Saturday, July 20, 2019
Dorrance Dance to Tap Its Way Across Argyros Stage
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Saturday, April 6, 2019
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

Like many, Nicholas Van Young was turned onto tap dancing watching old movies starring Jimmy Slyde and Dianne Walker with his grandparents.

Today he is a tap dancer and associate artistic director in one of the world’s most renowned tap dance groups—a group that reportedly “blasts open our notions of tap” while yet paying homage to its heritage.

Van Young and Dorrance Dance will present the acclaimed SOUNDspace Tuesday and Wednesday, April

The 70-minute SOUNDspace is one of the favorites of the company’s founder Michelle Dorrance. It’s also one of her first full-length productions.

The piece, which features plenty of synchronized staccato dancing, was developed to utilize the unique acoustics of New York City’s St. Mark’s Church.  And it will be adapted to the acoustical capabilities of The Argyros, which can be fine-tuned to sound like a variety of environments, including a cathedral, through its MEYER Constellation System.

Because the piece was originally done on the wooden floors of a church, it borrows inspiration from Jimmy Slyde’s penchant for sliding in socks. Dancers also dance in leather soles, which predated aluminum taps during the 1800s when the dance form was called “Buck Dancing” or “Buck and Wing.”

“It’s a sound space, but it’s also a tap dance space,” said Van Young, a former lead dancer with STOMP who often creates electronic tap music using amplified pitch sensors and electronic loops to augment many of his dance group’s numbers.

Dorrance Dance was founded in 2011 by MacArthur Fellow Michelle Dorrance, one of the most sought-after tap dancers of her generation. Since, she and collaborators like Van Young have used dance and percussion to transform the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed rotunda of the Guggenheim into a giant musical instrument.

They’ve also collaborated with American Ballet Theatre in “Dream Within a Dream, Deferred,” which put ballet dancers in tap shoes at the Lincoln Center.

“Many of those in our company have worked together since the company’s beginnings, which is pretty remarkable,” said Van Young. “And some have known one another since they were 13, 14 years old. A few, like soloist Elizabeth Berke, met Michelle Dorrance when they were babies.”

Dorrance is considered a powerhouse in the tap-dancing world, Van Young said.

“Her artistic vision is incredible. And she does it all--from choreography to even to serving as the company’s administrative director when it first started.”

While pressing artistic boundaries through creative innovative contemporary tap-dancing numbers, she also pays homage to tap dancing’s historic roots.

“A lot of people associate tap dancing with the nostalgic image of young boy tap dancing on a corner for nickels. They don’t realize that it is a true American art form,” said Van Young.

Indeed, tap dancing has some uncomfortable history behind it. Afraid that slaves could hide seditious codes in their drumming, slave owners lobbied for the Negro Act of 1740, which outlawed drums and other musical instruments among slaves.

In response, slaves turned to rhythmic heel and toe tapping, clapping and some thigh slapping to keep alive the rhythms that they had brought with them from Africa.

Over time, a lot of improvisation and cultural mingling with indentured servants from Ireland and others started happening, said Van Young.

As tap dancing caught on, musicals began to be written that incorporated the tap dance for dancers like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. Tap found its way into the jazz scene. And Bill Bojangles Robinson became the first to be shown dancing with white women as he was pictured tapping his way down the stairs with Shirley Temple.

“It’s an uphill battle as far as visibility,” Van Young said. “But tap has become big in some New York City jazz venues. And what’s emerging now is more exciting than ever.”

IF YOU GO:

What: Argyros Presents Durrance Dance’s SOUNDspace

Where: Argyros Performing Arts Center in Ketchum

When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, April 9-10

Tickets: Start at $30, available at www.theargyros.org.

 

 

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