With panache, style, and a rollicking sense of the future, Carolina Performing Arts’ presentation of New York City-based Dorrance Dance in ETM: Double Down stormed the stage on Wednesday night in Memorial Hall on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus. Its performance, which it will repeat at 8 p.m. tonight, is amazing, awesome, and totally out of this world! The dancers are some of the best tappers in the world, and blending these fine performers with one of the most intricately layered and technologically complicated sets generates a creative element that few could imagine. ETM: Double Down is a tour de force in the dance — theater — world!
Michelle Dorrance, a 2015 MacArthur Fellow and international performer with many other awards and Broadway performances to her credit, is credited as “one of the most imaginative tap choreographers working today” by The New Yorker. She grew up performing with the Chapel Hill, NC-based North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (and plenty of her fans showed up at Wednesday night’s performance, chatting with each other about the dancers currently in Dorrance’s troupe and their knowledge of Dorrance’s history). Her genius appears to have followed her from her beginnings with NCYTE artistic director Gene Medler, to Broadway’s Stomp and Savion Glover’s Ti Dii.
As artistic director, dancer, choreographer, and co-creator, Michelle Dorrance has her hands full with the current show, but they are capable hands; and the show both challenges the imagination and delights the soul. With seven tappers, a B-girl, several musicians, and a singer, the Dorrance Dance entices the audience into a world of techno music, controlled by the dancers’ feet and computerized sound/beat boards placed strategically across the stage.
The setting is otherworldly, because of the sounds teased from the boards and because of the almost alien talents of the dancers, particularly that of Warren Craft, one very tall man whose ability to move his body loosely, appearing at times like the blow-up wind-sock-people that advertise sales at car dealerships. His physicality is odd and uncontrolled — a rag doll who can slam his heel in stomp taps or fall to the floor like a pratfall comedian — but it works in the most abnormal manner.
When all seven dancers are onstage, the theater vibrates with the techno music and the synchronized tapping. The dancers are coordinated, yet they’re not, and it doesn’t take long to realize that is planned and that the seeming disparity of the dances is exactly the point. Genius.
The music, which ranges from techno-pop to Adele to eerie and wordless chants, layers itself in and around the dancers. Sometimes, they create the music; other times, they are responding to it. The intricate combination of repeated phrases of the music or song is repeated in the choreography, even to the point of using the break dancer, Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie, as a counterpoint to the tappers surrounding her.
During one dance, the bass player, Gregory Richardson, comes onstage and begins playing, then steps away from the bass, yet it continues to play, bringing a slightly embarrassed laugh from the audience. He responds as though saying to the audience, “See? This is what we’re doing. Watch me.” He plays a chord or refrain, it’s recorded, repeated, then he starts another sound on another instrument, and he’s building an instrumental theme, as the dancers build layers in their now full-stage choreographed dance.
After intermission, the same technological miracle occurs when Aaron Marcellus, an American Idol alum, comes to stage to delight the audience with his vocal athletics, playing with the theater’s echo and the technology that enables him to sing with himself, recording phrases, then adding another, until it appears he’s a single person choir. The sound is mesmerizing, bringing soft “wow’s” from audience members when the last note disappears into the theater’s rafters.
But don’t get the idea that this show is all about the technology.
This show pushes all the limits of the tappers. They are not the normal heel-toe-slide tappers. These dancers are full-fledged professionals who burn the floorboards with their intricate footwork and complete joy in their art. It is a show that defines the reason the MacArthur Fellowships were created. We need this genius. We need this type of entertainment. We need performances that delight us, make us wonder, make us tap our feet, and create conversations that will continue long after the performance is over.
For anyone who ever wanted to tap, took tap as a child, or has lost track of why tap is relevant, see this finely textured and amazing performance by one of North Carolina’s own. You won’t be sorry.
SECOND OPINION: Sept. 3rd Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Linda Haac, Roy Dicks, David Menconi, and Mary Cornatzer: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article99092812.html.
Carolina Performing Arts presents Dorrance Dance in ETM: DOUBLE DOWN at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15 in Memorial Hall, 114 E. Cameron Ave., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$49, except $10 for UNC-Chapel Hill students with UNC OneCards and discounts for UNC faculty and staff with UNC OneCards.
BOX OFFICE: 919-843-3333 or https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/events-on-sale/.
SHOW: https://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/ros_perf_series/etm-double-down-dorrance-dance/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1078435985559558/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8oQQeNE0pMY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTl6m3QdcZw.
PRESENTER: http://www.carolinaperformingarts.org/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Carolina-Performing-Arts/9560250967, https://twitter.com/uncperformarts, and https://www.youtube.com/user/UNCPerformArts.
ETM: Double Down (reimagined and enlarged version of 2014 piece entitled ETM: The Initial Approach): http://www.dorrancedance.com/repertory/ (official web page).
Dorrance Dance (New York City-based tap-dance troupe): http://www.dorrancedance.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michelle-Dorrance-Dorrance-Dance/304335686271615 (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/dorrancedance (Twitter page), and https://www.youtube.com/user/mashdeez (YouTube).
Michelle Dorrance (founder and artistic director of Dorrance Dance): http://www.michelledorrance.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/pages/Michelle-Dorrance-Dorrance-Dance/304335686271615 (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/dorrancedance (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelle_Dorrance (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/user/mashdeez (YouTube).
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater, music, and dance reviews. She is also a writer, editor, writing coach at Reno’s Literary Services of Durham. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.blogspot.com/ and http://poetryandgardening.blogspot.com/.