical numbers were often cut out to appease the segregationist South, they eventually received Kennedy Center Honors and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They appeared in the clip montage movies That’s Entertainment and That’s Dancing, but strangely, neither selected their most iconic performance. Contemporary dancers look back in awe at their leaping steps in Michael Shevloff & Paul Crowder’s Nicholas Brothers: Stormy Weather, which screens during the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.

Stormy Weather
was a star vehicle for Lena Horne, so there would be no call for cutting out the Nicholas Brothers’ big number. Fittingly, they uncorked one of their greatest filmed performances, culminating with the brother leaping over each other, landing into splits, as they worked their way down a grand, Busby Berkeley-ish staircase. Backed by the Cab Calloway Orchestra, they nailed it in one take, with no rehearsals.

Dancers like Savion Glover give unnecessary explanations as to why their performance is so impressive. Frankly, you can totally get it just from watching them. However, the short film builds up to the contemporary dancers, Les Twins, choreographing and performing their own tribute to the Nicholas Brothers’
Stormy Weather performance—which will absolutely not be a recreation, an important distinction.

Yet, it is still anti-climactic. It turns out inviting any form of comparison with the Nicholas Brothers is a serious mistake. Also, the frequent attempts to frame the Nicholas Brothers as forerunners to modern hip hop dance grows wearisome. Everything builds on everything that came before. Yes, it surely hard to imagine successive styles without the spectacular tap of the Nicholas Brothers or the “air-steps” of Lindy-Hoppers like Frankie Manning, but their choreography and performances have intrinsic value that make them immortal.

Nevertheless, it is good to see Shevloff and Crowder bringing attention back to the Nicholas Brothers. Of course, viewers also have the option of watching
Stormy Weather on YouTube. Recommended as a well-meaning tribute to great artists, Nicholas Brothers: Stormy Weather screens again tomorrow night (6/17), as part of the Lights, Camera, Action! shorts program at this year’s Tribeca.