30 Oct 2007
“RESPECT THE DANCE”
By LOLLIE GROTH, For The Maui News
Posted October 30, 2007
Last November I came to see the Masters of Rhythm at the Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. I was so blown away by the riveting percussive performances of New Yorker Jason Samuels Smith and L.A.’s Chloe Arnold that I decided I had to start tapping. At 51, I began weekly classes from Becky Pelissero in her dance studio on the slopes of Haleakala.
With tap, I was learning a totally new language, the language of “flap heel heel brush back toe heel.” I was learning to count and recall routines. Becky was generous with her knowledge; she loaned me DVDs of the Nicholas Brothers and of Gregory Hines. At work I’d practice cramp rolls behind the counter.
This past weekend I began to realize just how lucky I am, how lucky we are, that this Upcountry couple – Becky and her husband, GJ Pelissero – are willing to dedicate their time, energy and funds to create the Maui Tap Experience, and to bring to Maui this incredible lineup of internationally acclaimed tap dancers to teach us, inspire us and entertain us.
In conjunction with Saturday’s Masters of Rhythm concert, the Pelisseros arranged a Hawaiian Islands Tap Dance Festival at the MACC’s Omori Studios. The festival ran four days and offered 34 master classes for all levels and ages as well as a Participant’s Showcase. There were close to 100 participants, and people came from as far as Tokyo and Canada, and as close as Hilo, Honolulu, and Haiku. There were students from the UH Manoa Dance Program as well as students from Maui Academy of Performing Arts.
Braving a beginning class from Tre Dumas, a tap dancer from Chicago, I was impressed with his credentials – including a three-year tour of “Riverdance” – but also his altruism – Dumas helped build a thriving tap school in inner city Chicago. A Chicago Bears fan, Tre looks big enough to play ball. With his shaved head, a tap shoe tattoo on his biceps, and a gold hoop in his ear, Tre is the epitome of cool. At the end of class, Tre had us gather in a circle and put one hand on top of another’s – like you see sports teams do. He said, “Look around at these faces, we’re white, Asian, black, Polynesian, we’re young, we’re old, there’s an 81-year-old and an 8-year-old here. You’re with people that under normal circumstances you’d never encounter, and yet in this class, through tap, you’ve shared an experience together. Honor that. OK, on three, say it loud: Respect the dance!”
At the Masters of Rhythm Hana Hou! concert, Kathy “Tita” Collins of Mana’o Radio emceed the event and opened with some tap dance hula in her rubbah slippahs, “fast kine dance I learn in Baldwin High School Marching Band.”
Then, like magic, the musicians, backlit behind the scrim, appeared in colored silhouette: Sal Godinez on green keyboards; David Choy on sax busted out in yellow; Michael Buono on drums, all midnight blue; and Marcus Johnson on bass glowed in red. While the band played “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” off to the right behind a large spot-lit disc of white light, you could see this huge shadow of a guy in dreds, “the Moses of tap,” Jason Samuels Smith, and he was just burning up the floor.
Chloe Arnold also shared Jason’s spotlight. “The closer we danced to the scrim,” Chloe explained, “the smaller our silhouettes got, but the farther away from the scrim, the bigger we got.” The effect was prophetic: What the audience was about to experience would feel larger than life.
Outside the scrim, there was a lot of smoldering going on: Tokyo’s Yukiko Misumi fluttered and floated across the stage in orange sequins like a delicate firefly. Chicago’s Dumas, in a red shirt, black pinstripe slacks and vest, danced cool and precise as a burning ember. John Kloss, in a black suit, struck the delicious line between passion and restraint. Dianne “Lady Di” Walker, in a silk kimonolike top and flowing pants, graced the stage with her refined demeanor and elegant musicality, ever carrying the torch of tap, passed to her by her teacher Leon Collins.
Each number was pure virtuosity, some spontaneous, some set: Dumas’ improvised solo to Mile Davis; Yukiko’s homage to Henry Le Tang; Kloss’ amazing a cappella piece that ripped and slid and scuffed and glided; Arnold’s intimate, euphoric duo with Choy on sax doing “In A Sentimental Mood; Walker’s classy rhythmic precision to “Autumn Leaves.”
And then there’s Smith, always pushing the tap envelope, creating new sounds.
One of the highlights was a “conversation,” an improvised piece between Smith, Arnold and Dumas. As Tre explains, “We all have riffs, pet steps, steps that are in our pocket. In a conversation, you’re riding that line between something you have in your pocket – your comfort zone – and something new and unexpected.
“And as for Jason,” Tre grins, “he has a much bigger pocket than most.”
Lollie Groth is a freelance writer. She can be reached at surfloll@mauigate