17 Jul 2006
Imagine' conjures delights of tap theater in short stories
Chicago Sun-Times, Jul 17, 2006 by Hedy Weiss
When: Through Aug. 6
Where: Harris Theater
for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph
Call: (312) 334-7777
Tap dance can easily exist as just pure percussive abstraction -- an exercise in movement in which the dancers set the self-generated beat by using their feet as drumsticks.
But even the masterful riffs of a tapper like Savion Glover can grow tiresome over the course of a full-length program. And that is where the creators of "Imagine Tap!" -- dancer-choreographers Derick K. Grant and Aaron Tolson -- have stepped in, devising a program of short stories in tap.
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Their idea is simply to put percussion in the service of character and plot, enhancing a dozen or so deftly sketched scenarios with some scenery, projections and just the right music (from standards to special material by Zane Mark and Crystal Joy), and to conjure the delights of tap theater as it existed in old movie musicals.
This new, quite lavishly produced show -- which brings together 16 top-flight tappers from across the country (including several from Chicago), a stylish group of vocalists and a brassy, forceful band that plays the stuffings out of Mark's punchy, imaginative arrangements -- is the first major undertaking of Indiana-based Great Lakes Dance Productions. In the tradition of such popular dance-based shows as "Riverdance" and "Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk," it clearly has ambitions of going national in some way, shape or form. But for now, the show is strengthening its already considerable legs in a multiweek engagement at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park.
Virtuosic yet not overly slick, traditional but fresh, "Imagine Tap!" turns out to be great summer fun. And it adds to the work of already existing, Chicago-based percussive dance outfits -- from the Human Rhythm Project to Chicago Tap Theatre (at the Athenaeum Theatre through July 30 in "Changes: A Science Fiction Tap Opera," set to David Bowie).
The sheer variety of scenes conjured here is impressive. In "3 Chefs" -- a work that recalls the glory days of the Nicholas Brothers -- Jared Grimes, Jumaane Taylor and Joseph Wiggan nearly set their tall white toques spinning as they demonstrate their speed, agility and acrobatic prowess. In "Mr. Happy (A Day in the Life)", opposite types -- the goofy, Tommy Tune-like, business- suited Ray Hesselink and Tolson, a streetwise "Superman" -- winkingly play the dozens in dance. And in "Doll," the snappy Ayodele Casel proves her mettle against an army of boys with water guns --a routine just right for Radio City Music Hall.
David "Cyclone" Alan Fogler and Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie are the well-matched hip-hop duo who whimsically blend the soft-shoe style of "Tea for Two" with elaborate breakdance moves choreographed by Emilio E. "Buddha Stretch" Austin Jr. And a classroom scene, in which restless students act out while the teacher is out of sight, brings the first act to a rollicking close.
The second act raises the stakes even higher. A whole lot of testifying-in-tap takes place in "Dance Like David," a soul- stirring church scene starring Martin Tre Dumas III and Bril Barrett, plus vocalist Michael Hawkins. In "Tu Eres Loco," set in a salsa nightclub, reed-thin Michelle Dorrance heats things up to a sizzle with help from the luminous Chloe Arnold and vocalist Hawkins.
"Subway Heat" finds a slew of riders stranded on a platform, with the balletic Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards leading the ensemble. And before the whole cast joins in for a big finale there is the program's dramatic piece de resistance -- "Samurai Shuffle," a wonderfully realized, beautifully designed mix of tap, martial arts magic and live-action "anime" that stars the remarkable, high- flying Jason Samuels Smith, backed by "Bounce," "Cyclone" and others.
Grant, the most inventive principal choreographer and director, expertly showcases his dancers' strengths. And the design team adds specificity to their taps.
Copyright CHICAGO SUN-TIMES 2006
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