by Chelsey Hamilton for The Dance Journal
On a dreary afternoon in the historic Old City District of Philadelphia, Christ Church Neighborhood House and Uniting Colleges Through Tap hosted a lively show featuring seasoned tap dancers of all ages.
Without Borders: A Celebration of World Cultures Through Tap Dance took the audience on an entertaining ride through 11 different countries, performing different tap numbers for each one.
The show was presented by Uniting Colleges Through Tap, a company created in 2009 by Philadelphia-based tap dancer Corinne Karon to unite college students interested in performing tap. For the past eight years, the company has grown to include students from 13 different colleges in the Philadelphia and South Jersey areas.
UCTT’s eighth annual production began with Carnival, representing the country of Brazil and including all 17 members of the current UCTT Company. Select members of the UCTT Company were given the opportunity to collaborate internationally with Christiane Matallo and her students by performing in the famous Carnival festival in São Paulo, Brazil in February 2016. This entertaining piece represented a taste of what they did there. The tappers were dressed in large, vibrant headpieces and looked like they were having the time of their lives on stage.
The next piece, Dance of the Candles Part 1, was inspired by African culture and featured two tap dancers and two African dancers. The skilled tappers, Robert F. Burden Jr. and Timothy Yue, created rhythms on wooden boards using just their feet as Rochelle Haynes and Karon performed an African number, before joining the men in tapping. The dancers engaged the audience with playful clapping, stomping and shouting, causing the audience to roar with laughter and applause.
The following four numbers represented Taiwan, Japan, North America and again, Brazil. University of the Arts Continuing Education Students used drumsticks as a way to create rhythm along with their tap shoes to represent Taiwan, Men On Tap sported traditional Japanese robes and fans for Japan, Karon and Lori Westler performed a jazzy, musical theater-esque number to represent North America, and UCTT’s Touring Company wore flowered tops and grooved along to Caribbean music to showcase Brazil.
Artistic Director and Founder of UCTT, Karon, explained in the show’s program that she has successfully tap danced on every continent in the world. The immensely talented Karon performed a solo titled Tapping the Distance (The Seven Continents), alongside a video projection summarizing her experiences dancing around the globe.
The members of UCTT then performed Zapatos de Baile, a Spain-inspired flamenco number that displayed precise rhythms and patterns through tapping and clapping. The dancers were costumed in bright red skirts and red flowers in their hair, adding to the Spanish feel of the piece. They moved beautifully in unison and showed a sharp contrast between fast feet movements and soft, slow arm movements. This lively and visually pleasing piece was my personal favorite of the afternoon.
After a brief intermission, the audience was introduced to Matallo, a brilliantly skilled Brazilian artist who is currently the only dancer in the world with the ability to tap dance and play the saxophone simultaneously. Matallo mesmerized the audience with her hoofing and musical skills, inviting everyone to clap along to the rhythms and even making her way into the audience seating area to be more engaged.
Members of the UCTT continued the show with an animated traditional Greek line dance, complete with Greek music, clapping, yelling and excitement. Next, Footwerx Tap Company performed a complex tap routine titled Sunny Sunny to represent India. The raw talent of the dancers was evident as they tapped fast and complicated phrases while still managing to stay completely in unison with one another.
The ensuing performances represented Ireland, The Caribbean and Saudi Arabia, featuring guest artists from various local tap groups. T.A.P.S. Dain Dance Company dressed as old-fashioned millworkers and performed a fast-paced piece for Ireland, Tap Ties Company performed an energetic quartet in radiant red and orange costumes to represent The Caribbean, and Darrell Williams and select members of Footwerx Tap Company engaged in a freestyle tapping battle to represent Saudi Arabia.
To conclude the night, Matallo, Karon, UCTT Company members and select special guests showcased the piece they did at the official Carnival festival in Brazil last month. Each dancer was decked out in extravagant costumes, adding to the entertaining and care-free feel of the piece. Although the piece was only about two minutes long, Karon explained to the audience that they performed the piece for 55 minutes straight during the parade. Especially evident in the final number, the passion and excitement of each and every tap dancer involved in UCTT shined through in their spirited performances.