Michael Eisenberg with the Youth Symphony of Kansas City
Yardley Hall, Johnson County Community College
Overland Park, Kansas
October 14, 2001
Reviewed by Arielle Thomas Newman
Morton Gould’s Tap Dance Concerto has been performed by various tap artists around the world, but never by someone as young as 17-year-old Michael Eisenberg of Leawood, Kansas. Eisenberg is principal percussionist/timpanist with the Youth Symphony of Kansas City. Without missing a beat, he swapped out his drum sticks for tap shoes and with cool confidence, stepped out in front of his peers to take center stage as a tap soloist.
The multitalented high school student had already danced with Gregory Hines at the Folly Theatre’s one-hundredth anniversary gala in Kansas City, acted in the national tour of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and did modern dance in a Seán Curran piece for the “What Makes It Great” concert series with composer Rob Kapilow. He performed Tap Dance Concerto after three years of preparation, including studying the conductor’s score, viewing videotapes at New York City’s Performing Arts Library, and consulting other tap artists who have mounted the dance.
Gould was a well-known composer for film, Broadway, and the dance concert stage. He composed the four-movement Tap Dance Concerto in 1952 with Danny Daniels. Since then, the number of performances of Tap Dance Concerto has risen and fallen with the general popularity of tap dance. Lane Alexander, Sam Weber, and Fred Strickler are some of the dancers who have performed Concerto and aided Eisenberg with his research. Although Gould made conductor’s notes suggesting a pantomime in the second movement, he permitted each performer to freely improvise the first movement cadenza and individually interpret the tap dance rhythms, which he wrote out like a percussion part of the score.
The eighty-two-member Youth Symphony, assuredly conducted by Dr. Glenn Block, accompanied Eisenberg as if he were any other musical soloist, so that the sound of Eisenberg’s tap steps were woven into the texture of the total soundscape. Eisenberg chose a low-key approach to his performance?bringing attention back to the score rather than placing himself in the spotlight. Not to say that Eisenberg wasn’t proficient. His steps were crisp, clean, and well executed. Dressed in gray pants and a black shirt, Eisenberg created an understated atmosphere, seriously attempting to represent the rhythms in the twenty-minute score rather than imbue each section of the dance with a particular dance flavor.
Placed downstage of the orchestra, he often held his head to one side to stay on cue with Block’s conducting, looking toward the players when his part called for rest notes. He displayed more choreographic flair in the fourth movement, where he playfully engaged in a call and response with the orchestra, and offered more facial expressions to the audience.