The Serious Art and Fun of Tap

Tap City’s recent Joyce season proved the widening horizon for a long popular dance form

Kendrick Jones II leans in shadow against the Tap City street corner signpost reading a newspaper while Derick K. Grant’s shoe brushes the platform tentatively. Grant is mysterious in a brown felt hat with a small pink floppy flower affixed to it, pulled down over his brow. Under his drab suit are glimmering patent leather tap shoes. His titillating patters answer a trickle from Larry Ham’s fine jazz piano. Grant is actually a master of tap, a former “Noise/Funk” dance captain, and choreographer; he exits with a 1-2-3-4 introducing his “Beautiful Love. ” He, Jones and John Sexsmith amaze with a spectacular jump, performing the balance of the piece with three female partners.

Jones proved an up-and-coming phenom in the Tap City All-Stars/Internationals’ final matinee on July 3 at the Joyce. He dances a very brief solo in a seasonal red, white and blue tie with stripes that follow him as he turns. He stands on the points of his two-toned taps.

Jones battles Joseph Wiggan in a spectacular duo, both in long fluttering thin striped flags. Wiggan is looser and Jones is cooler, coffee-colored. In contrast to the uncanny perfection of their doubled routine, they entertain with their arms swinging back and forth, falling way out of unison and releasing laughter and thunderous applause in the audience. There are two winners in this challenge.

Walter “Sundance” Freeman represents American tap in “Riverdance” and has danced alongside the Nicholas Brothers. In Tap City solos, he spars with the drummer and crosses the stage in chaînés turns on his toes. In one of his surprise endings, he raises his left fist, clasping the forearm with his right hand. With his head and body flung back from his bent knees, he silently laughs.

Solos by Max Pollak and Michelle Dorrance begin the program. Pollak brings us to attention, making as much noise with his hands as he does with his feet. Dorrance’s cool presence and hard-stomping, fast feet bring credence to her off-beat cadence, teenage hairbuns and cuffed, faded jeans.

Thomas Marek ventures a long “Tango” with pianist Patrick Bebelaar. A projected laptop abstraction is distracting, but once the cyclorama goes red, we can enjoy the feeling and variation in Marek’s tap reverie. He creates suspense with a simple repetitive combination that flowers into a loose scramble of ankles and feet.

The widening tap horizon embraces Kazu Kumagai’s sharp angular virtuosity in his “A Night in Tunisia” well as Leela Petronio’s conventional “Rhythm ’n’ Shoes.”

Ayodele Casel tells us the story of her young, tapping life. The extraordinary musicality of her steps to recorded text demonstrates that her movement and words come from a single source. In beige tap shoes and simple, white summer dress, she is refining tap’s cool patina for women. While acknowledging sources among male friends and mentors, she disavows allegiance to any genre of tap, proudly stamping out her own version. Her expressive face and feet are in total agreement; what’s next?

Solos capture the silver lining of humanity in the art of tap, underneath the sheer dance delight. Eighteen-year-old Michela Marino Lerman wins us over without seeming to try. She looks at us only occasionally with a vacant stare. Stomping to Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” she addresses the corners of the platform and appears to back away from an unseen assailant.

Master of ceremonies Tony Waag stars in his own Broadway-style numbers, and presents Tap City’s well-rehearsed group choreographies by Max Pollak and Rumba Tap, the Legacy Dance Company, Michelle Dorrance and the New Jersey Tap Ensemble. Tapage, a duo of Mari Fujibayashei and Olivia Rosenkrantz, dance “Morango” an East/West fusion in which curvaceous arms are as crucial as tapping feet. In “Sensemaya,” they are “Avengers” dancing in place. Tapage would certainly be considered “serious dance,” though tap is thought to be on the rise because it is so much fun.

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