With tap dancer extraordinaire Michelle Dorrance, everything old seems new — really new — again. In her company’s program over the weekend, presented by World Music/CRASHarts at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, Dorrance created the first half’s “SOUNDspace” in 2012-13 as she was considering her “influences, lineage, legacy.” As such, the piece recalls not just the heavy metal tap style of many contemporary artists but also the lighter-textured leather sole work of early tap dancing — and somehow, just about everything in between.
However, Dorrance, ever the firebrand, takes it all in a very different direction. While “SOUNDspace” is a riveting showcase of tap stylings, it is also vividly theatrical and conceptually cohesive, fueled by the dancer/choreographer’s ongoing commitment to the exploration of movement as music. The work starts in darkness with a repeated thump-thump of solitary heels, like a deliberate heartbeat. As the lights come on, three dancers on risers begin to slowly weave a rich rhythmic tapestry of accumulating beats, a kind of ritual call to action that leads on a quartet of dancers illuminated only from the knees down. The delicate rhythmic patter of their heels periodically erupts into lively syncopations, feet swiveling, knees angling in and out.
In Dorrance’s duet with Elizabeth Burke, the two trade riffs, unleashing a blistering fusillade of taps that pack a thrilling, visceral punch. Dorrance’s solo shows why the dancer is arguably the most brilliant, innovative tapper of her generation. She unfurls footwork of pristine clarity, impeccable control, impressive dynamic range, and seemingly endless invention. One moment she is tapping furiously, her body all angles, twisting and turning on the edge of balance. The next she is etching smooth sliding arcs with a figure skater’s grace.
In ensemble work, Dorrance has a keen architectural eye, creating patterns that send the dancers in circles, crisscrossing lines, tight phalanxes. And though she’s the company superstar, other dancers get their moments in the spotlight as well. Nicholas Van Young gets the audience clapping as he channels juba dance in a tonally colorful number incorporating mouth and body percussion, and Warren Craft is a revelation in a stark, loose-limbed solo of isolations and quivers complemented by intense, almost primal yells and vocalizations.
The program’s second half flies by, beginning with the charming crowd-pleaser “a Petite Suite,” a humorous, light-hearted series of contrasting dances filled with playful characterizations, including the rather beefy Van Young in prima donna mode, wearing a pink tank top and glittery scarf. This segued into a solo improvisation by Craft, dancing with spidery angularity and an almost feral, unpredictable energy. The nonstop blitz of an excerpt from “Myelination,” with blistering unison and contrapuntal sequences thundering across the stage, brought the crowd to its feet.
Friday night (repeats through Sunday). Presented by World Music/CRASHarts at Cutler Majestic Theatre. www.worldmusic.orgKaren Campbell can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.