Friends in Time

This year's tap festival faculty concert proved tap's relevance and transcendance

Fascinatin' rhythm: Michelle Dorrance and Mishay Petronelli
Fascinatin' rhythm: Michelle Dorrance and Mishay Petronelli
Photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy

Friends in Time

Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center
June 2

It was no surprise that Acia Gray lured an impressive faculty of world-renowned, charismatic tap artists to this year's Soul to Sole Festival. Nor was it surprising that the faculty concert boasted lots of camaraderie and a sweet jazz trio. And though Gray was recovering from a recent illness, it wasn't surprising to see her onstage as the venerable concert master, ringleader, host – the woman who graciously lets us all into her jazzy world, which, despite its beat-happiness, is rarely without depth.

What was surprising was the incredible performance by New Yorker Michelle Dorrance. In "Two to One," Dorrance and barefoot guest Mishay Petronelli, both wrapped in black tulle from chest to upper thigh, did side-by-side steps that demonstrated how the shoe itself reflexively changes the quality and effect of the movement. In a second section, Dorrance grooved with the musicians, her bare legs flashing and feet flying across the stage like fingers on a piano. But just as I thought she was kicking her way offstage, Dorrance grabbed a microphone. In rock-star fashion, with her long hair whipping around her red-lipsticked face and her feet tearing up the stage at the mercy of powerful long legs, she punctuated her rhythms with vocals. Backed by overlapping jazz beats in full tilt, she sang in a voice like Fiona Apple's, but more raw: "How come I end up where I started?"

I, for one, did not end up where I started. By the end of Dorrance's piece, I saw tap as more relevant, transcendent, and compatible than I ever had before. But the concert was by no means a two-woman show. Gray's command and roguish humor, and Dorrance's hardcore spirit were in the company of babyfaced Jay Fagan's comic, uplifting narrative. Tapestry dancer Travis Knights, performing with the band and singer Penny Wendtlandt, showed a sensitive side without sacrificing his usual power and intensity. Mother and daughter Sarah and LeeLa Petronio, of Paris, shared impressive skills with differently rewarding styles; the younger Petronio's body percussion was striking in its fluency. Tapestry's charming Matt Shields paid tribute to his students before characteristically amusing himself with challenging tricks. Tapestry alumni Nicholas Young and Tasha Lawson, along with Katherine Kramer and guests Carson Murphy and Ayako Ukawa, completed the cast. As collaborators and as musicians in their own right, the band deserves recognition: Angelo Lembesis played piano, Michael Stevens played bass, and on drums was Masumi Jones, who, near the end of the program, crouched at the older Petronio's feet, brushing the floor in whispering rhythms only the dancer could hear.


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