Modern-day tap star Michelle Dorrance’s company performs | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Modern-day tap star Michelle Dorrance’s company performs

“It gets in your bones like an incessant rhythm.”

Photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy
Photo courtesy of Matthew Murphy

It has been well over a half-century since tap was king in the dance world. For instance, the heyday of Pittsburgh’s tap scene that included the Kelly family (Fred, Jay, Jim, Louise and superstar Gene), whose Squirrel Hill studio is now the home of Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, is a distant memory. Apart from bouts of popularity over the years in the form of Brenda Bufalino, Gregory and Maurice Hines, Savion Glover and touring shows like TAP DOGS and STOMP, tap has flown under the radar of most dance-goers.

Lately, however, the art form is seeing a resurgence thanks in part to TV talent shows like So You Think You Can Dance, and the emergence of tap’s newest princess, Michelle Dorrance. The 2015 MacArthur “genius award” winner brings her Dorrance Dance to the Byham Theater on Sat., April 2.

The woman whom The Boston Globe called “[a] dynamo in tap shoes and a compelling, imaginative choreographer” is a North Carolina native who has performed with STOMP and Glover’s Ti Dii. Speaking by phone from New York City, she says, “I like to set up environments where the choreographed work bleeds into an improvised solo or the dancers trading improvisational ideas back and forth.” 

The 75-minute sampler program will begin with excerpts from Dorrance’s SOUNDspace (2013). Performed a capella by a company of eight including Dorrance in regular tap and leather-soled shoes, the work explores the range of sounds the dancers are capable of producing. 

The program’s first half closes with an excerpt of Dorrance’s ETM (2014) in which the dancers perform on acoustic platforms made of wood, chains and diamond plate.  

“[The section] speaks volumes about the way people relate to tap and percussion,” says Dorrance. “It gets in your bones like an incessant rhythm.” 

The program’s second half features excerpts from less frequently seen Dorrance favorites performed to live music as well as songs by the likes of Radiohead and Fiona Apple. The theatrical, at times humorous program will close with an excerpt from the company’s most recent show, Myelination (2015).

While Dorrance and most hoofers do see themselves as dancers, they also consider themselves musicians. (Dorrance even sings in the show.) “We are just as acutely responsible for our sound and music as we are for our movement,” says Dorrance.

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