Dorrance Dance’s performance of “ETM: Double Down” at Bass Concert Hall has breathed a new life into contemporary tap dance. 2015 MacArthur Fellow, Michelle Dorrance, choreographed this impressively percussive piece accompanied by Aaron Marcellus’ live electronic music. The performer’s creation of live “electronic tap music” explored the relationship between dance and sound and produced a unique performance.
More than anything, Dorrance Dance’s efforts to create a world of sound on stage was amplified through the ample use of silence. When the stage was quiet, each sound resonated louder with the audience.
Marcellus often broke the silence with an onstage EDM accompaniment. Although a singer, Marcellus hardly stood still. His choreography appeared just as complex as the dancers tapping around him. The element of live music and tap dancing combined beautifully to create a symphonic piece.
Although Dorrance Dance is known for their sound and music, the various personalities of the performers created a captivating narrative. Warren Craft’s series of heavy yet fluid movements characterized him as a stand out performer. His contrast with the rest of the upbeat ensemble seemed to portray the full range of human emotion. In Craft’s moments of joy, dancers echoed his movement in a delightfully strange duet.
The creative link extended beyond the ensemble to the to the band as well. In one memorable instance, wooden blocks were placed in a line to create a pseudo-piano. As performers tapped the blocks, the pianist played the correlating key. Soon, a complex orchestration of tap blurred the lines between dance and sound.
These tap “instruments”, designed by 2014 Bessie Award Winner Nicholas Van Young, characterized the majority of the pieces. From clapping to chains, Van Young found a multitude of fascinating sounds for Dorrance Dance to use onstage.
Like the layering of sound and music, the use of levels added a visually complex element. The use of platforms created a visual feast. In most pieces, the number of dancers grew as they appeared on towering platforms. One thing is certain: Dorrance Dance used the stage to its fullest potential.
Performers would slide onto the apron and climb up on the platforms to continue their choreography. They played the stage like a fiddle and each dancer was a different note in the same melody. The more levels were used, the more fast paced and layered the music played. In one piece, the cellist played a new note for every dancer on stage until a beautiful melody was fully crafted in front of the audience.
Based out of New York City, Dorrance Dance is currently touring the country with “ETM: Double Down” through May 15. In her artist statement, Dorrance said, “this work is the initial exploration of a new world and a new collaboration”, and undoubtedly “ETM: Double Down” has created a new life for modern American tap dance.