It’s not often that Seattle audience goers get to see high caliber tap dancing. However, when the opportunity arises, Seattleites come out in droves. This past weekend, the Moore Theater, packed with tap dance enthusiasts, presented The Blues Project, a collaborative piece between the New York City based tap dance company, Dorrance Dance, and blues musicians, Toshi Reagon & BigLovely.
The Blues Project was truly a collaboration with dancers and musicians working jointly to create a whirlwind of intricate syncopations and relentless sound. Toshi Reagon & BigLovely sat elevated at the back of the stage, watching the dancers and cheering them on throughout the show. During one hoedown-inspired song the fiddle player, Juliette Jones, joined the dancers on stage. As the bow of the violin moved quicker and quicker along the strings, couples joined arm in arm. The coupling proved to be too restraining, however, and they soon broke apart, each tap dancer darting across the stage, scraping their heels and stamping forcefully to the beat. One male dancer began jumping into the air, bending his knees behind him, and tapping his feet in the air with his hands. His high jumps captivated the rest of the dancers (as well as the audience), who tapped (and clapped) along to the rhythm created by the pounding of his feet as he landed. The ensemble followed suit, and soon all nine of the company members were jumping triumphantly in time with the fiddle player.
While the ensemble dancers succeeded in creating an indefatigable sense of elation with their splits, handstands, and over the tops, the high points of the evening were the three solos performed by Michelle Dorrance, Derick K. Grant, and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Each of the solos were singular masterpieces of tap dance. Michelle Dorrance, the artistic director of Dorrance Dance — also known unofficially as one of the ambassadors of tap dance on par with Savion Glover — strayed from the theme of joviality. Accompanied by the melancholic voice of Toshi Reagon and the light strumming of an acoustic guitar, Dorrance began to tap lightly, interspersing the quietude of the music with her own, contemplative footfall. The steps she incorporated in her solo — the Susie Q, the Charleston, the Maxie Ford — all melded together into the larger scheme. Her gangly arms trailed behind her feet, which with a mind of their own, propelled her across the stage while still sustaining tiny, almost imperceptible, micro-rhythms.
Sumbry-Edwards, an award winning dancer and tap teacher to Michael Jackson for eleven years, knew too how to command the stage. Her tap dancing seemed to summon the rhythm of the acoustic guitar, not the other way around, and her body rocked fiercely as she struck the downbeat to the twelve bar blues.
Derick K. Grant, a master hoofer in his own right, brought a lightheartedness to the stage. He reveled in the audience’s uncertainty about what to expect as he tapped his feet closer and closer to the microphone at the front of the stage. Before long, he was improvising along with the electric bass, performing cramp rolls, digs, and paddles at breakneck speeds. Towards the end of the solo, Grant stood center stage with a spotlight focused in on his feverishly moving blue tap shoes, leaving audience members with a lasting, clear image.
By the evening’s end, the audience was left reeling, shocked, and convinced that tap dancing was no joke. The world-class tap dancers of Dorrance Dance wanted to make one thing clear during their hour-long performance: that tap is a high art and it is exhilarating.
More about The Blues Project at www.dorrancedance.com.