TAP DANCE IS ABOUT RHYTHM, about the beat. Sure, we get excited by the Nicholas Brothers' suave style or Savion Glover's intense flailing, but it's the beat that anchors all the other effects. More than any other kind of dancer, a tapper is a musician, creating or enhancing a rhythmic matrix that underpins everything else they do. We hear their dancing as well as see it.
Tap Dance Concerto and Other Works
performed by Cheryl Johnson and Anthony Peters Broadway Performance Hall, November 21
In 1952, composer Morton Gould embraced this distinction with his Tap Dance Concerto, where the dancer fills the role of the soloist much as any other instrumentalist would. This coming Sunday, Cheryl Johnson, in a shared concert with partner Anthony Peters, takes on this particular challenge when she performs her own choreography to the Gould score. The role is infamous among tap dancers, and Johnson has been working on this project for several years. Her long-term goal is to tour with the piece, eventually taking it to Rochester, NY, in 2002 for its 50th anniversary in the city where it premiered (coincidentally, Johnson's hometown).
Johnson and Peters have been working in Seattle since the mid-1980s, a part of the resurgence of interest in tap dancing that has spawned shows like Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk and Jelly's Last Jam. The recent history of tap is one of those "just in the nick of time" stories, with new dancers coming up to learn from aging mentors who thought their skills were going to die with them. The Seattle duo fulfilled their apprenticeship and is now helping to bring along another generation, including the Tap Squad, who have been featured in productions of Mr. Popper's Penguins and "Women in Tap."
In their own dancing, Johnson and Peters frequently include references to past masters, from George M. Cohan's bounce to Eleanor Powell's sophisticated power, but they are taking these elements in new directions. Peters has an open-faced quality that makes him a quintessential nice guy in tap shoes. Johnson is more elusive, listening intently to the conversation between her sound and the music.
The balance of the concert is divided between classical and jazz music, including J.S. Bach's "Italian" Concerto and Edvard Grieg's Norwegian Dance No. 2. Award-winning pianist Yuka Sasaki will perform on the first half of the program, ending with a piano reduction of the Gould concerto. Longtime collaborators Larry Vincent Jones, Steve Kim, and Clayton Murray will join the dancers for an extended improvisation built around songs by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and Johnny Mercer, among others. But through the whole show, rhythm is the connecting element—the sound of their feet on the floor.