by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
My first review of Footwerx, written back in 2011, ended with the following line, “Who knows where they’ll be in another five years (hopefully in a bigger theater).” Well, my wish came true. On Saturday night, the Kimmel Center’s lobby was brimming with supporters of the Philadelphia-based tap company.
Comedian Joe Conklin kicked off the evening with a series of truly uncanny impressions. The company, comprised of professional and pre-professional dancers from a number of local studios, then gave a spirited performance taking audiences on a whirlwind tour from the 1930s through the present day.
The opening number, Sing, Sing, Sing, which followed a brief a cappella prelude, was especially impressive. The dancers breathed new life into the popular tune. And there were so many of them! With elbow length gloves and white fringed tops, they formed perfect lines and lit up the stage with an energetic Charleston and expansive over-the-tops. The stop time section featured intricate and unexpected rhythms in which the dances played both with and against the melody— entertainment at its best.
D’Andria Williams, daughter of company director, producer and choreographer Darrell Williams, set herself apart from the crowd early on. Like her father, she’s a born entertainer. Her technique and nonchalant style are reminiscent of Philadelphia’s beloved LaVaughn Robinson and I was so glad that the stage had four floor microphones to ensure that we could hear all of her hard work.
Duets to Cute and Caravan were clean and crisp. Simple running flaps were transformed into rhythmic games under Darrell William’s care (he’s a tapper who understands that flash isn’t everything). Time steps morphed into intricate crawls before the rest of the company returned to the stage for lightening-speed routines to such favorites as Proud Mary, Staying Alive, I Wish and Under Pressure. The dancers traded their fringe for tie dyed shirts and flowers in their hair, then changed again into neon leggings for a reprise of the company’s Tailfeather (which they also performed at the Wilma in 2011)and other present day hits.
Soloist Jessica Gersony shined especially in Tailfeather. She skimmed across the surface of the stage, offering up rhythms that ran completely counter to the melody but still somehow worked and made you listen all the more closely.
The second act could have been trimmed a bit, but I was impressed again and again by the overall production values: lighting, costumes, vivid, eye-catching backdrops. Such things would, perhaps, be less remarkable if we were talking about a different genre of dance but as tap dancer Michelle Dorrance so rightfully noted in a recent interview, “The form is oppressed. The work still has to be made. It is pigeonholed and stereotyped. It is treated like the bastard child of the dance forms.”
Kudos to Footwerx for doing the work and in so doing, raising the bar.