Last week in LA Dance Chronicle, the heading for Ann Haskins’ performance line up read “when a MacCarthur Genius taps into computers”. On Friday, May 2, 2019 at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts Dorrance Dance proved that the ending for that statement is “a masterful dance occurs”. Created by Artistic Director Michelle Dorrance and Nicholas Van Young ETM: Double Down proved what I have long advocated to be true, that tap dancers are musicians.

Young has created a theater set that doubles as a musical instrument for the performers to create the music that they are performing to as well as the music we heard. In my interview with Young for LA Dance Chronicle, he explained the process of creating the set, and the collaboration between Dorrance’s extraordinary talents as a dancer and choreographer, along with Young’s talents resulted in a work that will inhabit my imagination for quite some time.

During the first half of the program, we were introduced to the technology and the shear dancing talents of performers. A dancer pulled two small trigger boards (boards that are equipped with electronic sampling devices), as another alternately stroke each board with his foot that sent a resonating metallic sound echoing through the house. Once we understood that the trigger boards, the platforms along the back, and the larger area in front were all one large trigger board, the thrill of the tap dancing began.

For Act I, Dorrance showcased her choreographic talents and the virtuosity of her company with straight forward dancing, and except for moments of humor, very little narrative or expression of emotional themes. She entertained us with fast moving footwork, slides, and performers creating music as they danced on and across the four platforms.

For one solo, Dorrance used her tap shoes to produce some of the most subtle and soft taps that I have ever experienced. It was clear that Young’s set gave Dorrance the ability to create these low tones and for the audience to hear them. The results was breathtaking.

Warren Craft has a talent that combines the agility of dancer/actor/comedian Bill Erwin with the flair of a flamenco dancer. His loose limb, slightly demented solo drew gasps, laughter and applause from the audience, as did his duet with Dorrance. Craft appeared to be off center the entire time and come close to falling, but he never lost control or fell. Without ever connecting during the duet, Craft hovered around Dorrance like a bee around nectar.

We witnessed break dancing meet tap dancing during a solo by 2016 Bessie Award winner for Innovative Achievement in Dance, Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie. Young briefly played the drums and we heard wonderful music performed by co-music director, composer, performer and multi-instrumentalist Gregory Richardson. Dynamic solos flowed in and out of group unisons and dancers often ended by quietly and simply walking off stage.

CREDIT_Matthew_Murphy resized Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Dorrance Dance - Photo by Christopher Duggan resized Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Dorrance Dance - Photo by Christopher Duggan (2)resized Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Dorrance Dance - Photo by Hayim Heron Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Dorrance Dance - Photo by Matthew Murphy (2) resized Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Dorrance Dance - Photo by Matthew Murphy resized
Nickolas Van Young, Michelle Dorrance in ETM: Double Down - Photo courtesy of the company.

Act II opened with three incredible vocal arrangements, scat singing, and songs performed by the amazing Aaron Marcellus who demonstrated a vocal range from bass to soprano. With the use of a handheld sampling device, Marcellus composed in real time all the various sound tracks for each song; songs that included a soulful blues ballad.

The second act proved that Dorrance can create situations, narratives and human relationships through her choreography, along with her imaginative patterns and extraordinary footwork. Two men performed a beautiful duet depicting a same-sex attraction that did not end as one of them desired. A group section found Dorrance off on the side lines looking inward as life around her drifted by. This was, for me, one of the programs highlights.

Another totally absorbing and memorable section of ETM: Double Down was what I will call “playing the trigger board piano”. If you remember Tom Hanks performing on an oversized piano in the film Big, then imagine seven performers tap dancing on a series of trigger boards laid side by side. It was a double treat. Tap dancers demonstrating their wonderful talents while simultaneously producing their own music.

Several dancers demonstrated their additional musical talents by playing drums and, during the finale, Asherie’s hip-hop and modern dance talents wove in and around the rest of the cast as they tapped, slid, jumped and moved across the platforms, bringing the audience to their feet.

The truly top notch cast of ETM: Double Down included: Michelle Dorrance (choreographer/dancer), Nicholas Van Young (dancer/musician), Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie (dancer/choreographer), Christopher Broughton (dancer), Elizabeth Burke (dancer), Warren Craft (dancer), Aaron Marcellus (musician, vocalist), Gregory Richardson (musician), Leonardo Sandoval (dancer), and Byron Tittle (dance captain/dancer).

Original Music Composed and Improvised by Gregory Richardson, Donovan Dorrance, Nicholas Van Young, Aaron Marcellus, Warren Craft, with Michelle Dorrance. The beautiful lighting that highlighted the talent onstage while gently moving us through shifting environments was by Kathy Kaufmann and the somewhat funky but appropriate costumes were designed by Amy Page and Shiori Ichikawa.

For information on Dorrance Dance, click here.

To what else is appearing at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, click here.

Featured image: Dorrance Dance in ETM: Double Down – Photo by Jamie Kraus