by Isabella Mojares for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Anthony Dean
Pamela Hetherington never intended to put on a greatest hits tribute to McCoy Tyner and Bobby Timmons. That was never the point. Upon reading the small factoid that the two musicians shared a childhood piano teacher, Hetherington, the artistic director of the Philadelphia Jazz Tap Ensemble, began to think about beginnings: When did we begin learning? Who were our first teachers? How were we taught when it was all new to us? How are we teaching others and continuing that legacy?
Tyner and Timmons (TNT) was a delight from start to finish. From Hetherington’s confession that she may have gotten a splinter, to Bethlehem Roberson’s powerful cadence, to the glances passed between dancers and musicians, a special tenderness rang through each part of the evening. The rawness with which the dancers approached their routines gave the show an intimate air, as if we were allowed to sit in on a brainstorming session in the studio. In recalling the feeling of a showing or a smaller venue, I don’t mean to say that the performance felt like a work in progress, but rather that it so well echoed the improvisational and collaborative nature of jazz music itself. Each moment felt as if it was building upon what came before it, like we were watching ideas dancing into expansion right before our eyes.
In addition to two evenings of live performance, the Tap Ensemble also has the companion texts for TNT on their website. While enriched by the choreography and improvisation during the show, getting to read the poems on their own allows viewers a moment to really contemplate the themes Hetherington explores in the work. Furthermore, true to her multimedia practice, Hetherington also had visual artist Chuck Schultz sit in on rehearsals and live-illustrate the dancers.
A description of TNT on the ensemble’s website describes the evening-length work as a blend of “tap dance, jazz music, original poetry, and vocussion to observe the legacy of [Tyner and Timmons —] two legendary jazz composers.” Typically, a press release or announcement might describe a performance in relation to its soundscore: this ballet is set to Bach, or this piece is set to John Cage. While sonically set to a melange of jazz compositions (both standards and originals), I would say that TNT is truly set “to observe.” To observe the legacy of those that came before us, as this performance shows, is not simply to acknowledge what they have left behind. To dance a greatest hits concert would have been easy. Instead, Hetherington and her collaborators have done the thinking; they have done the hard work. Excavating the catalogue and stories of Tyner and Timmons, TNT reminds us that an individual’s legacy is not made up solely of their tangible work, but also of what their work has left us to ponder in our own artistic lives.
TNT was performed by Pamela Hetherington, Mark Allen, Rosie Marinelli, Tim Brey, Madison Rast, Anwar Marshall, and Bethlehem Roberson at the Christ Church Neighborhood House. A recording of the performance is available for viewing on the company’s Youtube page, linked here.