Thursday, December 31, 2015

My year in tap

Well, it's December and this is my second post of the year...a big two posts for 2015!  They say it's quality, not quantity that counts. I say it's laziness. Anyway, here are reflections of what I saw/did in tap this year.

In January, I participated in "Tapping into NY", at the Cornelia Street Cafe.  It was put on by Kathryn Adisman and was an evening of music, dance and words, with an emphasis on tap and spoken word performing together. It was an interesting experience, reminding me of tap dancers like Jane Goldberg, Joseph Webb and Brenda Bufalino who have done work incorporating tap and words. In fact, Brenda did the next version of "Tapping into NY" in November.

Speaking of tap and words, Margaret Morrison has written a play that she's be honing for awhile now and I saw it in March. It's called, "Home in Her Heart" and takes place in Europe in the late 1930's. Margaret plays a white male impersonator whose piano accompanist, played by Ava Jenkins, is her African American lover. The play is intriguing as it looks at the challenges of an interracial lesbian American expatriate couple performing in England as war threatens. And Margaret does some tap. It's just encouraging to see Margaret delve into history and do work that has her go beyond just being a tap dancer.

The Joyce Theater presented Dorrance Dance with Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely in THE BLUES PROJECT in April.  Michelle Dorrance is one of my favorite dancer/choreographers who brings interesting energy and fun to her work.  Her collaboration with Toshi Reagon's powerful music creates some nice work, aided by the dancers in her group who include Derick Grant, Dormeshia Sunbry-Edwards and Claudia Rahardjanoto, all choreographers in their own right.  That month also included Tony Waag's "Rhythm in Motion", an evening of works from different choreographers, my favorite of which was Caleb Teicher, who did some tap pieces to "Goldberg Variations" by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The month of May had the Tap Extravaganza, which annually celebrates National Tap Dance Day. Each year the show honors certain people with the Flo-Bert award, which this time went to Sue Samuels, Rod Ferrone, Barbara Duffy and Lisle Atkinson. The show, as usual, was rather long, but is always one of the things we tappers look forward to for a chance to get together.

Prince Spencer and Robert L. Reed
I had one of the shocks of my life when I received word in July that Robert L. Reed has passed away. He was relatively young and one of the forces helping to maintain the importance and history of tap dancing. A mentee of Maceo Anderson, one of the members of the famous act "The Four Step Brothers", Robert founded the St. Louis Tap Festival and was a familiar face at tap events around the country. He will be missed. On a more positive note, I went to one of the premiere screenings of the documentary, "Tap World", produced by Chloe and Maud Arnold. It showed the global reach of tap these days and was one of the things that continues to impress me in terms of the energy these sisters have to get tap out there for all to see. It is now on Nerflix, so check it out.

One of the people who for many years was instrumental in getting the annual Tap Extravaganza produced was Carl Schlesinger.  He passed away near the end of 2014 and in August of this year a number of us performed in a tribute to him held in the Bruno Walter Auditorium at Lincoln Center. He loved tap and the afternoon celebrated him with dance, words and a short film about him.

October brought the loss of another in our community with the passing of Prince Spencer, who I believe was the last surviving member of "The Four Step Brothers". He was 98. Michelle Dorrance got a MacArthur Genius Grant and some guy named Smith did a show with tap dancers at Dixon Place that apparently went quite well.  I think it was called "Story" something and he evidently had done it before. Rumor has it he will be doing it (or something like it) again in the near future...hope the young man does okay!

The Big Apple Tap Festival was in November and one of its events was an afternoon of video in memory of Robert Reed. Watching the material, I learned more about the man, which made me miss him even more. Two weeks later, I saw a little review called, "Show Me The Tap...Show Me The Soul" at the Hudson Guild Theater.  It was okay but, in my opinion, lacked a clear purpose and suffered from too much "hard" tap and cliche types/situations that have been done in shows of this sort. But at least it was another chance for tap to be seen! The night following seeing that show, I saw "Operation Tap: Live" at the Nimoy Thalia at Symphony Space headed by the Ayodele Casel and Anthony Morigerato. They have been putting up videos on YouTube with tap lessons and encourage dialogue about tap. The evening had dancing from them and other guests. A short film they made called, "The Text" was shown and what I mainly liked about the film was the camera work that emulated the technique seen in the classic Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies. In fact, there are a number of nice little tap films getting done that have impressed me these days. Also, in November was the release of a new book about tap dance.

For a decent part of the end of this year was the buzz about Sinatra 100.  He would have turned 100 in this month (December). Even though he's not my favorite singer, I appreciate what he did and have liked some of the tunes associate with him. My good friend, Laraine Goodman, put together one of her La MaMa shows, called "Let Me Be Frank", at the beginning of the month to celebrate Ole Blue Eyes in song and dance. It was fun to do and fun for the audience. I danced to "That's Life" and did a little "Hank" prop schtick within the number...can't help it! A few days after doing Laraine's show I went to Dixon Place to see Anthony Lo Cascio's "Sounds of a #Taplife", which was a nice autobiographical piece appearing to be in early development. He also included a short film in this work, which I really liked. Anthony was with Tap Dogs for many years and I've told him that he looks like James Gandolfini tap dancing with a light touch!

So, this year ends and another is a few hours away. 2016 will mark the 20th anniversary of "Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk" opening on Broadway and will also mark the return of the creators of that show, director George C. Wolfe and dancer/choreographer Savion Glover. They are now developing a new show about the making of the important 1921 all black musical, "Shuffle Along", created by Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles. Having studied some African American performance history and having some familiarity with what "Shuffle Along" was all about, I'm very curious to see what they wind up doing. Guess I'll see and will probably let you know what I think.  By the way, "Noise/Funk" opened on April 25, 1996 and "Shuffle" is scheduled to open on April 28, 2016, twenty years and three days apart!

The best to you in the new year.  As Bernard White used to say on WBAI, "Pay close attention".