Let’s just start here: Dorrance Dance was sensational! The two-work program, presented by the New York-based company at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, was a visual, auditory, and rhythmic delight from beginning to end. The company’s seven performers—Elizabeth Burke, Michelle Dorrance (Artistic Director/Choreographer), Sterling Harris, Luke Hickey, Addi  Loving, Claudia Rahardjanoto, and Leonardo Sandoval—captivated the audience as their lightning-fast feet and intricate, jam-in-your-seat-inducing rhythms showed us just how much the ball, heel, toe, and sides of the foot could do.

The evening’s works, SOUNDspace and 45th & 8th, were created through a collaborative effort between Dorrance and her company members, with lighting design by Kathy Kaufman and costumes by Mishay Petronelli, Michelle Dorrance, Byron Tittle, and Dede Ayite.

Michelle Dorrance – Photo by Ian Douglas

SOUNDspace opens the show with Michelle Dorrance, Leonardo Sandoval, and Elizabeth Burke on platforms in pools of light against a green cyclorama (back curtain). The sound of their taps striking against the wood is rich and boisterous as it resonates through the cubed structures. The trio starts out with a simple rhythm that grows more and more complex, playing with polyrhythm and counterpoint as they layer shifting solos on top of an anchoring pulse. Amidst the denseness of the fast tapping, I am enthralled by the moments of funkiness that jump out in a syncopated phrase. In sheer delight, I am compelled to call out, “Ok!” In addition to the rhythmic layering that characterizes the evening, Dorrance Dance also plays with tonality and timbre created from different parts of the foot connecting with different surfaces using varying degrees of force. At some points you hear the booming deep bass produced by performers dropping their heels against the stage or hollow cubed platforms. Other times, you hear higher sounds created by the ball of their foot or edge of their heel hitting the floor. They even incorporate sounds created by scraping and sliding the metal plates on their shoes against the ground, hitting different parts of the body (body percussion), and—in a nod to the “Soft-Shoe” tradition—tapping with no metal on their shoes or completely barefoot, emitting a soft, pillowy sound.

SOUNDspace is performed acapella—except for a section between Luke Hickey and bassist Gregory Richardson—but, with the layered rhythms and tonal variety, it feels full and incredibly satisfying. The fullness is also accomplished through inventive staging and transitions between sections. One such moment happens in the transition between the first and second sections, where four performers emerge in the downstage left corner. What follows is cheeky and playful visual fun. The lighting is designed to only show the knees down. Anchored by an impressively enduring and fast 16th-note pulse, feet and knees travel horizontally across the downstage as they communicate with each other in fantastic layers and changing directions. Dorrance and Burke are exciting in their duet that closes this section.

Dorrance Dance. Photo by Hayim Heron.

Dorrance Dance. Photo by Hayim Heron.

Other standouts in SOUNDspace are soloist Claudia Rahardjanoto, duet Luke Hickey and Addi Loving, and soloist Leonardo Sandoval. Rahardjanoto dazzles in a soft-shoe-esque solo. She is beautiful to watch as she taps effortlessly across the stage. In one of my favorite sections, Luke Hickey is mesmerizing as he converses with bassist Gregory Richardson, who is formidable in his own right. As the piece progresses, the two transition between various ways of engaging. There is call and response (when Richardson plays and Hickey responds), trading bars (a type of call and response where each participant only “speaks” for a set number of bars), and accompaniment (where Richardson is playing alongside Hickey’s tap dancing). This shifting interaction is amplified when Loving joins the party. Loving and Hickey playfully chase each other around the stage and trade bars with Richardson before Loving leaves Hickey and Richardson to bring their conversation to a beautiful close. Sandoval is out of this world with his body percussion solo that draws upon his Brazilian heritage. Impressively performed in socks, his solo opens with animal calls. He then proceeds to take us on a fantastic foot-stomping ride that journeys through hip-hop, 6/8, and samba rhythms with the accompanying vocalizations. My mind is blown at one point when he is dancing the Samba with his feet while beating out other rhythms on his torso. Just incredible!

45th & 8th continued the amazingness with the addition of musicians Aaron Marcellus – vocals and keys; Kyle Everett – drums; Matt Parker – saxophone, flute, and clarinet; and Gregory Richardson – bass. The quartet performed original music composed by Marcellus in collaboration with Everett, Parker, and Richardson. These four musicians partnered beautifully with Dorrance Dance, bringing a totally different vibe from the first piece. Within the stunning ensemble work, Marcellus transfixed the audience with his heavenly vocals. As he layered melodies with his otherworldly voice, I imagined I was being awakened by music in King Joffer’s palace like Eddie Murphy in the fictitious African kingdom of Zamunda (Coming to America, 1988). Against lighting designer Kathy Kaufman’s vivid lighting (my favorite being the peachy sunset and royal blue against yellow designs), Dorrance and her crew of fantastic footmen brought the audience to our feet with enthusiastic praise for a stunning night of sound, rhythm, and music and a job splendidly done!

For more information about Dorrance Dance, please visit their website.

To access the full performance season at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, please visit their website.

Written by Marlita Hill for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Dorrance Dance – SOUNDspace – Photo courtesy of the company.