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Impressions of: The Bang Group’s "A Mouthful of Shoes" at Danspace Project

Impressions of: The Bang Group’s "A Mouthful of Shoes" at Danspace Project

Published on March 23, 2017
Photo: Ian Douglas/courtesy Danspace Project

Choreography by David Parker

Lighting Design by Kathy Kaufman

Costume Design by Pei-Chi Su

Music by Morton Feldman, Wolfgang Mozart, Steve Reich, Dean Rosenthal, Igor Stravinsky

Music Performances by Pauline Kim Harris, Michael Scales, Katie Scheele

Dance often uses the body as an instrument to express music. But how about to make music?

Since founding The Bang Group in 1995, choreographer David Parker and his co-artistic director Jeffrey Kazin have been investigating the possibilities of rhythm. To them, bodies aren’t just for moving; they’re also for making the music that inspires those movements. In A Mouthful of Shoes at Danspace Project, eight pieces using six scores reveal how sound forges meaning.

There's plenty of what you'd expect from a tap ensemble. In small groups, charismatic dancers stomp, smack, stroke, scrape, and scuff their feet, sometimes in tap shoes and sometimes not. They also dab, drum, and strum their hands, sometimes against their bodies and sometimes against other bodies. While there's live music — an oboe, the fantastic Pauline Kim Harris on violin — often, the only sound is flesh against flesh or flesh against floor. Once, Caleb Teicher takes center stage for the witty, hammy Song and Dance as he hums Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turka.

Caleb Teicher wears a black and yellow tunic, grey slacks, green socks and tap shoes. Both of his arms are stretched to the ceiling while one leg is hiked up in the air.
The Bang Group, A Mouthful of Shoes. Photo: Ian Douglas/courtesy Danspace Project.

Then, there’s what you don’t expect. Tap may form the basis for Parker’s choreography, but he merges it with other dance forms to expand rhythmic expression. In Two Timing II (made originally for New York Theatre Ballet), Kazin and pointe shoe-wearing Chelsea Ainsworth hit the arabesques of a traditional pas de deux in between frenzied footwork. Turing Tests features Kazin, Nic Petry, and Tommy Seibold evoking the finger-snapping bonhomie of a mid-century musical. The most inventive piece, Settling Scores, showcases a quintet vividly embodying 20th-century composer Morton Feldman’s For John Cage. Loping walks, trust falls, and stony eyes point to postmodernism’s fascination with all things pedestrian.

At the halfway point, Parker takes the floor to explain his choreographic motivation, which was to study counterpoint by breaking apart and then putting back together the scores of great composers. One of these, Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, appears three times in various forms. Its most thought-provoking version occurs in 12 x 4 where four dancers show physically and sonically when and how the musical lines diverge.

A woman in a black tunic is en pointe holds the hand of her partner who is on one knee
The Bang Group, A Mouthful of Shoes. Photo: Ian Douglas/courtesy Danspace Project.

None of the works are long, but they are dense with much to see and to hear. Through this flurry of action and sound, one thing stands out. Rhythm extends beyond its Merriam Webster’s definition: “a recurring alternation of strong and weak elements.”

Rhythm is about relationships: the hurly-burly of a fevered argument, the pitter-patter of a lovesick heart, the rat-a-tat-tat of an anxious confession. The Bang Group may seem divine in their deft, virtuosic footwork, but they are human in their relationships.

Tap is talk: So listen and learn.

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