Tap City

July 9, 2010

Tap City 2010: The Main Event
Peter Jay Sharp Theatre

Symphony Space, NYC

July 9, 2010

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Guillem Alonso. Photo by Debi Field.


When young Cartier Williams, Tap City’s opener, mounted the stage, everything—from the driving music to the backdrop’s glowing, traffic-sign green—shouted “Go!” And he went, messing with rhythms in a fit of joy reminiscent of Gregory Hines. Then the soloist flopped onto his back and lay there as the audience roared. Tony Waag—Tap City’s beloved mayor—rushed to his side, crying, “Simple. Subtle. Cartier Williams, everybody!”


Ninety minutes later, Act One had finally concluded. Williams stood at the end of a long line of performers taking bows, conspicuous by virtue of his race. Act One and its sub-sections—“New Voices/New Faces/New Visions” and “Tap Internationals”—was baffling. New Faces—with only one black man performing in front of a predominantly white audience in New York, a city steeped in black tap history? New visions—with perky, pleasant-enough choreography resembling class routines, danced by smiling, efficiently trained ensembles? Dish after dish of dessert but no meat and potatoes?

Waag has much to celebrate—his festival’s 10th anniversary and the establishment of a cheerful West Village home for his American Tap Dance Foundation. But ATDF needs to consider its projects with more objectivity.

The festival’s Main Event now smushes together shows that once were separate entities, representing youth groups, international performers, and popular master dancers, respectively. Moving them into one supershow saves funds. It also, clearly, pleases families, quickly filling seats. Exceeding two and a half hours, the Main Event would benefit from careful pruning and re-balancing with the aim of reducing the proliferation of youth acts and their watered-down material, building racial diversity, and inspiring popular ATDF mainstays to innovate. Brenda Bufalino’s profoundly musical solos and Barbara Duffy’s all-women, tough-cookie ensembles usually lift my spirits, but I’d welcome new ideas from these choreographers and others of their caliber.

Tap City looked great at the Duke on 42nd Street. Symphony Space’s Sharp Theatre fits in more fans (760 to the Duke’s 200), but it can’t match the Duke’s superior sight lines and intimacy. You have to go early and grab seats close to the stage at a good angle for seeing tappers’ feet in action.

One of tap’s happiest stories is the fervor and ingenuity of many foreign-based artists. But this year, only Spain’s Guillem Alonso and Juan de Juan won my interest. Alonso showed off musically precise sand dancing, and de Juan, the spitting image of Russell Brand, offered a scorching flamenco solo before surprising us with his tap fluency. Their longish act dragged out the end of Act One but gave Tap City a much-needed zap of audacious drama and showmanship.

With a few judicious edits, Act Two could have been reasonably satisfying by itself. Best moments featured Susan Hebach’s racially diverse group of alumni of ATDF’s youth ensemble; a gorgeous Acia Gray solo to “All Blues” by Miles Davis; and a couple of wonderful dance tributes to Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards who, like Gray, is one of this year’s Hoofer Awards recipients. The exuberant Chloe Arnold, Jason Samuels Smith, and Derick K. Grant bust out all over in a short and sweet romp, created with the injured Michelle Dorrance. I hope more young dancers of color will get the chance to study all of these exemplars of traditional discipline and creative fun.