Tap may be the only kind of dance you don't have to see to enjoy—it's as much about sound as vision. Last night, Jason Samuels Smith and his tap company Anyone Can Get Itmade that clear when they opened their Portland debut in total darkness, with just the amplified sound of taps clicking and scuffing out an infectious rhythm on the stage.
The best hoofers work like jazz musicians, breaking up synchronized patterns with improvised solos and jams in which they play off one another, riffing on previous movements. Like many tappers before them, ACGI has recognized that artistic kinship and taken the logical next step of collaborating with actual jazz musicians. In this show, the five dancers—Smith, Chloe Arnold, Lee Howard, Sarah Reich and Joseph Wiggan—are accompanied live onstage by a jazz trio: pianist Theo Hill, bassist Burniss Earl Travis II and drummer Andrew Atkinson.This arrangement gives viewers a two-for-one deal: half dance performance, half jazz concert, performed by hotshots in both camps.
After the opening ensemble number, Smith warmed up the crowd with praise for Portland (“The city is clean, the people are nice, and the wood is great,” he said, scuffing his shoe on the floor for clarification). His monologue bought time while the small but mighty Reich changed costume for her solo number, the salsa-inflected Tapolio. Additional highlights included Howard's loose-limbed elegance in Red Clay and the a capella group numberSwung Open, in which the dancers rattled off intricate, perfectly synchronized time signatures without the benefit of music to guide them, demonstrating just how finely tuned their sense of rhythm really is.
Remarkable, too, were the staccato beats that the dancers hammered out as clearly and as quickly as machine-gun fire. There are plenty of solo bits in this show guaranteed to leave viewers' mouths agape, but there's something to be said for group numbers, too, in which the dancers (in one instance, arranged in semicircle any hip-hop fan will recognize) build on shared choreography, staggering and overlapping the beats and reshaping the rhythms so that chattering taps give way to easy, breathy slides. The show occasionally goes out a musical limb—Joseph Wiggan is a wonderful dancer whose singing reminded us that … he's a wonderful dancer—but the gambits mostly pay off. It's not every dancer who could makeMoonlight Sonata sound hip, but in the end, Arnold gave it a beat you could dance to.
ACGI performs again tonight and tomorrow night, and their appearance is worth seeing for these reasons plus two more. Portland doesn't see a lot of tap, so seeing it done well is especially refreshing. And this show is a welcome change from the holiday-themed entertainment that dominates this time of year.
GO: Jason Samuels Smith and Anyone Can Get It perform at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, 800-745-3000. 7:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Dec. 3-4. www.whitebird.org.
Photo courtesy of White Bird.