Dancer Warren Craft in Myelination. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Vancouver Playhouse – April 13, 2018

Presented by DanceHouse.

From the moment Michelle Dorrance and her ensemble of nine dancers danced strutted onto the stage as party guests at a dance hall in Jungle Blues, there was a feeling that Dorrance was tempting us with something exceptional.

Jungle Blues, which premiered in 2012, was the first of three works performed in this vibrant program that challenged the expressive qualities of tap dance. Jungle Blues oozes with personality. Dancers took turns sounding off their tap shoes with unexpected rhythmic phrases, including the use of the sides, edges and tips of their tap shoes to create a variety of scuffs and slides. They were as charismatic with their sounds as well as their silence, at times quietly gliding across the stage as if it were a sheet of ice. Their bodies also took on unexpected forms; one tall and lanky male dancer perpetually slipped and recovered, creating a comical duet with his sure-footed female partner.  

Next, Dorrance and two male dancers performed a more intimate number called Three to One (2011). While Dorrance was in tap shoes, the two male dancers on either side of her were in bare feet. The trio stood shoulder to shoulder creating phrases of discrete footwork in concert with a soundtrack of ticking clocks. Even at times when the sound from Dorrance’s taps were minimal, their bodies seemed to be sounding out the rhythms like a percussive instrument.

Myelination was the featured work, having premiered in 2017. Two tap dancers in the ensemble, Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie and Matthew “Megawatt” West, are also breakdancers, and Dorrance weaved them into a story arc comprised of a multitude of personalities, each who seemed to be searching for their own epiphany. The piece evolved through episodes of struggle and oppression, shown in tap dancer Warren Craft’s desperate attempts for balance, and Asherie’s urgent twisting and breakdancing spins. There were moments of confrontation, such as when Dorrance stared down Asherie, and when an intimidating line of tap dancers swept across the stage, clashing with Asherie and West, pushing the latter to retreat. These were followed by moments of curiosity, when tappers tried some breakdancing moves and when the breakdancers tapped. Refreshing phrases of unison were followed by light-hearted rhythms and jubilant expression that concluded the piece and the evening with optimism and elation. Live musicians (pianist, bass and clarinet player, drums player and vocalist) performed a soundscape integrated with the sounds of the taps and rhythms suggested by the dancers’ movements. In Myelination, Dorrance has composed an impressively complex harmony while accentuating the idiosyncrasies of each individual. Her ability for expressing such diversity in tap dance makes her a vital and contemporary voice for the art form.

Ephrat Asherie and Matthew West in Myelination. Photo by Matthew Murphy.