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Generations and Genres Mix at a Tap-Dance Party
11 Jul 2008

July 10, 2008
Generations and Genres Mix at a Tap-Dance Party

Tap City 2008, a festival presented by the American Tap Dance Foundation, is a bit like a party where you don’t know a soul but the room is overflowing with communal love and gratitude. The eighth installment opened on Tuesday night at Symphony Space with “Tap Forward,” a program highlighting contemporary choreography and the presentation of two Hoofer Awards (to Tina Pratt and Derick K. Grant), as well as the Preservation Award (to the teacher and tap historian Ann Kilkelly).

Hosted by Tony Waag, the evening didn’t signal much that was progressive, but there were some sparkling performances. Younger dancers mingled onstage with those more experienced, like Ms. Pratt, 73, whose solo was accompanied by the jazz pianist Barry Harris.

The program, which won’t be repeated, began with the mystifying “Vertebrae by Vertebrae,” performed and choreographed by Michelle Dorrance, Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards and Mr. Grant. As Ms. Sumbry-Edwards peppered the floor with aggressive steps, the others, in white masks, encroached on her territory with forced menace and no apparent motive.

Chloe Arnold, in “Phenomenal Woman,” cluttered her unfettered dancing with poetry by Maya Angelou (adapted by herself), and the ensemble Zen wore sunflowers on their costumes and beaming smiles as three performers pounded out a unison dance. It seemed little more than a segment on a Japanese children’s variety show. Another group, Tapestry Dance Company, presented the punchy “Anacruses Revisited,” augmenting percussive feet with body slaps while incorporating the artificial enthusiasm of a cheerleading group.

“People Get Ready,” set to that Curtis Mayfield song, was an oddly tender solo by Kazu Kumagai that began quietly with Masa Shimizu strumming a guitar. Wearing ripped jeans and a vest, Mr. Kumagai alternated soft, brisk taps of his heels with a toe that traced lazy rondes de jambe on the floor. Also affecting was a vigorous solo by Jason Samuels Smith, performed in memory of dancers who died in the last year.

And the finale, by Mr. Grant, “Tribute to D,” reunited many of the performers in a boisterous frenzy. By the way, the “D” stands for Derick. But the piece that resonated most deeply was Josette C. Wiggan’s “Bahia.”

Wearing a ruffled black top, tight shorts and high heels, which showed off her sleek legs, Ms. Wiggan did break some new ground in her sly solo. Performing in silence, she breezed across the stage, zipping through especially florid footwork with a nod to Bob Fosse. This was a tap dance that ushered in a new kind of femininity: saucy yet strong and, in every respect, modern.

Tap City 2008 continues through Friday at Peter Norton Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway, at 95th Street; (212) 864-5400 or symphonyspace.org.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Gia Kourlas