Dorrance Dance takes tap in exhilarating new directions at DanceHouse

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      A DanceHouse presentation. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Friday, April 13. Continues on April 14

      No matter your experience with tap dancing, you’re likely to be blown away by what New York City’s Dorrance Dance pulls off while it pummels the stage.

      If your most recent brush with the form was an episode of America’s Got Talent or the last time Tap Dogs hot-footed it into town, you’ll be exhilarated by the sheer diversity of styles on display from Michelle Dorrance’s rainbow nation of virtuosic hoofers here. The celebrated choreographer sends them sliding and scraping across the floor like the world’s coolest curlers, hoists them up on their toes, leans them perilously off-balance, and literally stands them on their heads. Within that, you’ve got the individual spice of each distinct dancer; no cookie-cutter corps here. There’s the wonderfully wonky Warren Craft, whose Jell-O limbs splay and slip underneath him, even as he’s ripping through richly rhythmic taps. There’s Leonardo Sandoval’s intricate “in the pocket” rhythmic footwork. And there’s Dorrance’s own loose style, with fierce eyes and leggy fireworks.

      If, on the other hand, you have a love of the form, you’ll marvel at the way Dorrance both pays tribute to tap’s roots but also takes it in bold, new collaborative and conceptual-contemporary directions. Each of the three pieces on this mixed program is like a work of art—in the least pretentious way possible—that led to nonstop whooping from the audience all night.

      The program opens with the beautifully boozy Jungle Blues, the dancers decked out in vintage street clothes and the Jelly Roll Morton jazz score evoking an old-style New Orleans speakeasy. On one hand it’s an ode to classic tap roots, but Dorrance lovingly sends it gawkily and playfully off-kilter, as one dancer pretends to take repeated swigs from a flask.

      Three to One is starker and more conceptual, a spotlight at first catching only Dorrance’s white tap shoes against the bare feet of Byron Tittle and Matthew “Megawatt” West on either side of her. Set to the brooding electro of Aphex Twin and Thom Yorke, it plays the two men’s silent movement and her percussive footwork off each other and off the alternately chiming and subtly skittering beats of the music. Intense and emotional, it becomes something much more than a physical study, as Dorrance breaks out alone, long hair flailing as she struggles to dance in, and finally disappears into, the darkness.

      These short pieces give way to the controlled chaos of Myelination, a nonstop, sprawling, but utterly thrilling, exploration of the physical potential of tap, its interplay with live jazz music, and the ways it can interact with hip-hop and breaking. A live band plays original music—featuring piano, drums, bass, and, intermittently, clarinet, with vocals by the talented Aaron Marcellus—composed by Gregory Richardson and the choreographer's brother, Donovan Dorrance. 

      The dancers move across the floor in myriad ways, repeating and adding percussively to the complex musical patterns. Dancers pair off, break into improvisational solos, and even drop to the ground to show their hip-hop skills. Amid all this, the dancer Craft might suddenly strap on an electric guitar to join the band, or powerhouse B-girl Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie might start spinning in floorwork around a tap dancer. Those random touches, interspersed with complex syncopated corps work and the improv sequences, built a momentum that had the audience jumping out of its seats for an extended ovation at the end.

      DanceHouse was celebrating its 10th anniversary, and itcouldn’t have programmed a better on-stage party—one that managed to be thrillingly accessible while still boasting serious contemporary-dance chops.