Fall For Dance is always a huge talkabout here in the Dance Media offices. So after all the programs were performed this year, a few of the editors from Dance Magazine, Pointe and Dance Teacher got together on Google Hangouts this morning to share our thoughts. Here are excerpts from our convo:
Back in May at our photo shoot for Dance Magazine's 90th-anniversary issue, we fell in love with Michelle Dorrance all over again. We've known for years that she's obviously gifted, but our jaws still dropped as she improvised on set, rattling off playful but rigorous strings of tap genius with the utmost ease. Now, she's got us drooling once more.
It's time! You submitted your nominations for the most memorable dance you saw this year. We narrowed down our favorites, and now it's up to you to decide what will make it into our December issue.
Voting will be open until September 25th. Only one submission per person will be counted.
Michelle Dorrance has just returned from Stockholm, where she was teaching without pause for much of the previous week. Before that, she had a pit stop in New York, a quick gig in Los Angeles and performances in New Hampshire. "It was relentless," she says in a huskier-than-usual voice, owing to a cold. The breakneck itinerary is an apt illustration of what an in-demand artist she has become, especially since receiving a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in 2015.
While that recognition may have introduced her to a new audience, dance fans and critics were already swooning for her sophisticated musicality, thrilling ensemble arrangements and layered choreography that hits a wide range of emotional notes.
Yet Dorrance would rather not be the subject of this profile. Though a proud ambassador for her art form and always eager to promote it, she resists the false narrative that often accompanies stories about her of a so-called tap revival, and the impulse to identify a "lone ranger" to represent it. "Tap's always been around. There's always been brilliant artists, it's just not in the spotlight," she says. "It was the same conversation when I was a teenager in the '90s." (Then, Savion Glover, with whom Dorrance has performed, was the "It" tapper.)
For Dance Magazine's 90th anniversary issue, we wanted to celebrate the movers, shakers and changemakers who are having the biggest impact on our field right now. There were so many to choose from! But with the help of dozens of writers, artists and administrators working in dance, the Dance Magazine staff whittled the list down to those we felt are making the most difference right now.
Click through the links below to find out why they made our list.
Tap artist Brenda Bufalino argues it’s time to rethink the way we write about tap.
Dorrance Dance is stretching the boundaries of tap with their theatricality and virtuosity. Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Jacob's Pillow.
Critics are always forecasting the next decline of tap dancing. In one instance, a 2011 review in The New York Times, Claudia La Rocco wrote, “Tap is unquestionably a great American art form. It is also unquestionably in dire straits.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. It is a thrilling moment for tap. Never before have dancers been so skilled in technique and capable of such tour de force in a myriad of styles. Our concert theaters are filling up, for the unique choreography and ensemble tap of Dorrance Dance and Max Pollak’s RumbaTap in New York; Acia Gray’s Tapestry Dance Company in Austin, Texas; and Mark Yonally’s Chicago Tap Theatre. Tony Waag’s “Tap City” in New York hosts hundreds of dancers from around the world. Yet writers and critics persist in approaching tap dance as a novelty, investigating its origins as if it were a relic just discovered, a dying art soon to be buried again.
When writers cover other forms of dance they speak about the particulars that make up a satisfying performance. They are equipped to reference past works and compare specific dances from a choreographer’s repertory. In contrast, tap dance to date has been written about as if it were a folk dance. Many critics have created a hierarchy of authenticity that keeps tap dancers competing on the street corner.
Wouldn’t it be helpful to share with the public the subtleties and techniques of tap dance? For instance, a writer might reveal the composition of the band, and how the dancer collaborated with their chosen musicians. Were the taps clear and tonal? Was the approach to the floor hard-hitting and loud, or melodic and subtle? Could the dancer modulate between syncopated phrasing, continuation 8th note triplets, and sixteenth notes with ease? Did the dancer phrase melodically, or have the hard punch and short phrases of a drummer?
Chicago Tap Theatre’s show, “We Will Tap You!” celebrated the music of Queen. Photo by Josh Hawkins, Courtesy Chicago Tap Theatre.
Dancers strive to create with their own unique voice. Can the reviewer recognize and differentiate between the hard hitting, hip-swinging style of Syncopated Ladies, the high-flying slides and gleeful elevation of Joseph Wiggan and the funk/jazz fusion style of Jared Grimes? What about Michelle Dorrance’s dramatic sense of building entrances and fast exits?
Unfortunately, many of those who presently write about tap and review performances have not done their research. This lack of understanding often has catastrophic results for artists seeking financial support and recognition.
There is also the notion that tap dance is a solo form. In a 2004 New Yorker review, Joan Acocella wrote, “At its best [tap] uses improvisation, and you can’t make group patterns if everyone is doing his own thing. From this limitation—solo improvisation—comes tap’s great strength, its status as an act of personal heroism: naked, here-I-stand. Nevertheless, the limitation is a limitation, emotionally and commercially.” This idea would dismiss the great variety acts of Coles & Atkins; Pete, Peaches & Duke; The Miller Brothers; The Madison Trio and countless others. It also dismisses the vitality of a tap renaissance that began in the 1970s with groundbreaking companies like the Jazz Tap Ensemble and the American Tap Dance Orchestra. They created a brand new form of concert tap dance for their ensembles, interspersing solo and group improvisation with composed, highly choreographed dances. This form, similar to that of jazz ensembles, is still employed by tap companies and soloists.
