An evening of tap with Michelle Dorrance, Dormeshia and Guests

Streamed by Harkness Dance Center, 92nd St Y, New York City
December 17, 2021

Although Dorrance Dance wowed London audiences on their last visit to Sadler’s Wells in 2019, tap is not a form we see too much of in theatres apart from here and there in musicals. So, what a joy it was to be present, albeit online, for this friendly evening of dance in the Harkness Mainstage Series, in which Michelle Dorrance and Dormeshia were joined by jazz pianist Michael Jellick and some voices from the next tap generation.

The laid back, easy-going nature of the Kaufmann Concert Hall show was set from the off. A recurring theme was the strong connection of tap present with tap past, as in the opening number, Dorrance singing ‘I can’t give you anything but love’ in a heartfelt tribute to her friend and mentor Mabel Lee, who died in 2019, aged 97.

Michelle Dorrance (right) and Dormeshia with Michael Jellick at the piano
Photo Richard Termine

One of the pluses of watching a show like this online is that the camera can really hone in on the footwork. A recent injury meant that all Dorrance could dance was a soft-shoe, but how delicious. Even in close-up it was so silky smooth. There were plenty of fireworks from the ‘Queen of Tap’, Dormeshia, who upped the tempo with some great double-time tapping though.

The four ‘next generation’ guests each gave a taste of their individual style as they improvised to Jellick. Each also spoke a little about the people who inspired them, telling an often gently amusing personal anecdote along the way. The modest Leonardo Sandoval recalled his embarrassment that he didn’t know who the Nicholas Brothers were when he first arrived in the United States from Brazil, for example. He soon learned, and surely influenced by what he discovered, his dance was a neat blend of their tradition, body percussion and easy Latin rhythm.

Leonardo Sandoval with Michael Jellick on piano
Photo Richard Termine

As in a lot of dance improvisation, there did sometimes seem to be a bit of a search for an ending, but Jared Alexander showed lots of creative ideas in dance to ‘Smile’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, while Elizabeth Burke’s contribution flowed particularly effortlessly, especially to ‘Just the Two of Us’.

Perhaps because it was so different, most interesting was Christina Carminucci dancing to the music of John Coltrane, however. Tap can feel like a punishing percussion solo, but here, and more than in any of the other dances, the sound of Carminucci’s tap felt like thoughts or words as they sat perfectly alongside the notes coming from the piano. Throw in her clarity, use of counterpoint and complexity, made it especially fascinating and rather moving.

Christina Carminucci with Michael Jellick on piano
Photo Richard Termine

In many ways at the other end of the scale were surprise guests, the insanely talented 16-year-old twins, Jaden and Ellis Foreman (aka the Foreman Brothers). In a fast-moving, fun and upbeat sequence, it was impossible to stop the mind flipping back to tap legends Gregory and Maurice Hines, who of course the Foreman’s played in Season 3 of the award-winning American period comedy-drama, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Bursting with youthful enthusiasm, they really were quite terrific.

Terrific in a very different way was Dormeshia’s solo that followed. Dancing in deep red, heeled, tap boots, she found incredible subtlety and depth, her dance in gentle conversation with Jellick’s playing. ‘In a Sentimental Mood’ felt just that.

The ninety minutes glided by, slipping down like the smoothest malt. Perfectly understated, the evening felt more like a meeting of friends than a theatrical performance. In that vein, it finished in the traditional way, the tap dancers in the audience (who had come armed with their shoes) invited up on stage for a jam. All ages, all levels, but one community bound by a singular spirit. That’s tap.