Max Pollack/Rumba Tap

May 11, 2006

Rumba Tap in Max Pollack’s
Viis. Photo by Julie Lemberger, courtesy Max Pollack

Max Pollak/Rumba Tap

Joyce Soho, NYC

May 11–13, 2006

Reviewed by Jane Goldberg

 Max Pollak, a virtuoso tap dancer from Austria, has been rummaging in rumba rhythms since 1996. His recent piece Viis, performed with eight dancers and musicians, was inspired by the ancient epic Kalevala, from a Finnish Creation myth, and describes a conflict between two tribes over a magic, fragile entity that can bring its owner tremendous wealth. A Latin tap dancing Lord of the Rings? Not quite.

 Storytelling is not new to the tap genre, though Pollak’s unique synthesis with Latin rhythms is something that reeks of originality. As far back as 1978 Gail Conrad was creating her “narrative fictions,” and Savion Glover’s 1996 Broadway hit Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk uses tap to carry the story of the black experience in U.S. history.

 Pollak’s dancing is a lot more abstract than many other tap narratives, and it begs a question: How much of the story do you have to understand to appreciate the dancing you are seeing? It is the same question asked of Martha Graham’s and other modern dance choreographers’ mythical stories in the 1930s, only tap dancing is the communicator. The best kind of tap dancing tells “stories” with the feet, and Pollak’s complex rhythms are what were most accessible in his dance.

 Pollak plays an elder in a long robe in this epic, often surrounded by his cast of body percussionists in dreads, clapping, slapping their bodies, and of course tapping. The live music with tenor sax, flute, and alto sax carries the story along, as Pollak, meanwhile, integrates the intricate 5/4 melodies with chanting, the cries of the Afro-Cuban music, and voice tones. A tapless dancer sings mournfully. It is a dark piece.

 It’s always refreshing to see/hear tap dancing that isn’t happy feet and smiles. In the long run, though, the music and dancing were more important than the story, or at least more clearly defined, and the piece did what rhythm tap does best: sell the feet. In Pollak’s case, complex feet and rhythms meshed throughout the body. The excellent performers were dancers Jenai Cutcher, Chikako Iwahori, Ileana Santamaria, Max Pollak, Lynn Schwab, and musicians Paul Carlon, Anton Denner, and Dimitri Moderbacher. See