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BWW Interview: 'Tap Talk' Provides Lively, Informative Survey of Tap Choreographers and Companies

BWW Interview: 'Tap Talk' Provides Lively, Informative Survey of Tap Choreographers and Companies

The American Tap Dance Foundation launched its newest program, "Tap Talks/Tap Films," on Friday night at the American Tap Dance Center in NYC's West Village with an engaging discussion and presentation on the past, present and future of tap dance choreography, led by renowned performer, educator and choreographer Brenda Bufalino.

Admitting herself that the topic could very well be the subject of a five-hour symposium, the unfailingly insightful and loquacious tap maven led her audience on a condensed history of tap choreography and tap companies - a project she has been working on since 2005, entitled Tap Composers of the Tap Renaissance. The mission, she said, is to provide historical context to all of the great work that has been done, so that today's choreographers know what came before them, and to keep the conversation about choreography going.

"If we can't talk about it, we can't expect critics - or anybody else - to talk about it," she said.

From the resurgence of tap dance and the rise of ensembles in the 1970s and '80s to its marginalization by critics as a solo art form, its return to Broadway in the '90s, and its fleeting focus on improvisation, Bufalino gave a masterful survey of the art form and its peaks and valleys as the audience, comprised of many professional tap dancers, as well as students and aficionados, called out names she had overlooked.

But why have this conversation now?

"The moment is new," she said, citing the popularity of contemporary tap dance makers like Jason Samuels Smith - who presented an innovative 'dance opera,' Chasing the Bird, at the Joyce in 2012 - and Michelle Dorrance - 2013 Jacob's Pillow Dance Award winner - as evidence that tap choreography is back in capable hands - or feet, as it were.

Bufalino proceeded to show clips of work by master choreographers Olivia Rosenkrantz, Lynn Dally and Max Pollak, as well as herself, discussing how different pieces were driven by music, rhythm, environment, character or theater. Rosenkrantz and Pollak were also present to elaborate on their creative processes and the development of their respective companies. (It was unfortunate that time constraints prevented the presentation of more footage.)

Pollak, acknowledging the "shackles of tradition" that have at times restrained the art form, emphasized the importance of having bodies of work that dancers can leave behind as a legacy.

It is this rich legacy and tradition that Bufalino invoked, if only getting to scrape the surface, in the first of what promises to be an enriching, educational and delightful lecture-demonstration series.

"Rhythm is [in] every culture," she said. "There is so much to do. There is so much to investigate. We can do anything we want. So let's do great stuff."

"Tap Talks" are scheduled through June, meeting one Friday each month to discuss a different topic. Admission is $5, and refreshments are served. Learn more and reserve a seat for future events at www.atdf.org.

Photo Credit: Tony Waag

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Ryan Casey Ryan P. Casey is a nationally recognized tap dancer, teacher and choreographer who began training at The Dance Inn in Lexington, Massachusetts, at the age of five. An alumnus of the YoungArts program, The School at Jacob’s Pillow and NYU’s Gallatin School, he was a member of the Legacy Dance Company, where he is now on faculty, and served as Dance Captain of the New England Tap Ensemble, directed by Aaron Tolson. In addition to a burgeoning solo career, Ryan is a founding member of Michelle Dorrance’s company, Dorrance Dance. He has written for CNN.com, Dance Studio Life, Dance Spirit and Dance Teacher, and his work has been presented throughout the Northeast. www.ryanpcasey.com