The Best of Tapestry
There were many wonderful moments in Tapestry's 10th anniversary program: the rhythmic interplay between two competing groups in Anacruces (1990), booty-scooting chairs to the playful Latin rhythms of Astrud Gilberto in Musical Chairs (1994), synchronized obsessive-compulsive itching behavior in Strung Out (1992), and dancers as surprise fountains squirting water from their pursed lips in Pentamento (1996), to name a few. In between pieces, guests Tina Marsh and Jazz PR entertained the audience with a diverse repertoire, including their own respective compositions and unique versions of standards such as "Mona Lisa" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." The breaks enabled the dancers to change and perhaps rest a little before the next piece and provided the audience with top-notch live music. The dancers were energetic, strong, and committed to the work, and the ever-reliable Acia Gray did not disappoint. Gray's style is at once understated and spectacular. Instead of employing flashy semaphore, her arms move naturally and smoothly as her feet flutter through complicated rhythms. Her relaxed technique reminds me of a water bird that glides gracefully through the water while the feet paddle like hell beneath the surface. I particularly like to watch Acia Gray trance during a difficult combination. Her focus pulls inward, musing, and at the end of a difficult riff, she addresses the audience with a sly smile. The company's other tap masters displayed a precision and clarity that delighted the ear as well as a sense of ensemble and sheer enjoyment that was infectious.
Unfortunately, the collection of great moments was not enough to sustain the nearly three-hour evening. The choreography, entertaining as it was, became predictable due to the overuse of unison work and Petipa-style repetition that mirrored the musical structure. Many of the pieces originated from an innovative idea, such as the use of hard elbow, knee, and wrist pads as "body taps" in Time (1994), but only during the last portion of the dance did the trio of dancers break out of the unison work that marked much of the piece and playfully contrast the well-chosen monotonous ticking sounds with counterpoint. The implications of the choreography led me to expect more development of the material, but instead of digging into the idea and exploring the possibilities, the piece skimmed the surface. As an audience member, it left me with a sense of frustrated incompletion.
The incompleteness was compounded by several unfinished endings, particularly in the excerpted pieces Pentamento and Swingin' Then and Now (1997). In both pieces, without preamble, the curtain closed and I wondered if it was a mistake, but the dancers seemed unaffected. In Pentamento, the series of smaller, hilarious vignettes ended suddenly without resolution, and just when Swingin' let loose and the rowdy couples celebrated with abandon, the curtain closed prematurely, effectively shutting out the audience from the raucous dance-hall party world Tapestry had created onstage.
Following another intermission, the finale, Pursuit (1993), seemed tacked-on, stretching the show close to the three-hour mark and making me question the underlying motivation behind anniversary performances. It seems that retrospectives are either all-inclusive in scope and marathon in proportion or carefully culled to the point of leaving some personal favorites out, making both methods problematic. Mammoth productions are long, and good work gets lost in the barrage, yet capturing the essence of a company's mission in a few pieces is difficult at best and poses wrenching choices for any artistic director. This being said, Tapestry would have been better served by presenting fewer, stronger pieces rather than ones that felt dated and that did not show the company to its best advantage. This company has many strong dancers, inventive ideas, and excellent taste in music. But retrospectives not only celebrate the past, they indicate where you stand and where you are going. I would like to see Tapestry make use of their abundant wit and charm to keep moving forward and keep mining their ideas for bigger jewels.