The multiform troupe went multicultural for its season opener with some captivating rhythms

Arts Review


Helm Fine Arts Center at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Nov. 17

Where in the world was Tapestry Dance Company?

That was the question last weekend when the multiform troupe went multicultural for the opening production of its 2007-2008 season. The eight dancers in Footprints appeared onstage in vivid costumes far removed from the everyday casual or cowboy chic of their hometown. While not specific to any single culture, the sleek silk outfits by designer Buffy Manners – each in a different jewel or earth tone, with sleeveless tunics for the women and vests for the men – placed these performers half a world away from Austin. And the presence of Indian classical dancer Anuradha Naimpally onstage with them and world-music ensemble Atash playing live behind them reinforced our sense of being in some distant land.

But the notion that these Western dancers belonged in this Eastern setting was a hard one to buy, at least initially. In the opening number, when the company members followed Naimpally's elegant, precise, and distinctly Indian movements with steps and gestures right out of this country's modern-dance tradition or, more incongruously still, classic rhythm tap while wearing modern black tap shoes, the result was more culture clash than fusion. And with almost everyone in the company being Anglo and the through-line of the piece having Naimpally serve as sage mentor to the dancers as they found their place in the larger world, the effect was a little like young Americans slumming on foreign soil.

However, as the show progressed on the seductive rhythms spooled out by Atash's instrumentalists and Mohammad Firoozi's vocals, the choreography and even the dancers themselves seemed to become more deeply integrated with the other cultural elements in the production. Midway through, Jason Janas, Tony Merriwether, and Matt Shields joined forces for a powerhouse number choreographed by Artistic Director Acia Gray, and while the piece was straight-up rhythm tap, its syncopation and the men's intense energy and teamwork made these guys like a trio of warrior djinns right out of 1,001 Arabian Nights. By the time Janas, Tasha Lawson, and Siobhan Cook blasted through "Feeling," creating percussive rhythms as they danced by slapping their hands on hands, chests, biceps, hips, thighs, and more, the borders between West and East seemed to have faded away. The sounds and steps might have belonged to any culture – or all cultures.

In the two numbers that followed to conclude the show, different cultural styles reasserted themselves somewhat with Naimpally returning to center stage as the company surrounded her with tap. This time, though, the disparate elements all blended sweetly together, bound with the energetic sounds of Atash into a jubilant unity. All became one in the beating of the rhythm and joyful movement of the feet in time. And that's as it should be, right? For when the dancing ends and all that's left are footprints of those who danced, who's to say by looking which feet came from where?

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Footprints, Tapestry Dance Company, Atash, Acia Gray, Mohammad Firoozi, Jason Janas

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