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2 Jun 2005

Turned On Tap ‘Turned On Tap’ 2nd June 2005 London, Queen Elizabeth Hall by Simonetta Dixon For many of us, the notion of tap dancing means settling down on a rainy afternoon in front of the tele and letting the balletic grace of Astaire, Rogers and Kelly brighten up the day. Then there are the Broadway shows with their own version of the art. So when asked to go along to see ‘rhythm tapping’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, I arrived with some trepidation, feeling ignorant about the genre. That, however, was the point: this evening of variety was intended to introduce the audience to this increasingly popular form of dance, and to explain its roots and development. It succeeded to varying degrees. In order to help us along, the evening was emceed by Earl Okin, himself an accomplished musician who towards the end managed to play guitar and trumpet simultaneously….but with no trumpet. He does a ‘mouth trumpet’ and it sounds very realistic! He introduced each number and each artist and gave a brief explanation of the genesis of each dance form. This was helpful educationally, but did tend to interrupt the flow. Having said this, each dance and artist was different, so it didn’t matter too much. One of the main tenets of the evening was how rhythm tap developed from both Irish folk tapping and African roots. We had a lovely solo from Colin Dunne, who had taken over the lead male dancer role in Riverdance when Michael Flatley left. He was a delight to watch…a sprite using the whole stage to his advantage, leaping, jumping and curling the bottom halves of his legs like wisps of smoke from a cigarette. I didn’t quite see its relevance to the whole, but it was an entertaining diversion. Dunne unfortunately had a bad landing and twisted his ankle, so couldn’t come out after the interval to do the improvisation he was supposed to with the fiddler Colin Farrell. In his place we had Seosamh O Neachtain, who had finished the first half with a wonderful improvisation of down-to-earth Irish tapping. This tall, gangly boy in jeans and a baggy checked shirt just wandered onto the stage so quietly that I thought he was there to change the props or tweak the microphone, but then he started doing a gentle tap which developed into a wonderful example of pure footwork. I just wish he had looked up even once or twice…he kept his face downwards the whole time, his hair flopping down over his face so that we couldn’t see it at all. Maybe this was the point; he was looking at his feet, and so should we. That was one of the things I learned this evening: the upper body doesn’t matter here…it’s the feet that count, so they’ve got to be good! It was this performance, more than Dunne’s, which showed the direct link between Irish roots dancing and American rhythm tap. It also proved that there is more to Irish dancing than Riverdance!! Heather Cornell, a Canadian tapper with a lot of experience behind her, danced an African sand dance in a small square box with sand in it, which had the mesmeric sound of a brush on a snare drum in a late-night jazz club. This was not the most elegant of dances, but served the purposed of demonstrating the interplay between dancer and musicians and the African steps of early tapping. Cornell did an effective improvisation in the second half when her feet answered every note played by the wonderful flautist/saxophonist Charlotte Glasson…and then Glasson would in turn play the notes tapped out by Cornell’s feet. A glowing example of how dancer and musician play off each other in this genre of dance. The British star of this show was Junior Laniyan, who came on and did a solo ranging from slow, rhythmic foot tapping to amazingly fleet pyrotechnics, even hitching his trousers up at the ankle so we could see more. This is definitely one to watch, and I look forward to seeing him in future; he was clearly enjoying himself immensely, and this had a direct effect on the audience who gave him the applause he deserved. Diane Hampstead, a London-based dancer and teacher, danced a couple of solos and did an elegant if somewhat old-fashioned duet with Derek Hatley. The two real stars of the evening, however, were the Americans Jason Samuels Smith and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, who both blew the audience away with their style, their technique and their raw energy. Smith wore very heavy tap shoes and really bashed the stage; I’m sure his tapping could be heard at the top of the theatre. He was in turn slow and elegant, then brash and in your face, all the while keeping up a pace that takes the breath away. At points he looked as if he was dancing on ice, and I kept wondering how he didn’t trip over his own feet or legs as he slid and hopped all over the stage. Likewise Sumbry-Edwards, who managed to have the upper body elegance of Ginger Rogers, and the gutsy tapping feet of a contemporary rhythm dancer. She was a joy to watch, and when she and Samuels Smith did their duet, in perfect time, it brought the house down. The jazz quintet led by John Colianni on piano played with panache and understanding all night; they would have been a show on their own without the dancers. This was a fun evening which I’m sure managed to get those like me interested in seeing more of this type of dance. It was an effective introduction to the genre, and a more structured style of show next time around could really pull people in. A very enticing aspect of rhythm tapping to notice here was that, like its ancestor flamenco, it doesn’t matter what body shape you have, or how old you are, if you are good at it, you are always good, and that can only be a positive example for the rest of us. {top} Home Magazine Listings Update Links Contexts ...jul05/sd_rev_turned_on_tap_0605.htm revised: 9 June 2005 Bruce Marriott email, © all rights reserved, all wrongs denied. credits written by Simonetta Dixon © email design by RED56

Simonetta Dixon