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Danceworks on Tap is all ‘Heart and Sole’

Exhilarating concert left audience delighted

Aug. 11, 2015
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What makes tap dance so infectious? Intoxicating rhythms, of course; accessibility—it is what it is; the pleasure of watching people doing something very well; the flattery of performers who so clearly want to please.

“I like to be noisy,” joked Amy Brinkman-Sustache when her company surprised her with flowers at the curtain call of last weekend’s Danceworks on Tap (DOT) concert, to celebrate the 15th birthday of the tap troupe she founded and leads as artistic director and choreographer. Titled Heart and Sole, the concert was gracefully conceived, tightly constructed and beautifully executed. During peak moments, the steps and dancers combined to such exhilarating effect that many in the audience were shouting with delight.

The surface theme of Heart and Sole was interpersonal love. The concert included brief interludes with audio recordings by the dancers giving funny answers to questions such as what they would not do for love (“catch a grenade”), what they looked for in a lover (“cooking skill”) or what love song they would choose to be (“Unforgettable”). The show’s deep theme was love of tap dance.

Rooted in the historic travails of African and Irish people and glamorized by Broadway and Hollywood, tap’s history somehow lives in every flap and shuffle. Each DOT concert foregrounds some interesting aspect of that story. This year’s program opened with a 19th-century “walkaround.” Born in minstrelsy, it was a way for performers to suss out their audiences. Here, while Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong sang in perfect strutting tempo, the DOT cast entered through the audience and traveled the stage in circles, waving and greeting acquaintances, all the while increasing the syncopated intricacy of their unison traveling tap combinations, a spectacular way to make friends.

The concert included strong contemporary works by Brinkman-Sustache. In one, the flirty poses of Ziegfeld Follies chorines were amusingly quoted; in another, women held thin balls as breakable symbols of love; another showed isolated, anxious women working hard; a giddy finale celebrated virtuosity, collectivity, invention and abandon.

Kelly Drake and Kathleen Grusenski mixed tap and salsa in a happy Latin number. Rachel Payden, radiant all night, choreographed a quintet of immense warmth to music by Jason Mraz. Separate solos by the vaudeville-influenced dancer/comedian Lamont “Julio” Johnson and the hip-hop influenced Gabrielle Sustache were concert highlights. The excellent Holly Heisdorf, Alissa Juckem, Jennifer Porter and Tina Wozniak completed the cast. Colin Gawronski provided loving lighting.

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