Michelle Dorrance is an original, and all the warnings about her fresh perspectives on tap dance proved true. Evidence? Her second Spoleto Festival program called "Delta To Dusk," for eight dancers and eight musicians.
The evening-length work morphs seamlessly from each dance and song to the next as the ensemble journeys through different music styles like blues, jazz and rock.
In the first suite of dances, described as "Excerpts from 'The Blues Project,' " the dancers are dressed in ordinary clothing that plays down the cool glamour of what we usually expect from the tap milieu, but after a while we see that each performer is an individual jewel. Stand-outs include the enchanting Karida Griffith and Dorrance herself as a lanky dynamo in this exploration of rhythm and sultry swing. Also noteworthy are the vocals of Aaron Marcellus and Miriam Chicuel-Bayard.
In "A Suite for The City," the whimsy of songwriter Regina Spektor is paired with the The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" to accompany edgy choreography that reveals a new, dramatic dimension of the group, which contrasts delicate touches with bold, rapid-fired footwork. These powerful selections focus attention on the dancers' upper bodies, not their feet, turning tap expectations upside down.
In "A Petite Suite," the group is strong in its use of unison until performer Warren Craft emerges looking like a punk rock tapper whose gangly style is intentionally awkward but poignant, especially in his solo to the song "A Portrait" by Nat King Cole. Dorrance joins him in a duet where the two jiggle and fall in a balancing act of control, and lack thereof.
The angular bodies communicate on many levels, playing off not only one another but each instrument of the band as well. The improvisations of the dancers are alert and sensitive, fluid and spontaneous.
Throughout the performance the dancers really get inside of the music, playing with tempo and sound, but also stillness and various physical subtleties that work as a complimentary visual aid to the assortment of songs. Michelle Dorrance has created something wonderful with this show, instilling newfound energy in an important American dance form.
Eliza Ingle has taught and written about dance for 20 years.