Broadwayworld Dance Review: Dorrance Dance presents Elemental at BAM, December 8, 2018.
For all you tap dance history buffs: the phrase "tap dance" was probably first used as early as 1900, yet did not appear in print until 1928!
Or that an early alternate Merriam-Webster's definition of tap dance was a duplicitous act of deception ("shim sham") or diversion ("shucking and jiving").
How about this from the late comedian, Mitch Heidberg: "I would imagine that if you could understand Morse code, a tap dancer would drive you crazy."
Did you know that the Michelle Dorrance Dance Company is presenting an engaging show, Elemental, at BAM's Fishman Space, and it really puts a smile on your face, to use that old expression.
Why use the term elemental to begin with? I don't really know, but judging from what I saw, Dorrance evokes air, water, lights in her tapping; she uses it as an organic outgrowth not just from the music, but lapping water waves, breaths, finger snapping. Or maybe she's just going to pull a Balanchine on us and not say anything about the title, which is exactly what she does. If I could explain it, I'd say that Elemental is just about tap dance and how it can relate to an audience when you break it apart with or without music.
Isn't that enough?
Dorrance has become a force to reckon with in today's dance scene. She choreographs all over the world (very successfully I might add), she has received a MacArthur genius grant, ballet companies want her, she plays to sold out houses.
She must be exhausted.
And there is one other thing that she offers that many choreographers can't or won't. Heart. I know that old song from Damn Yankees, and it might sound like a trite sentiment, yet it's true. When you watch Dorrance dancers there is something that touches you. For all their virtuosity, there is compassion not only for their art, but for the audience.
Dorrance has a splendid group of tappers in her company. They can take on any facet of tapping, from the music, to the accompaniment of water, to scampering above the audience, hip hopping, jiving. It flows organically so that as soon as one sequence had ended, the other sensibly follows. It could almost seem like a well drilled vaudeville show. And didn't vaudeville include quite a number of famous tappers?
The BAM Fishman Space is a perfect venue for the performance. Seated on four sides, the audience watches the dancers in unison, split from different angles and then unifying. We are disengaged, but then become engaged again as the dancers find common ground. I have always thought of viewing tap directly from a proscenium stage. Here, it's tap in all its myriad complexity and nuances, its subtlety and its force. Yes, you can learn new things.
Dorrance created the piece with Nicholas Van Young. While it's always hard to tell where one left off and the other picked up, I have to hand it to them. A 70 minute piece was never boring. In fact, my respect for their art grew.
I wish I could say the same thing for many other performances I see.
Photograph: © Ian Douglas