If I had known tap could be like this, I would have begged for lessons. 

Dorrance Dance © Matthew Murphy
Dorrance Dance
© Matthew Murphy

Dorrance Dance Company is a very unique breed of tap dance. The first clue to the company’s style is the band set up on the stage. Two vocalists, drums, piano, upright bass and electric guitar cover music by artists as diverse as Muddy Waters and Fiona Apple. 

This is not a pit band. They are an integral part of the performance. Dancers work tightly with the musicians, as if they are part of the band (and at times they are). They perform their numbers, take solos and improvise riffs, just like the musicians. 

Choreography is by Michelle Dorrance, with room for solo improvisations. In one, they dance huddled in a circle of light in the center of the stage, jockeying for position in front to take a solo. It is a choreographed free-for-all. In another, they start out awkward and gawkily, like teens on a date. As they dance, they get in sync with themselves and each other.

Dorrance Dance © Matthew Murphy
Dorrance Dance
© Matthew Murphy

While the entire company is riveting, it’s hard to keep your eyes off Dorrance. She is a joyful powerhouse, who loves music, and loves making music. In one of her pieces, Dancer in the Dark, the lights go down, the band goes silent, and we listen to Dorrance’s own music.

Another dancer mimicked the shape of the singer’s scat, each taking a turn until dancer and singer harmonized at the end. Each dancer brings his or her own style to the table. They come together as a company, but are distinct individuals within that group – just like the way members in a band don't all play the same instrument.

The performance I attended included excerpts from The Blues Project, A Suite for the City, A Jazz Medley, and A Petite Suite. It ended with Dusk (with music by Radiohead), followed by an encore. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dance company do an encore, but again, this company works like a band. Bands do encores. 

Dorrance Dance © Matthew Murphy
Dorrance Dance
© Matthew Murphy

Dorrance was the last performance I attended during my stay at Spoleto Festival USA. I am so very glad it wound up on my itinerary. Some dance companies make difficult things look easy. Dorrance makes them look like fun.

If you have a chance, go see this company. You’ll hope for an encore.

****1