BWW Dance Review: AMERICAN TAP DANCE FOUNDATION'S RHYTHM IN MOTION Puts Tap Experimentation on Stage
"Chaps who did taps aren't tapping anymore; they're doing choreography." So goes the Irving Berlin song that was used in the opening video of the American Tap Dance Foundation's Rhythm in Motion showcase April 13, 2015. Well, as the evening showed, today's tap dancers aren't just doing choreography; they're doing performance art.
Rhythm in Motion, which was held at Theater at the 14th Street Y in Manhattan, featured the work of artists in residence under Artistic/Executive Director of ATDF, Tony Waag. If your only experience of tap is the Gene Kelly or Gregory Hines style, you'll be surprised by what's happening with the art form today.
Picking up from the more introspective tap that we've seen from Savion Glover, who has even danced at times with his back turned to the audience, these dancers rarely smiled. It was tap as a form of personal expression, just as in other forms of modern dance. The evening was highly experimental, which made for an uneven but fascinating scope of work. It also meant that some pieces were a bit self-indulgent, but I applaud the choreographers and dancers for pushing the envelope.
After the opening video that brought the audience into the rehearsal process, Sean Jackson took the stage and performed Shahn Shahn, which appeared to be a largely improvisational and meditative solo piece. For several seconds, he did very little other than stand on stage, and he remained in one corner of the stage, performing exceptionally fast taps with little foot movement. While his tap abilities were impressive, the piece itself was so internal that it was hard to relate to it as an audience member.
Continuing with the meditative theme, next came Dancing Buddhas: The Three Jewels by choreographer/playwright Joseph Webb. Jewel #1 and Jewel #3 of his three-part suite were performed during the evening. In the program notes, Webb says the suite is a "dance-theatre-style show about a shaman and healer." While the tap choreography was excellent, I admit that I often failed to understand what he was trying to communicate.
In Hayden, choreographer Warren Craft created a one-woman piece for dancer Rena Kinoshita to Moby's "Stay Down (Ambient)." This was almost pure performance art with only some fast heel taps in a couple of moments. Rena writhed on the floor, screamed, and grimaced for reasons that were unknown to this audience member. The program notes were no help: "I will only use Rena Kinoshita as dance partner to express shared experiences, images, and memories during their lifetime. This one is about their time in outer space. There is no need to dance there. Let's create a need. Good luck, tension."
"Off Course" by Samara Seligsohn and "Fascinating Rhythm" by Rokafella provided some of the most intricate, percussive, and fast choreography of the night. "Off Course" included live musicians and a singer. "Fascinating Rhythm" placed a tap dancer alongside a whacker, hip hop dancers, and body percussionists, while a video behind them switched between modern and vintage scenes. Some of the best footwork of the night was performed by Tapman Myers in this piece.
In Not So Impossible, the final work of the night, choreographer Caleb Taicher sent a male dancer to the stage in a dress, while a dancer apparently playing his father showed disapproval. The piece continued until the father appeared on stage alongside the young man, both of them wearing dresses. In the program notes, Caleb says, "Not So Impossible reflects early memories and recent experiences in which I was impacted by our culture of insensitivity and aggression."
For me, the most successful work of the evening was Water by choreographer Gabe Winns Ortiz, in which Ortiz and three other dancers used their feet to evoke the sound and movement of water. Layering the sounds of rond de jambes and slides with fast taps created different sound textures than I usually hear in tap pieces, and the result was both visually and aurally exciting. The use of many pliés throughout made for less percussive sounds, but more like the smattering sounds of water drops.
Besides seeing young dancers have an opportunity to express their artistry experimentally, what I appreciated most about the evening was that the tap choreography was not overly simplistic, which is a frequent complaint of mine when I see tap dancers today. The work of Rhythm in Motion's artists was often complex and multilayered, and it required considerable technical skill on the part of the dancers.
Rhythm in Motion is divided into two separate showcases. I saw Program A, which repeats Thursday and Friday, April 14 and 15. Program B will be presented twice on Saturday, April 16 and in a matinee on Sunday, April 17.
Photo by Vitaliy Piltser.