Photo: Christopher Duggan
When I took my seat in the Lyric Theatre to watch ETM: Double Down, I knew exactly what I was in for – incredible tap dance technique, with lightning speed and precision. I’d been to the New York Tap Festival on several occasions, taking class and watching performances with some of the biggest names in the tap dance community, so I was excited to re-live the experience in Hong Kong, on home turf. The theater was packed and I wondered if other audience members knew exactly what it was they were coming to see. Of course, there were the usual tap enthusiasts from around the region (Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan), whom I have met and worked with over the years, but where did all these other people come from?
As the title of the work subtly suggests (ETM – Electro Tap Music: Double Down – double the amount of sound boards as used in the original version of the show), the whole evening was centered around the dancers and musicians composing a soundscape with the use of programmed wooden sound boards, created and developed by Nicholas Van Young. In the opening number, the boards were brought on by the dancers and using single sounds, they created a melody line that was clean and precise, with tone and color. Even the way the boards were brought on was an intrinsic part of the choreography - no stage crew required! Several platforms were constructed upstage, with the musicians (keyboard, double bass, and drums) and dancers working closely together, blurring the roles of musician and dancer.
More than Tap Dance
The production consisted of a series of solos, duets, and ensemble pieces, giving every performer (singer, dancer, musician) their moment to show their individual style. An unusual element was the introduction of a b-girl into this tightly woven group, but as Michelle Dorrance explained in the Meet-the-Artist session, both dance techniques were developed on the streets, using rhythm and improvisation, so why not fuse the two. I thought it worked extremely well and I was stunned by the proximity of both dancers (Dorrance and Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie), while maintaining excellent technique and control. Electronic looping devices were used by the bass player and the vocalist, filling the auditorium with a sound that was harmonious and full, yet created by one individual in one moment of time. Several different styles were demonstrated, including a lyrical waltz, a lively Latin beat, a soft-shoe shuffle (tap without tap shoes) and a soulful blues. There were numerous occasions when a group of dancers would take on the role of chorus upstage and I particularly liked the excellent use of light and shade (different tones) in these moments, complimenting or contrasting with the soloist who was working downstage. While everyone worked as individuals, maintaining their own identity and style, they also came together as a company with a camaraderie and synchronization that can only be attained through years of training and creating together. For one of the final pieces of the show, the sound boards were put closely together to resemble a piano keyboard and the dancers moved up and down, sometimes frenetic, sometimes slow and controlled, to produce a piano concerto – rather like in the movie BIG, but much more sophisticated! However, the highlight for me was the beautiful duet between Caleb Teicher and Byron Tittle, while the vocalist (Aaron Marcellus) sang. Everyone in the audience could identify with the tenderness, passion, and heartache of first love.
Photo: Christopher Duggan
The technical difficulties of taking a work like this on the road cannot be overlooked and I must commend Christopher Marc (Production Manager/Sound Engineer) for the excellent sound balance and technical support. So much could go wrong with a production based on electronic support, but this show was flawless.
From a personal conversation, I knew that one of the performers was not keen on being referred to as a ‘Tapper’, yet this is a term that I am delighted to embrace, giving me a sense of belonging to a specific dance style. However, after watching this show, I understand. These performers were so much more than articulate, accomplished tap dancers, they were dancers, musicians, percussionists, improvisers, collaborators, choreographers, actors… skilled artists. I take my hat off to them all, for taking my favorite dance genre and moving it forward into the 21st century with technology and creativity, while still paying homage to the great masters of tap.
originally from the UK, has been teaching tap dance in Hong Kong for over 35 years. She has attended tap festivals in New York, Taiwan, and Hong Kong and is currently Honorary Advisor for the Hong Kong Tap Festival, produced by R&T (Rhythm & Tempo).
ETM: Double Down
Choreographer: Michelle Dorrance, Nicholas Van Young
Performance: 24 Feb 2017 20:00 Lyric Theatre, HKAPA