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the more i experience tap dance, the more i seek to discover the further depths of its artistry – history, traditions and influences…thankfully the artists on view in Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s [CHRP] August 1st Berkshires and Brazil performance at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago allowed me, those who attended, much opportunity to experience its dimensions…feel the resonances of its history and tradition through the diverse artistry on display… resonance carried over from the previous performances i have reflected on…but unique.

Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards
Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards

unfortunately i was running late and didn’t have the chance to hear Lane introduce the line-up and share initial insights…or to again experience Michelle Dorrance’s Push Past Break which opened the evening. i did however arrive in time for Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards‘ …who’s solo contribution to the evening illuminated the myriad of ways tap artists would “enter” the space – how one might decide to simply walk in and begin tapping….no lights needed at first. just the sound of her taps against the resonant stage.  casual and sophisticated, in a fitted jean outfit, heel taps, Dormeshia first floated around the stage without music…as if  it was enough to just enjoy being in the space… testing out the textures, potential rhythmic or ambient possibilities. “That’s cute” she comments, speaking on a musical entry phrase the trio [Greg SperoJunius Paul & Makaya McCraven] offers… but not yet…not yet does she bring them in… in this moment she is her own music….and it’s clear when the musicians do enter into the rhythmic landscape that her tapping is at the forefront.  walking, strutting, skipping and jogging, Dormeshia invites a conversation…how will she interact with them? the bass? drum? a pause, a stop shows how she’s listening in on what they have to offer to the conversation. she then responds so thoughtfully, so effortlessly that it feels like it could go on forever. then she simply walks off…

and just as easily, Nicholas Young enters.  what newness, other tap dimension will he bring? i’m at first skeptical… then i notice how he shifts in his posture to get more grounded. a slap on the thigh methodically escalates to powerful rhythm making, beat-boxing with multiple parts of his body… dripping down into the fronts of his black trimmed white taps. it is exquisite to watch & hear how he can make his taps sing!

Nicholas Young
Nicholas Young

CHRP’s Virtual Rhythms videography contest winner Rhythm of Life followed Nicholas.  over 20, 000 votes were cast from 21 countries to determine which one would be shared tonight. congratulations to Dean Hargrove, videographer and Chloe Arnold, choreographer!

North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, under the direction of Gene Medler, with choreography by Michelle Dorrance, tap into her abstract patterning with joyful precision. Michelle then takes the stage in a solo…we spend time in the darkness with just the sounds of her taps. not at all the kind of darkness that led to Dormeshia’s playful “conversation” opener… it’s a darkness that we can’t escape. seemingly neither can she. deprived of being able to see, all we can do is hear those patterns reverberate throughout the space… finally a hint of light and all i can make out is a shadow…it is Michelle, hooded, her back to us…. a tightness in her stance, she is relentless; demanding that we listen, not see or try to “look” at what is happening on stage.  the music is as relentless. a voice pushes forward. it is Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking; Michelle’s postmodernist expression rigorously working against his profound eloquence. “freedom” “justice” is heard again and again as Maladjusted beautifully dissolves towards its potent but unresolved end.

Michelle Dorrance
Michelle Dorrance

The “tightness” i may have felt from  witnessing Michelle is quickly released once Derick Grant appears in the closing solo to the first half.  He is loose and confident…at times igniting the floor with a blazing run of tap riff walks and pattering like chattering of teeth….you can’t help but smile.

Derick K. Grant
Derick K. Grant


not sure of what or whom the Berskhires might have referred to… it is clear who and what is the Brazil connection to this evening… though at first you may not have a sense who’s going to tap and who are the musicians… The second half features the stylings of Cia Trupe TOE and their work Recriando Linguagens.   all are around a table, some sitting, as one sets off the beat…others add on. a clave pattern is heard. a clap. the bell. who’s going to tap? who are the musicians? Dancers as musicians, musicians making their instruments dance, this is the beauty of their tradition…it is so natural they way both relate – the tap to the music and vice versa – that i have to wonder if the full company has been trained in both… a synergy that is  symbiotic.  with rhythms indigenous to their heritage, they infuse the American tap form with their own flavor! and Samba! 4 musicians, 3 dancers fluidly move through solos, duets, trios and musical pairings. along the way we are fortunate to experience tapping to remixed version of The Girl From Ipanema…. a capoeira tap joda complete with berimbau… a pandero skillfully executed and counterpoint to a male soloist’s fancy footwork…the loveliness of acoustic guitar softly underscoring the tender textures of tap.  it feels lik Cia Trupe TEO has lived with these rhythms since they were born….the way they carry them not only in their feet, or through their playing of instruments…it’s in their hearts…it’s bone-deep.

Charles Renato of Ciao
Charles Renato of Cia Trupe TEO

Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s Juba! Masters of Tap Berkshires and Brazil Thursday, August 1st, 7:30pm at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

more reflections to come on CHRP’s 23rd annual festival’s closing performance on Saturday, August 3rd at MCA –  Bad Boys, Back Beats and Best Bets.



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