One of the highlights of Fall for Dance at New York City Center is when Dorrance Dance appears. The troupe was appearing for three nights in March and rtb and I made sure to get tickets. We had decided on March 29th and by luck we got the longest and probably the best night of the three. Dances were repeated the three nights but not all dances on the three nights – it looks like we only missed seeing one dance on our night where the other nights missed more. We were in the first row of the balcony, so very good seats. Dorrance Dance is a mix of tap and modern that leans closer to tap.
The evening began with the NY premiere of Jungle Blues. The company was in 40s style dress and there were some incredible solos. They used the entire wooden floor mic’ed for tapping. Dancers wore either tap shoes or ballet shoes doing juke joint dancing on steroids. At the end, a flask was pulled out, and one of the dancers indulged a bit too much and drunkenly danced around at the end. Choreography was by Michelle Dorrance with solo improvisation by Christopher Broughton. Dancers were Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie, Broughton, Warren Craft, Dorrance, Carson Murphy, Claudia Rahardjanoto, Leonardo Sandoval, Byron Tittle, Matthew “Megawatt” West, and Nicholas Van Young. The music, “Jungle Blues,” is by Fred “Jelly Roll” Morton. Costume design by Amy Page and lighting design by Kathy Kaufmann. The premiere was May 4, 2012 in Boston.
(All photos taken from the Dorrance Dance website or this site. Some of the dancers may not be who appeared on March 29th.)
Next was Three to One, which premiered on March 4, 2011 in NYC. It began with Dorrance flanked by Tittle and West. All three had torsos wrapped in black tulle. Tittle and West were barechested otherwise. Dorrance wore tap shoes and Tittle and West were barefoot. The first song is “Nannou” by Richard D James and the three dance on a very small part of the floor downstage lit by a small rectangle of bright light. Dorrance taps out the steps while Tittle and West move their entire bodies. You have the hard tap, tap, tap in the center with the soft swaying of arms, legs, and torsos on either side. Then Dorrance is on stage alone and used the full floor to tap to Thom Yorke’s “A Rat’s Nest.” It is always beautiful to watch her gracefully combine rhythm and melody. Costumes were by Dorrance and Mishay Petronelli and lighting design by Kaufmann.
After reading the Playbill, I was looking forward to BASSES LOADED because it was going to feature dancing to live bass musicians. This was the world premiere of a New York City Center commission. Elizabeth Burke, Craft, Luke Hickey, and Tittle wore colorful street clothes. Donovan Dorrance (Dorrance’s brother) and Dorrance herself came out playing electric basses first. Later Kate Davis and Gregory Richardson joined on double basses. As they rolled the basses around, the dancers danced between them. They were in and out and all around and that the bassists could still play while “dancing” was impressive. Solo improvisations were by the dancers. Music was by Donovan and Richardson with Davis and Michelle. Costume design was by Andrew Jordan and lighting design by Kaufmann.
One of the joys of watching Dorrance Dance is the fun they have with the music, with the rhythms, and with their bodies. The NY premiere of Lessons in Tradition highlighted all that. It had its premiere on August 5, 2016 for the Vail Dance Festival and is choreographed by Dorrance and Bill Irwin. The clown was there, dressed in his usual top hat, tails, baggy striped pants, white shirt with wing tip collar, and red bow tie. He began by lecturing about young people’s disregard for the soft shoe and instead tapping today using metal on their shoes and dressing bawdy. Davis, dressed in a tuxedo and bow tie, is on stage with her double bass while Irwin holds a very tiny ukulele. He introduces her, then she introduces him, and then starts to introduce the dancer to appear but Irwin stops her because he does not want Dorrance on stage. The entire time, while Irwin is talking and other things are happening, Davis is playing “Tea for Two.” Dorrance appears in tap shoes, tank top, and shorts and starts furiously tapping away, which makes Irwin angry. She leaves the stage. Later, Dorrance reappears dressed the same as Irwin and they soft shoe together. Irwin’s intern, Naomi Funaki, enters from stage left (he called her intern stage right) and helps Irwin change into tap shoes. She also provides oxygen when he nearly passes out after dancing. Davis gets a top hat and joins them for the dance and sings “Tea for Two” while Funaki holds the bass up. Then Davis plays the ukulele to finish. Music is by Vincent Youmans and lighting by ML Geiger.
While the stage was being set for the next dance, Dorrance and Davis stood in front of the curtain singing “Up a Lazy River” with both on ukuleles.
The world premiere of the New York City Center commission Harlequin and Pantalone also featured Irwin. This time he narrated the story while Craft performed both roles. There was a small curtain center stage and Donovan (piano) and Richardson (bass) joined Irwin stage left. Craft would appear from behind the curtain either in a harlequin costume or covered up in a robe as the evil sorcerer. The sorcerer was short, so Craft was squatting while playing Pantalone and walk around the stage in a squat. Sometimes the change from one character appearing in the story to the other appearing was very quick and it was fun to see Craft make the change happen so quickly. There was also a trunk in front of the curtain that played a part in the story. At the end, we did get a little dance by Irwin. This was choreographed and written by Irwin with solo improvisation by Craft. Music was by Donovan and Richardson. Costumes by Christopher Metzger, lighting by Kaufmann and scenery by Brittany Vasta.
There was an interlude of a recording of Brenda Bufalino’s “My Minds on Mingus” while they reset the stage.
Dorrance: “This is a cherished work of hers, and it has only been performed by NCYTE. I’ve always been obsessed with it. She has had a career-long passion for, and obsession with Charles Mingus’ music. I love this particular tune, Jump Monk — written in response to, and in adoration of, Thelonious Monk. But outside of that musical relationship, I love Brenda’s figures, her phrasing. Brenda is a legacy and a master dancer in our community. Her relationship to swing is from this time period that we can only hope to embody and access through her direction and her musical understanding.”
The final piece is Jump Monk, a company premiere. Choreography and staging by Bufalino, music by Charles Mingus, costumes by Jordan, and lighting by Kaufmann. The dance had its premiere in 1997 in Chapel Hill. The musicians were upstage stage right with Donovan on piano, Aaron Marcellus on vocals (including some great scatting), Richardson on bass, and Van Young on percussion (yes, one of the dancers from the first piece). Dressed in grey or black and white street clothes, with a little color thrown in, were Broughton, Burke, Craft, Brittany DeStefano, Dorrance, Hickey, Murphy, Rahardjanoto, Sandoval, and Tittle. It was another beautiful tap dancing extravaganza all performed to the wonderful Mingus. Even if you could not hear the music, you could see it in the steps, the bodies, and the joy.
By Carene Lydia Lopez