The UCLA Nimoy Theatre was the perfect venue to experience Joseph C. Wiggan and accomplished pianist, Robert Turner. The Nimoy, described as a “reimagining of Westwood’s Historic Crest Theatre,” is designed to bring audiences close to the performance. It is reminiscent of Ruth Price’s very intimate Jazz Bakery club in Culver City, that often-hosted tap master, the late Gregory Hines. Of course, Joseph paid homage to Mr. Hines and took a moment to acknowledge the influence he had on his style. There are no bad seats in the Nimoy and the acoustics are marvelous. The perfect combination for an evening of tap accompanied by an accomplished pianist of international acclaim.
The evening began with a very smooth, melodic, series of tap combinations performed to music with the same qualities as the dancing. The taps and music became one voice and the manner in which Joseph used his long sinewy arms and upper body added to the mood. Pull backs executed cleanly followed by a series of turns with arms outstretched and it was clear that Joseph and Robert, the pianist were engaged in a musical conversation. It was amazing to hear them trading melodies and rhythms back and forth and slowly they segued into a religious tome to complete the piece.
Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer brought out a totally different energy from the pianist and the dancer. Phrasing and nuance was the focus with continual changes of speed, changes in direction, and the volume of both the taps and the music.
Leaning On the Everlasting Arms, a well-known spiritual, was matched with, fast, fast, fast taps as was most of the second half of the program. In A Sentimental Mood, Star Trek, and an acapella solo all included long sections of clean clear, fast, fast, fast foot work. In his acapella solo the taps sounded like machine guns. A brief respite from the speed was provided when Joseph would throw his hat in the air and catch it on his head after a turn or kick or jump.
It is obvious that Joseph is a gifted artist but he truly shines when dancing to Stevie Wonder. His lithe, long body moves across the floor effortlessly as he twirls, spins, and slides, while continually adding a multitude of taps with intricate rhythms. I wanted him to have the entire width of the stage to dance rather than the wooden rectangle that seemed to constrain him. Sometimes he’s tapping the bass line and other times he’s tapping the melody. Mr. Turner passionately played Overjoyed and I Can’t Help It, displaying his mastery of the Stevie Wonder catalogue due to his time playing on stage with Mr. Wonder himself. It was clear that both Joseph and Robert were having a ball! Their excitement was contagious, and the entire audience was clapping, snapping, and head bobbing.
I don’t think Joseph ever stopped smiling throughout the entire evening. Robert and Joseph had phenomenal solo turns that demonstrated their virtuosity in their art forms. The chemistry and camaraderie between the two men was apparent in the banter that provided the glue to keep the evening cohesive and moving. As the evening ended he graciously thanked his hostess, Ms. Ruth Price, his parents and the pianist, Robert Turner. He said, “It is a true pleasure to have a moment like this. We hope you go home more joyful than you came.” Well, Mr. Wiggan, you got your wish. I left with a big smile on my face, much happier than when I arrived.
To learn more about Joseph C. Wiggan, please visit his website.
To learn more about Robert Turner, please visit his website.
To see what else is appearing at the UCLA Nimoy Theatre, please visit their website.
Written by Leah Bass-Baylis for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Joseph Wiggan – courtesy of the artist