“Dorrance Dance would like to remind you that we are not the ballet.”
If you (somehow) showed up to this bill from Dorrance Dance expecting pointe shoes and pirouettes, you’d be swiftly corrected, even without this playful announcement. From the opening curtain, the stage is alight with vivacious tap dance, from carefree shuffles to fast, furious hoofing. At the forefront is founder/choreographer Michelle Dorrance, a young, prodigious American tapper who’s made it her mission to modernise the genre. Her New York-based outfit boasts crisp technique and a sharp-witted approach that catapults tap way beyond its show-biz associations.
Myelination, a group number from 2017, is the centrepiece here. There’s a whiff of Wayne McGregor to the description, which promises to reinterpret myelination, the biological mechanism that speeds up nerve cell transmissions, for the stage. This clinical framing is more for talk than show, though; the piece is 50 minutes of pure dance, soulfully performed. An on-stage band dishes up a groovy beat sprinkled with silky vocals. Against their lulling rhythms, a succession of solos and group numbers unfold, including some tight ensemble work. The tapping shades into the music smoothly, the dancers’ percussion becoming a dynamic part of the composition, with slides that complement plunking double bass notes and heel-toes that syncopate with piano keys.
Dorrance’s choreography is gleefully genre-bending, braiding in street moves, lyrical tussles, Fosse-style struts and more. Sometimes the dancing departs from tap altogether, with the stage given over to surges of gravity-defying breakdance and contorted, throttling floorwork. But, naturally, the best routines are tap-focused, like a velvety duet from Dorrance and Byron Tittle: tracing sinuous configurations into the stage, they could be figure skaters criss-crossing the rink. Warren Craft’s lurching solo, in which he fritzes like a weird, adorable android, is another highlight.
There are a few loose ends – including an electric guitar solo that doesn’t let rip the way it seems poised to – but these are small matters. The group’s panache is as compelling as their footwork.
Two short works, also choreographed by Dorrance, round out the show. It’s jukebox jingles and a swaying chorus line in Jungle Blues, which makes stylish work of crooked, floppy-bodied poses. Lively solo action emerges, including another trembling turn from Craft, but the glory belongs to the ensemble, who hit a striking note between resolute and easy-breezy. Tittle’s flinging extensions deserve a mention, and Claudia Rahardjanoto’s salubrious hip swivels too.
Finally, we have Three to One, a slick trio that situates a tap-shoed Dorrance between two barefoot dancers. An early spotlight on their legs reveals intricate steps performed in unison. Dorrance goes on to tackle a fiery string of scuffs and pullbacks while the men branch out into supple modern dance, again creating harmonious arrangements out of disparate styles. For the finale, Dorrance bursts forth from the shadows with a moody, fitful solo.
It’s a real departure from the friskiness that otherwise characterises the evening, but even in these weighty moments you still get the sense that these dancers are having a ball.