Syncopated Ladies’ video to Beyoncé’s “Formation” went viral. Photo Courtesy Chloe & Maud Productions.
Today, inspired by the Dorrance Dance theatricality and virtuosity, many new choreographers are bravely stretching the boundaries of tap. It is thriving internationally as far as India, where Jason Samuels Smith performed with the late kathak master Pandit Chitresh Das, and Germany, where Thomas Marek and Sebastian Weber create unique conceptual tap works. Festivals throughout the U.S. have been running for a decade or longer.
Tap dancers are the entrepreneurs of the dance world. If there isn’t a venue to be found then one will be created, in a club, at a wedding, in a festival, as a guest artist with the Philharmonic or grooving with the band at Dizzy’s Jazz Club. Through the dedication and passion of its dancers, tap will continue to thrive.
Brenda Bufalino is a tap dancer, choreographer and teacher.
A past event at the famed Guggenheim rotunda. (Photo by Robert Stolarik via The New York Times)
Though New York City's Guggenheim Museum is principally a destination for modern- and contemporary-art enthusiasts, its dance programming seems to be getting beefier each season. This week, details were released for two site-specific events we're practically drooling over. Tapper extraordinaire Michelle Dorrance and American Ballet Theatre pyrotechnic wonderboy Daniil Simkin will perform in the museum's iconic rotunda. Though the commissions won't happen until 2017, we can't wait to see how they use the towering, circular, multi-level space designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Here's a look at what you can expect dance-wise at the Guggenheim within the next year—and how you can relive past events online.
Michelle Dorrance is at it again. Photo by Ian Douglas, Courtesy Dorrance.
Plan Ahead: As part of the Guggenheim's Works & Process Rotunda Projects, Dorrance is choreographing a piece that will turn the space's spiraling ramp into a stage. Picture tap dancers scattered throughout the ramp, and just think how those percussive rhythms will resonate. Premieres February 16, 2017.
Simkin's self-directed side troupe INTENSIO will perform in the same space in a work by Alejandro Cerrudo, but you'll have to shift your perspective for this one. The audience will be dispersed along the ramp so they can view the dance from above. Special projections will accompany the choreography and appear on the rotunda's floor and white spaces. Premieres September 2017.
Coming Soon: The Guggenheim's regular Works & Process series, which presents conversations with artists and excerpts of new works at the museum's Peter B. Lewis Theater, has several notable dance events on its fall lineup. If you're a student under 25, you may be able to snag $10 rush tickets an hour before each show.
September 18, Kate Weare Company in Marksman. Six dancers explore the intuitive senses that help us survive.
October 31, Jonah Bokaer's Rules Of The Game. Preview the multidisciplinary work, which features a score by Pharrell Williams, in advance of its November New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
NDT dancers in León and Ligthfoot's Stop-Motion. Photo by Rahi Rezvani, Courtesy NDT.
November 15, Nederlands Dans Theater. Choreographic duo Sol León and Paul Lightfoot discuss their craft, and NDT performs excerpts of U.S. premieres by León and Lighfoot, Marco Goecke, and Crystal Pite.
November 20, Juilliard Dance Division. Preview new works that John Heginbotham, Katarzyna Skarpetowska, Pam Tanowitz and Matthew Neenan have created for students from The Juilliard School. The dancemakers will be on hand to chat about their creative process.
December 3–5, 9–11, Peter and the Wolf. Fashion maven Isaac Mizrahi returns to narrate the classic tale set to imaginative choreography by Heginbotham and live music.
Look Back, Watch Now: If you're not in the New York area or just can't wait until these dance events ramp up, check out the Works & Process at the Guggenheim's YouTube channel. From Broadway to ballet, it's stocked with footage from the past several years' events.
When I tell people that I'm an editor at Dance Magazine, one of the first questions I am asked is usually something along the lines of, "So, how does '25 to Watch' work?"
ABT's Sterling Baca and Dance Theatre of Harlem's Nayara Lopes on the January 2016 cover. Photo by Nathan Sayers.
It starts with a lot of dance viewing. And I mean all year long. In fact, as we move into the winter dance season, we're already keeping our eyes out for talents to recognize in 2017. Once summer hits, we start asking staff editors and our trusted writers across the world to give us their recommendations. Who is about to have a breakout year? What makes them a standout? Why do we need to talk about them right now?
Our team then sits down and sifts through hundreds of nominations. We talk about the people who we are most interested in, we go see more shows and we dig up all the videos and press about those dancers that we can. Eventually, painstakingly, we whittle the list down to 25.
Hee Seo. Photo by Nathan Sayers.
Admittedly, sometimes we miss talents—they explode so quickly onto the dance scene that they outgrow the "to Watch" list before they even make it on. But generally, our track record is on point. We picked out Hee Seo, now an American Ballet Theatre principal, when she was just a Studio Company member in 2006; and Akram Khan, long before he became a go-to choreographic collaborator and internationally successful solo artist, in 2002; and Michelle Dorrance, in 2005, 10 years before she received this year's MacArthur "genius" Award.
So, it is with great pleasure that we share our list for 2016. (Click here to get digital access now.) I don't doubt that a few years from now, we'll be looking back and writing about them with the same pride.