AUDIENCE REVIEW: Dorrance Dance Penn Arts Live Philadelphia Premier
At Penn Arts Live at The Annenberg Center
December 11th 2021
Note: This was the first live performance at the Annenberg since the theater's black out, and national shut down in arts and entertainment industry
The Philadelphia premier of “Basses Loaded,” and artistic director Michelle Dorrance took the stage at the end of 2021. This modern tap dance group revitalizes the art form through storytelling, dance, and as an American art form. To sum up the feeling of theaters going dark acrosss the country, tap is a movement that expresses this tension. The echoing tap from beneath the shadows of bodies dimmed the theater lights so we could only see their feet. The focus was on the instrument, tap shoes, and it mainly resonated with a ricochet from improvisation. The heart of this great company really fills the space with the legend of tap dancers, and carries it further by choreography by Michelle Dorrance.
The top of the hat was a 2011 piece entitled, “Three to One.” In its entirety one would be enough as a solo, but three dancers take a turn in this colloquial modern dance conversation. Separated by darkness three spot lights formed an imagined world beyond what our eyes could see. Most of my admiration for tap dance comes from multi-perspectives of all walks-of-life, and tumultuous steps sometimes best captures man's struggle. “Three to One” is most of all in the darkness, and the music fills a great depth in the piece, the dancers fully in control, and even so when one has fallen down and loses control, their armor removed to bare a spiritual kindred.
The music by Aphex twins, “Nannou”, was carefully selected to animate the dance as well as bring the music and our imagination alive. The spirit of the music charged with the ingenuity of the dancers brings freshness to tap. We could connect to the inseparable movement of sound and dance. The music box winding up, and the music flows life to these three artists. The tap in Dorrance Dance is fresh, fragile, and carefully maintained in-and-out of artistic boundaries.
The first piece, “SOUNDspace,” a place becomes a musical instrument. Each dancer choreographed to their own rhythm. Without distinction, apart from their rhythm which was all their own. Like, a crowd unfolding, on a crosswalk, and out comes this solo, b-boy/ b-girl, and just the sound of tap. If you have never experienced tap artistry before, getting familiar with “SOUNDspace,” created in 2013, opens up possibilities to anyone.
The two solos and a duet were unforgettable. Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie and Byron Tittle really change things up with b-boy moves. The musical director, Gregory Richardson, sculpted a cavernous space which vibrates with the Dorrance artist in the solo of “Three to One,” as we tuned into Thom Yorke’s “A Rat’s Nest.”
Now, “Basses Loaded,” commissioned by New York City Center, rounded out the show. The stage began revolving around musicians and dancers across the stage. It was magically pedestrian, like a jazzy American musical. The energy was charged by the changing mood, continuum of movement, and beautifully timed. It slowed down, Elizabeth Burke held the center stage as two musicians pulled a bow across two basses, moving along the front and down stage. This note was reminiscent of Yorke’s ambient music in the second part of the program. This long, Philip Glassian movement, hung on as the gears turned with tap as the motivator. The melodic repetitive candor blended together in an instance in clockwork- sound, dance, music, and improvisational artists.
And long behold, “The Ella’quent Holiday Swing,” starring Aaron Marcelus, played this late night show to a “T.” the Dorrance Dance artists gave a Pennsylvania premier that felt like a blast from a more formal past. Under red stage lights, we were quickly reeled in by the entrance stage left, by Christopher Broughton. The blues decorated the winterscape with classy jingle bells, sleigh ride, and dashing through the snow. Generously, this jazz tap was an honor to the formidable past tap dancers right here in Philadelphia.