by Katie Moore for The Dance Journal
“Feet” photo by Amy Smith
The performance of FEET! at The Painted Bride featured Usiloquy Dance Designs & The Lady Hoofers in an eclectic show, evincing the technical expertise and cultural diversity of the Philadelphia dance community. The combination of Indian classical Bharatanatyam and rhythm tap not only offered a variety of style and movement but also a glimpse in to longevity and transformation of percussive movement in dance.
The hour long program continually alternated dance pieces between the two all female companies on this shared bill. While time and economics may have dictated this format, it left the audience wanting some integration of the two styles before the evenings end. Perhaps a different program order may have also offered a chance to view the parallels between these two genres with a bit more clarity.
Usiloquy Dance Designs commenced the performance with a devotional featuring Artistic Director, Shaily Dadiala in a beautiful and skillful introduction to Bharatanatyam with a music fusion of classical carnatic and jazz. Throughout the evening, Usiloquy’s detailed costumes and other physical ornamentation mirrored the precise hand and foot articulation. The elaboration of hand gestures or Mudras, which change with almost every articulation of movement, offered meaning through a physical embodiment. These motions created an intimate conversation between dancer and observer, which stimulated the imagination. Facial expressions and use of traditional objects such as the finger cymbals, illustrated the ritualistic and spiritual nature of the performance and its roots to the Southern Indian temples.
With each of the pieces presented by Usiloquy Dance Designs, there was a continual shift in the music moving from the traditional to more modern songs. However, the defined structure of physical and musical complexity never faltered. The percussive elements within the music synced with how the dancers beat the floor with different parts of their foot. Each piece brought new characteristics and story lines, exhibiting an artistry and dexterity with dynamic statuesque positions transitioning into smooth and graceful feminine movements.
While audiences may not always relate to the heritage behind this historical dance form, the music choice (one song primarily in English), dramatic components, and inserts of narration made clear the celebration of life and culture that everyone can connect to. Usiloquy is not comprised of just dancers of Indian descent, displaying how this particular ethnic art form can be practiced and performed by members of any cultural background. The performance successfully exemplified the technique, social influence, and history behind Bharatanatyam, while also exploring new boundaries, incorporating cross cultural content, and pushing the confines of this traditional dance form.
The Lady Hoofers under the direction of Kat Richter kept the performance rolling with an assortment of themes utilizing music from Charlie Brown’s “Skating” song to a rendition of Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” The use of jazz, swing, acapella, and more modern music added a variety and familiarity that audience members could immediately relate to.
At one point in the program, the Lady Hoofers chose to forgo the traditional tap shoes for bare feet, feeding off of only each other’s percussive rhythms in a new piece called Soles In The Raw, choreographed by Theresa DiSipio. The company crossed cultural boundaries as they explored this more abstract form of tap. The syncopation of bare feet emulated components of African and Indian dance forms, where one must be more grounded to create the desired rhythms and sounds.
The final piece by the Lady Hoofers, Unchain My Heart, combined a cappella choreography by Kat Richter, a new staging of tap’s traditional Shim Sham Shimmy, improvisation by the ensemble’s First Company dancers and additional choreography by Katie Delhagen. This piece paid tribute to rhythm and blues artist, Ray Charles. In creating the final section of this piece, Delhagen referenced the styles of tap masters Jimmy Slyde, Buster Brown, Chuck Green, and Bunny Briggs.
Like the Usiloquy dancers, each Lady Hoofer performed with their own charisma and flare, yet together they still managed to be perfectly in sync. Through the use of laying down tracks, the soul train, solo improvisation, and the shim sham shimmy, The Lady Hoofers reinvented new ways to integrate traditional movements into seamless choreography. The mastery of footwork adapted to various beats made its own harmony that was enjoyable to watch and irresistible to not tap along with as the evening came to an end.
Usiloquy Dance Designs & The Lady Hoofers
February 22 & 23, 2014 at The Painted Bride