By Debra Danese for the Philadelphia Dance Journal
The resounding sounds of taps filled the Wilma Theater Friday, July 30, 2016 as GTA Entertainment presented Footwerx The Cobolt Mission. Directed, produced and choreographed by Footwerx Artistic Director, Darrell Williams, the performance was a culmination of a week- long tap intensive available to area dance students. Over 30 students represented Dance Fusion, Wayne Ballet, Let’s Dance Studio, Joan’s Dance Studio, Oxford Center for Dance, and Time to Leap Dance.
Mr. Williams took the stage prior to the performance to greet the audience and acknowledge special guests. He mentioned during this time that tap dance is not just about the steps; it’s about the musicality. It was evident he instilled this into his workshop dancers as they took the stage for a spy-themed production.
The show opened with a group of dancers being given a Bond-like assignment to find a stolen sapphire. Clever digital design was projected to introduce the espionage mission and “agents” of the IMF (Impossible Mission Footwerx) Organization. IMF was in a race with rival organization, Cobolt, to secure the precious stone. In order to succeed, IMF infiltrated the Youth World Leadership Conference, which was traveling around the world to learn about other cultures. Although this theme was threaded throughout the performance, I was never quite clear on who represented the Cobolt Agency. However, this did not deter from the exceptional dancing by the ensemble.
Various groups of dancers, ranging in age from 7 and up, took the stage and displayed the musicality Mr. William’s previously mentioned. The music was up-tempo and diverse while still being age appropriate and family-friendly. The choreography by Mr. Williams and assistant choreographers Matt Soojian, Emily Brong and Brielle Johnson showcased the dancer’s skills at their various levels. Erin Lilly was a stand-out during the group pieces. Her natural stage presence and technique seemed effortless. It was also entertaining to see many of the students featured with solo work. Alexa Taylor was a highlight as she attacked the choreography during her solos. However, it was unfortunate that the taps were sometimes overpowered by the volume of the music.
As part of the plot, students traveled to various cities which were recognized by the projected images and music. This added a nice variety of music and dancing. While in Ireland, the audience had the opportunity to see the full cast perform together. The Irish inspired choreography took on a clogging feel and was reminiscent of Riverdance. The Bollywood number and jazz dances showed off the dancer’s versatility. Lead dancer, Emily Brong, especially proved to be a diverse entertainer throughout the performance.
It was a pleasant surprise during Act II when Mr. Williams took to the stage again; this time to dance with Brielle Johnson, Matt Soojian and D’Andria Williams (William’s daughter.) A call and response was led by Mr. Williams. The complicated and lengthy rhythms created by Williams were then repeated back. A dancer who missed a step exited the stage. Williams was left on stage with his daughter who held her own against the hoofing master.