Dallas — Tap dance comes and goes in the public interest, but behind the scenes, it churns and bubbles and sends out sparks. Every once in a while, those sparks ignite into an entire show. Such was the case on Jan. 14 at the Wyly Theatre, where the Dallas-based Rhythm in Fusion Festival: Tapn2tap unleashed a stunning variety of dance styles. Everything made an appearance from a torrent of sound to a little pitter-patter, from scraping the floor with a foot to parking high on tiptoe, to choreographed ensembles to freewheeling improvised solos.
Just as the style varied, so did the music; heavy on jazz, but offering plenty of pop, blues, big band and rock. Giving the show even more punch, the RIFF Jazz Band performed in the second act, giving the show added intensity.
Saturday’s show was the main event, but the festival features several days of workshops and classes, contests, informal performances, music theory, history and film. Produced by founder Malana Murphy, this was not a small-scale show: artists came from New York, Brazil, Los Angeles, Cuba, Washington D.C., and Canada as well as from all over Texas. Their backgrounds include performing with Savion Glover’s Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk to So You Think You Can Dance. Several were members of Austin-based Tapestry Dance Company, the only professional tap company in the US. Just about everyone had appeared in festivals all over the globe, or in commercials, industrials and dance competitions.
As with every other art form, the best gauge of its vibrancy will be the next generation. The most telling example came with the offspring of local legend Buster Cooper. Buster died last year, but his granddaughter Keira Leverton has preserved his choreography and the music from Choreo Records, which was a local vinyl record company active in the late ’50s though the early ’80s, owned by Buster, that recorded original compositions featuring local jazz artists and distributed them to studios and performance companies nationwide.
Six smart young dancers hoofed it up in Choreo Record’s “Airmail,” a bouncy, high-energy jazz piece originally created by Henry Threadgill and two others. Just like Buster once did, they looked like they were having the time of their life.
All the other youth groups—there were 11 in all—bode well for the future of tap; all were sharp and musical, relaxed and unfussy.
But they were only half of the program, and it was up to the professionals to rev things up. Each had a distinct style and a personality to match. There was Dianne Walker, subtle and smooth as silk, strikingly different from a deliberately awkward Matt Shield, who pushed the boundaries of balance by shooting his legs out far apart, grinning all the while. There was a sassy, head-tossing Chloé Arnold of So You Think You Can Dance; Max Pollak, combining complicated Afro-Cuban rhythms with body percussion and an easy style; and Savion Glover-inspired Derrick Grant, sliding backward with the most subdued of taps.
There were eight solos in all, quick as lightning and just as exciting. It ended on a giddy note with a classic jam where everyone got to let loose one last time.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.