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McArthur Grant winning Chapel Hill native Michelle Dorrance is back in town with her madly adventurous company, Dorrance Dance, for a two-night engagement at Carolina Performing Arts. Since last performing here, Dorrance has been pursuing, along with Nicholas Van Young, the potential for music making by tapping. The performance title, "ETM: Double Down," refers to Electronic Tap Music.
Tapping has always been about sound as well as motion. A single dancer can create a rich array of rhythmic textures – witness Savion Glover's mind-bending solo during ADF this summer. (I was unable to keep count of the number of different sounds he produced.) A group of tap dancers can make very complex rhythmic compositions tapping on a hard surface. Performances generally use microphones spaced along the stage at foot level, to amplify the sounds. But Dorrance and Young are pushing beyond that, into the world of electronica.
The performance opened with the dancers pushing and or dragging small dance boards, each cabled to an unseen computer, across the stage, and moved on to indicate their sound-making capabilities – the boards can be programmed or tuned to produce various sounds upon being struck by tapping feet – or hands, or mallets. The first two sections were more intent on showing off these new toys; in the third section, real dancing and music making began. In addition to the bodies and the electronic tap boards, instrumentation included a stand-up bass, electric guitar, electric keyboard, and various drums. Much use was made of real-time recording and playback looping; Aaron Marcellus also used looping to augment his mellifluous voice.
I found the first half of the program underwhelming, but it picked up after intermission, when there was some fabulously choreographed dancing, as well as superb improvisation. Michelle Dorrance has a highly distinctive style that makes a viewer's heart sing, and her company includes only the amazing. The dancers in this work also include a fantastic non-tapper, Ephrat "Bounce" Asherie. Her sneakered feet were silent, but her b-girl dancing was loud and clear. The contrast between her silent yet highly rhythmic, kaleidoscopic, patterned movement, with its extraordinary sinuosity, and the tappers' foot-first, sound-abundant, stomping, sliding, kicking and whirling, was absolutely delicious. The section Asherie danced to the lyrical vocalizations of Aaron Marcellus recalled the glories of dancing in the dark to the late great Barry White: liquid love.
ETM is in its toddler years; the music making is more interesting than the music itself. As it often does, Carolina Performing Arts is working ahead of the curve, presenting work that lets us see into the future.
The program repeats in UNC's Memorial Auditorium Sept. 15. See the sidebar for details.
Note: The house was very full on the 14th. If you intend to purchase tickets for the 15th, be aware that seats on the far right side of the main floor are partial-view. From about the middle of the right section going towards the wall, you cannot see all the dancing, due to the arrangements on stage. Seat number 45 is probably the last full-view spot on the right side, and below row M, you begin to get visual interference from the footlights and the floor microphones.