It’s all based on a single idea, a profound one; it’s the notion that tap dancers are also musicians. And upon that premise the acclaimed tap dancer/choreographer Michelle Dorrance is prepared to ‘double down.’ She’ll aptly illustrate her point while dancing amidst her company, Dorrance Dance, in “ETM: Double Down” on the hallowed stage at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. It’s one night only, Friday May 3.
So, if tap dancers are musicians, then the body is their instrument. Clicking, clattering and clapping, they groove, riff, parry, and syncopate in real time and space. This is not a video! They send not only a rich parade of visual imagery, but a fusillade of sound across the footlights .
“I absolutely love music,” admits Dorrance, surely the only tap dancer to receive the MacArthur “Genius” Award. “To be able to be a musician and a dancer at the same time? Who doesn’t want to do that?” Her groundbreaking work in tap has been little seen in Southern California (our review from her 2017 outing at the Wallis here) and is an unusual offering at the mighty Segerstrom stage that hosts the likes of the Kirov Ballet.
In “ETM: Double Down,” Dorrance and her eight-member troupe generate the work’s score. That they do by interacting with individual ‘triggerboards,” a set of clever, custom-created wooden platforms. The boards, which are plugged into a computer that triggers electronic sound or the recording or playback of loops, are the invention of company member and collaborator Nicholas van Young. ‘ETM’ stands for ‘electronic tap music,’ which means that every step, swipe, and scrape sets off an element of sound, turning the entire stage into playing field. Anyone interested in percussion, or electronic music for that matter, will find this sight and sound arresting.
The New York-based Dorrance grew up performing with the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble under the direction of Gene Medler, and has since performed in STOMP and with the companies of Savion Glover and Jason Samuels Smith. She has been dance-world ‘it’ girl embraced by funders across the spectrum who appreciate her advancement of a traditional American art form. Ideally, she does not need to lug her many awards and accolade to Southern California, but ports them in her body and spirit. Dorrance is a 2018 Doris Duke Artist, 2017 Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow, 2016-17 New York City Center Choreography Fellow, 2016 United States Artists Award Recipient, 2015 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, 2014 Alpert Award winner, 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award winner, 2012 Princess Grace Award winner, 2012 Field Dance Fund recipient, 2011/2015 Bessie Award winner. Her peers in the dance world said it most succinctly, in granting Dorrance a Bessie Award for “blasting open our notions of tap.”
ETM: Double Down | Dorrance Dance | Segerstrom Center for the Arts | Friday May 3