The Souls of Our Feet 2008

Tapestry's new program of classic tap routines continues to reveal the form's vitality and the troupe's growing skill

Photo courtesy of Farid Zarrinabadi and Tapestry
Photo courtesy of Farid Zarrinabadi and Tapestry

The Souls of Our Feet 2008

Helm Fine Arts Center, St. Stephen's Episcopal School, March 9

"Always leave 'em wanting more," goes the old showbiz adage, and you could have accused Tapestry Dance Company Artistic Director Acia Gray of violating this sacred precept with her revised edition of The Souls of Our Feet: The program boasted eight new re-creations of classic rhythm-tap routines from the vaudeville stage and silver screen, adding up to four more numbers than the honored original had. But the show itself proved no less rousing than before. Even with the expanded bill, when the exhausted Tapestry company took its bows, the audience was on its feet, cheering and clamoring for more.

Sixteen months after its premiere, The Souls of Our Feet continues not only to astonish but to reveal itself as both a testament to the vitality of tap as an American dance form and the catalyst that has propelled Tapestry to new levels of skill and artistry. Getting to experience in one sitting the contributions – make that inventions – of dancers from vaudeville legends Ford Lee "Buck" Washington, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and the Nicholas Brothers to Hollywood hoofers Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, and Gene Kelly and on to contemporary practitioners Sarah Petronio, Dianne Walker, and our own Acia Gray is to get a sense of rhythm tap's rich tradition and deep place in the culture, as well as its range of expression. We may be quick to associate the form with the rapid-fire tattoo of the flashiest dancers – which can be stupefyingly grand, as in the Condos Brothers' "Somethin' Like This?" an explosive blast of sweet anarchic fury re-created with breathless verve by Jason Janas and Matt Shields – but it isn't always about how many clicks you can cram into a second. It can be leisurely finesse, as shown by Brenna Kuhn and Jaqueline Coleman in their breezy, blissful re-creation of "Honi" Coles and Cholly Atkins' "Takin' a Chance on Love" or Dianne Walker in her "In Tribute to the Masters," an improvisation with respect and affection for her honored predecessors in every gentle, light-footed step. It can be about making music from the everyday, as in Robinson's "Swanee," wherein Tasha Lawson, Katelyn Harris, and Janas turned the simple act of walking into a percussive symphony. Gray's smart, artful choices let us see tap's breadth, and the Tapestry dancers got us feeling it by investing in these historic routines all the passion and pizzazz, spark, and showmanship of their creators.

Which says a great deal about how much the members of the company have risen to the formidable challenge of this show. They have always been fine dancers, but to move like Bill Robinson, Jeni LeGon, Eleanor Powell, Gene Kelly, or Ann Miller is demanding on a completely different level, and they've managed it to a degree that is at times startling. In the new number "Pick Yourself Up," Coleman and Shields assumed the personas of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, and while neither dancer bears a strong physical resemblance to either star, their moves so closely tracked the originals – the way Rogers' left arm is extended just so when they dance close, the way Astaire crooks one leg just as he's executing a turn – that the young dancers appeared possessed by the Tinseltown duo. You could almost see their ghostly images superimposed on the pair dancing in the flesh.

And the fact that we were seeing this dance, all these dances, in the flesh is significant – indeed, may be the supreme achievement of The Souls of Our Feet. For the show not only rescues and preserves pieces of our past that might easily have been lost or left to us only as flickering shadows on a screen; it keeps them alive, reminds us in every exquisite kick, step, shuffle, buck and wing, and rat-a-tat tapped out by this exuberant troupe that tap is a living form, that it always has been and always deserves to be. The importance of this could not have been communicated more clearly than when the company was joined by Arthur Duncan, the 74-year-old living legend whose tap skills brought an unconstrained zest and vivacity to the somewhat staid atmosphere of The Lawrence Welk Show for 18 years. Duncan showed himself to be as animated and cheery as a schoolboy, and you wanted that spirit – and the form that it gives itself to – to keep going and going and going.

As the crowd wanted the show to do. Thanks, Acia Gray and hard-working Tapestry crew, but was it enough? No. We wanted more, more, more!

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The Souls of Our Feet 2008, Tapestry Dance Company, Acia Gray, Dianne Walker, Jason Janas

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