As a misty fog rolled over the Santa Monica Mountains into downtown Los Angeles, The Music Center hosted “The Super Villainz: A Tap Dance Act for the Modern Age” as part of their “Dance at Dusk” series. The final night of this engagement was live-streamed Sunday May 30th but luckily this series continues with both live and streaming performances from American Ballet Theatre, Paul Taylor Dance Company and Alonzo King LINES Ballet.
For this show a large out-door stage was set up in the Jerry Moss Plaza with a raised tap platform for the dancers and an elevated bandstand lining the back for the sublime jazz band. It is a spare but appropriate setting with excellent lighting and sound design by Rich Saccoliti. The natural elements of the environment brought it’s own kind of magic with the mist shrouding the stage and lending a cool California vibe to the event.
The show started a little late, the musicians already onstage, awaited the dancers who sauntered on with casual ease and did a little bouncing warm-up until it was time to begin. This set the tone for the rest of the night, loose and easy. The trio of Dormeshia, Jason Samuels Smith and Derick K. Grant who are among the best Rhythm Tappers of the era, perform with quiet confidence as if they have been doing this all their lives, which indeed they have. I was most impressed with the adorable Dormeshia who brought clean taps and difficult tricks as well as style and elegance to the stage. Both Smith and Grant have the same clean technique and can keep up with the best but bring less performance and more sound. The show itself was a trade off of group numbers, solo improvisations and band interludes.
“Just Swingin” choreographed by Dormeshia, introduced us to the dancers and started the night with an easy sophistication. In her gold shoes, Dormeshia took the first solo with a series of walking riffs. Her control of fast complex rhythm led to a combustive yet quiet solo brimming with style. Derick K. Grant with his red and black shoes, approached his “improvography” with humor and an infectious smile. Lit circles patterned the floor, which he worked in and around. Grant has impeccable sounds but his style can appear clumsy at times, he balances so completely on his heels it causes him to lean forward and focus on the floor and not the audience. The same can be said of Jason Samuels Smith wearing black patent leather shoes; he excels in his improvisational skills and tricks but again works in a loose and sometimes awkward style. If the sounds are your main focus and not the presentation these dancers can give you that although there were occasional lulls when one wonders if they were thinking about what they might do next.
Though this intense rhythmic style has been around for more than a century, one cannot miss the influence of the gifted Savion Glover or the late master of the art Gregory Hines among these dancers. The charismatic Hines had the unique improvisational ability to sweep the audience along for the ride. It’s in the “Build” from step one to final crescendo. Though Dormeshia, Grant and Smith are first-rate dancers this extra attention to the “Build” might be something to consider in the future.
Most enjoyable was when the three danced in choreographed routines. Dancing together they seemed at ease and to be having a lot fun, as did the audience. A particular highlight for me was “Easy Livin” choreographed by Jason Samuels Smith, an, oh so cool, slow soft shoe with a nod to tap icon Jimmy Slide.
It’s important to mention the expert jazz band, as they not only backed the dancers with steady beats but played interstitial music and solos. The influence of Miles Davis and other jazz greats was abundantly clear in the stellar arrangements and compositions of trumpet player, Igmar Thomas. The sound although generally good had the Bass player, Ben Williams mixed too loudly and as a busy player he sometimes became the focus when he should remain the support. Thomas’ trumpet solo on “Autumn Leaves” brought emotional intimacy and the excellent pianist, Jamael Dean and drummer, Lyndon Rochelle, kept the band grooving. It’s important to have live music at an event such as this but adding this band was a particular treat.
The final group piece of the night was Derick K. Grant’s lovely “And Still You Must Swing.” For this the trio made a simple costume change from casual to more formal wear, Javier Pedroza is credited with “Styling.” Dormeshia donned heels for the segment. Rhythmic Tap in flat shoes is incredibly difficult, add heels and your balance changes completely making it harder yet, but this was no problem for her. Unless you’re a tapper at this level it is hard to understand just how complex this art form is and how they each accomplish such brilliant rhythms. All in all this was a pleasurable evening of relaxed fun and great hoofing.
Do yourself a favor and enjoy a night out with “Dance At Dusk” and you might just feel that you have been invited to the coolest club in town.
To learn more about The Music Center’s “Dance At Dusk” and to purchase tickets for American Ballet Theatre, Paul Taylor Dance Company, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, and more, click HERE.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: TThe Super Villainz: A Tap Dance Act For The Modern Age – (L to R) Derick K. Grant, Dormeshia, Jason Samuel Smith – Photo by Denise Leitner