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This weekend marked a landmark anniversary for Footnotes Tap Ensemble, “the Triangle’s premier professional adult tap dance company.” Founded in 2002 by Robin Vail and Mimi Benjamin, Footnotes put on their tenth anniversary concert celebration this weekend with a company concert featuring guest soloist Michelle Dorrance, as well as co-founder Robin Vail herself. Accompanied by a small jazz combo placed upstage, the tappers performed a very classic, jazzy show at Halle Cultural Arts Center on a lovely fall evening in Downtown Apex.
Footnotes’ mission for the last ten years has been “to promote, educate and perform this truly unique American dance art” through performances and tap workshops, and this show was no exception. Interspersed between traditional, choreographed numbers were several “improvisation interludes” as well as “band features” and interludes by the soloist, who also participated in several of the group numbers.
The show took a little while to get on its feet, as it were, with some awkward microphone issues and a lot of dead time for the audience while the band moved on or off stage and dancers got set in place. However, there was plenty of life on stage to make up for the wait. Keeping the classic feel of jazz alive, the dancers got to make the choreography their own and let their personalities shine through (some more than others). With the exception of a few blips in the timing of some individuals, the high level of nonverbal communication onstage allowed for quick adjustments and recoveries in a form of dance that requires a lot of room for change, for each performance of something so loose and improvisatory can easily be different than the last.
Dorrance, who is on faculty at Broadway Dance Center and was 2012 Princess Grace Choreography Fellow as well as 2011 Bessie Award winner, added a new element to the show as soon as she appeared. Her unique combination of jazz, tap, and pop dancing was so fluid and energetic, yet suspenseful enough to keep the audience engaged. She was obviously enjoying herself the whole time, be it solo or ensemble number, and she had an enthusiastic – and sometimes even flirtatious – air to her dancing. Her final solo started out in the house, in the dark and utilized tapping, clapping, clicking her tongue, and even singing! Her use of rhythm showed off the range of volume and speed in tap, challenging even the drum set player to keep up with her in a section where the two of them traded solos.
The use of live music was highly effective, too, masking a little bit of awkwardness in the dancing when dancers’ taps did not quite line up. The small jazz combo was squished upstage and had a couple collisions with dancers that strayed too far backwards, but wasn’t fazed, and played with an energy that lit up the room, never missing a beat. The few a cappella numbers were even more impressive because of their contrast to the accompanied songs; dancers had to remain in total sync with each other and create the rhythm of the song all on their own. However, the remaining songs, that used pre-recorded music, seemed a little out of place – why not use the musicians that were already there? All questioning aside, they performed well, notably their rendition of Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5,” originally choreographed by Erin O’Reilly in 2003. The song is known for its use of 5/4 time, giving a unique limp; the dancers paid homage to this by performing as a quintet and accenting the fifth beat of every phrase.
Apex is a growing town, home to the Apex Jazz Festival that just celebrated its second annual event this September. Footnotes did right to choose this venue for its tenth anniversary concert; it was well-attended and well-received by an intimate group of followers. As soon as a few technical difficulties can get straightened out and a few numbers polished, the Ensemble should be well on its way to continuing to build up and branch out further. Footnotes will present its final performance of 2012, “Nine Ladies Tapping and A Guy,” in December (at a date to be announced later) in Chapel Hill.