Oh America. America. America.
Last week I decided I needed a stars-and-stripes-detox after bingeing on dramatic political coverage for the last six months. “No more,” I whimpered. “We need to go on a break, America.”
But then Dorrance Dance came to town, and the hype surrounding their revolutionary take on tap proved irresistible.
The company, for anyone who's been hiding under a rock for the last three years or so, has been drowning in accolades and doing sell-out tours of their electronic tap music show ETM: Double Down. New York Times calls Michelle Dorrance “one of the most imaginative tap choreographers working today.”
In the words of the choreographer and Artistic Director: “My goal is to honour tap dance's uniquely beautiful history in a new context, not by stripping the form of its tradition, but by pushing it: rhythmically, aesthetically, and conceptually.”
The company's show, EMT: Double Down, brings together seven absurdly brilliant tap dancers—a melange of cultures, colours, heights, shapes, genders, and approach to the work. What they have in common is that all are at the very top of their performance game. Joining them onstage are three musicians, one b-girl and a vocalist. I wasn't sure how these elements might come together; I feared it might be gimmicky or all-dazzle-no-substance but I was proved 100% wrong on both counts.
The music relies on both conventional musical instruments (drummer, double bass, guitar) and wooden platforms that work like electronic drum pads. When the dancers' foot touches the pad it creates a sound or switches on a looped recording. The platforms were designed by company member and choreographer Nicholas Van Young, a wonderfully beardy sailor-type with tattoos running up his arms.
Michelle Dorrance enters the stage with focus, intent, and an incandescent joy that is palpable. Plus, she has the most astonishing tap technique I've ever seen. Of course all the technical dazzle you could hope to see within the lexicon is on display; lighting fast pick ups, shuffles, and outrageous Suzie Q's combined in a myriad of combinations that are entirely unexpected. But in fact, some of her most thrilling moments came when she softened their taps down to a whisper. Nowhere for mistakes to hide! But of course her timing and execution were impeccable. My jaw literally dropped watching her.
Brazilian Leonardo Sandoval has an elegant, sparse approach to the work, and the company's b-girl (Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie) provided a lithe, energetic punctuation to the show.
Warren Craft stands out for his sheer aesthetic difference in an already diverse company. I don't know how to describe his vibe. Like if Steve Jobs joined Kraftwerk? Uncle Lurch goes to summer camp? A friend helpfully suggested “Voltemort in tap shoes” which is perhaps the closest epithet available at this time. After some digging I discover he's a classically trained ballet dancer who more recently turned his talents to tap. In EMT: Double Down, he bends in half, knuckles dragging on the floor. His tap shoes scrape the floor as he slides around, trying to get the more esoteric sound effects out of his equipment. At one stage he literally lies down on the floor, as though his experiments have left him creatively exhausted. Then he pops out a sequence so baroque and densely mathematical that my feeble brain could scarcely comprehend it.
I walked away from the theatre stunned, and refreshed. This is the America that I know, and the one we need right now: Generous. Open. Innovative. Diverse. Tenacious. I would implore everyone to see this show. It'll give you a handy place to hang your shattered hopes and dreams, or at the very least, provide the best night of entertainment you might have for some time.
Find Dance now