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Uniting Colleges Through Tap

by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

It’s an intriguing concept: sixteen student dancers, nearly a dozen guest artists and one-hour in which to trace the history of tap from Buster Brown to Savion Glover.  With dancers ranging in age from 7 to its-not-polite-to-ask, Sunday night’s program, “Passing The Torch: Tap Dancing Through the Ages” proved for the dancers of Uniting Colleges Through Tap, dance—especially tap— is supposed to be fun.

Under the direction Corinne Karon, however, UCTT isn’t just about having fun: it’s about paying tribute to the legendary masters of tap and instilling today’s tap enthusiasts (and their audiences) with an understanding of where they came from.

Following a student performance of Buster Brown’s “Laura,” Karon and longtime partner Rochelle Haynes danced their signature duet, “Copasetic Cannon,” without missing a beat (no easy feat considering the stop time chorus).  Originally choreographed by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and restaged by Chloe Arnold, the piece combined two classic tap routines, “Doin’ the New Low Down” and the “BS Chorus,” with a punchy improvised mid-section to bridge the gap.

With a hefty helping of guest artists, the concert, which took place at the Christ Church Neighborhood Housee, was less student recital and more celebration of tap.  Darrell Williams slid across the stage, recalling the controlled and seemingly effortless incantations of Bunny Briggs in “David Danced Before the Lord” from Duke Ellington’s Concert of Sacred Dance.  Although Broadway hoofer David Pershica seemed off his game, Tweety Klevence and son 7-year old Maximus had all the makings of a great Vaudeville act.

“Passing the Torch” included three a cappella pieces: an ambitious “horse race” of cramp rolls and polyrhythms inspired by the William Tell Overture, an ode to “all the masters who have passed on” performed by Philadelphia’s own Men on Tap and finally “The Beat,” a tribute to Savion Glover based on the Tony-awarding winning Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.  The dancers were careful and deliberate in the first, starting over at Karon’s insistence when they fumbled the timing, but they found their footing in “The Beat.”  The piece began with a series of simple yet syncopated heel drops, forcing the audience to consider the moments of silence in between just as carefully as the energetic trenches and over the tops that followed.

Karon is to be commended for her clever, budget-friendly costumes: a feathered headpiece and string of beads for the girls in “Can’t Escape the Rhythm” instead of full blown flapper outfits, sheer white scarves for the inventive “Eine Kleine Nachmusik” movement and a tasteful nod to the 80s in the tribute to Gregory Hines.  Her sense of humor and quick lecture/dem factoids between numbers kept the show moving.

To conclude the performance, the dancers performed the traditional Shim Sham Shimmy—both the regular and the Philly variations—alongside the many tap dancers and tap enthusiasts who came out to support the show.  Although some of the younger UCTT dancers lack the stage presence and confidence of their older counterparts, their feet seemed to indicate that their off to a very great start.

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist.  Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.

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