Out of the darkness come six beats of wood against metal. Eight more progressively louder beats and the stage lights come on, revealing 13 percussionists and dancers. Philippe Celestin stands in the middle, dressed in the sweatpants he wears to soccer practice, powerfully drumming on two overturned trash cans. The capacity crowd erupts.
Philippe Celestin gathers the ball with his left foot in full stride. At full speed, he makes two touches with his right foot. He throws his whole body to the left and with his right foot quickly taps the ball to the right. One hard strike and the ball rockets into the back of the net. The capacity crowd erupts.
Phillppe, whose father is a native of Haiti, grew up with two passions: soccer and dance. He went to college at an elite liberal arts institution that allowed him to pursue both at a high level.
But then the inevitable happened.
His soccer team had an NCAA tournament game scheduled … at the same time as a stomp performance! What do to do? His teammates depended on him, yet the demands of art were just as strong.
Wait—didn’t I already see this movie, only instead of stomp it was ballet and instead of soccer it was, I don’t know, video games or something? Indeed it is an eternal myth, evoked in “The Jazz Singer,” where Al Jolson had to choose between sacred songs and hot jazz, and Clifford Odets’ “Golden Boy,” where the poor Italian-American youth could please his parents by playing the violin or pursue his own prizefighting passion?
(By the way, one of the great cultural experiences of my youth was seeing the Broadway musical version of “GB,” starring Sammy Davis Jr., with a book by Odets and William Gibson, and with a great score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, post “Bye Bye Birdie.” Free advice to any producer looking for a musical to revive: revive this one, and put Fiddy Cent in the lead.)
But back to Philippe’s story. The thing is, it’s not a story–it’s real, Philippe Celestin is a junior midfielder at Swarthmore College, and the top two paragraphs are from an article about him in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Here is some video of him doing his thangs, which he sees as hardly contradictory but all of a piece. The Inquirer reporter, Sam Lacy, writes:
At early father-son practice sessions, Flaubert Celestin taught his son to dance up and down the field, shaking his hips and moving his whole body with every step. “He taught me to move fluidly and to embrace the rhythm of the game,” Philippe Celestin said.
Which path did Philippe choose this past Friday night? Loyalty to his teammates, or to his muse? I’m not telling—if you want to find out, you’ll have to read the Inquirer article. The only thing I’ll say is (and I’m sure Gigi will agree): Only at Swarthmore.