“The Greatest Tap Show Ever” may not always hold that title, but the show I saw last night at the Carrboro ArtsCenter was certainly the most purely enjoyable tap show I’ve ever seen. Presented by the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (celebrating 30 years, thanks to the buoyant leadership of Gene Medler) and the North Carolina Rhythm Tap Festival, the show featured half a dozen first-rate teaching tap artists in town for the 3-day festival/workshop, accompanied by the excellent dance band combo of John Hanks, Robbie Link and Jim Crew. Sadly, Medler was down in the back and not able to join the other dancers on stage, but otherwise the whole event had an insouciant air of mischievous fun, with everyone cracking jokes and peeking from behind the stage curtains.
Michelle Dorrance, local heroine now taking the world by storm with her company DorranceDance, performed short joyous dances, but also one longer work that hinted at what a very special performer she is. Along with a graceful style and complex sense of rhythmic progression, she brings powerful emotional intensity to the stage. I’ve seen some fine tappers, but I’ve never seen anyone choreograph tap as if it were avant-contemporary dance. She’s got some unusual moves, uses her arms and hands very expressively, and looks outward to the audience even while her feet draw intricate patterns making her shoes sing with textured tones. Whether you were or weren’t in the sold-out house at the ArtsCenter, you may wish to book tickets for Carolina Performing Arts‘ presentation of DorranceDance on Sept. 25-26.
Each of the other dancers–Derick Grant, Nico Rubio, Melinda Sullivan (who danced and sang “Too Darn Hot”) and Joseph Wiggan–was nearly as impressive as Dorrance, and each has a distinctive style and impressive credentials. All performed delightful turns, showcasing their special moves, and challenging and copycatting each other in the finale. It was just so charming–partly because it was on the tiny stage (well-miked for the dancers) of the tiny ArtsCenter where everyone’s practically on top of everyone else, and the waves of love flow unimpeded from stage to audience and back again.
As spectacular as the dancers were, and as solid as the band was, there was no doubt as to who was the diva. Ms. Yvette Glover–Savion Glover’s mama–commanded the proceedings with twinkling majesty. Having known most of the performers for years, and some since they were toddlers, she bossed them around and was fussed over by them in return. Between emceeing, she sang two songs in an enormous voice time has rasped but not ruined. Flying in, she said, she was so struck this time by the beauty of the trees, so she commanded the band to learn the music to accompany her on the sung version of Joyce Kilmer’s Trees (here’s Paul Robeson singing it.). Later she sang, a cappella, a heart-expanding version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” and you could have heard a pin drop between phrases, the house was so quiet. Then the thunder of tapping feet resumed, playing out the secret rhythms of the heart.