Dallas — Which came first, the dance or the music? It’s a question that dance historians answer in a variety of ways, but percussive dance forms refuse to take sides and counter with, “Why can’t it be both?” Music comes out of the movement, and out of musical creation springs dance. It’s that duality that especially inspires the first TITAS show of 2019, Dorrance Dance in ETM: Double Down, presented at AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House.
Created by artistic director Michelle Dorrance and Nicholas Van Young (a RIFF Dallas regular), the evening-length work focuses on the use of Van Young’s musical tap boards. The moveable pieces connect to a computer where the controller (Donovan Dorrance) can change anything about the sound. The production’s score comes from a variety of sources, most of which is performed right on stage. Musicians and dancers deliver melodies, rhythms, and even vocals, while also creating loops for a heavily layered effect.
The evening begins subtly, with a slow introduction to the technology and its capabilities. It takes a while for the tap maneuvers to grow more extravagant, but once it does, the dancers’ individual styles shine through for a diverse vocabulary. Warren Craft, a ballet-trained performer, finds a more abstract, fluid interpretation with his upper body. It’s so similar to local choreographer Joshua Peugh’s style of movement, that it resembles what Dark Circles Contemporary Dance might look like if they performed tap. More dance genres mix in with breakdancer Matthew “Megawatt” West. His explosive movements generate expected excitement, but he also tempers it with control and ease for a breathtaking effect.
While certain aspects of body percussion, soft-shoe, rhythmic, and contemporary tap emerge throughout, the concert transcends categories. Dorrance and Van Young’s time with STOMP shows distinctly at times, without seeming like a carbon copy. The dancers also treat the audience to show-stopping unison segments, which prove to be the most pleasing, judging from the applause and cheers. Dancers Christopher Broughton, Elizabeth Burke, Leonardo Sandoval, and Byron Tittle each demonstrate an impressive precision and dynamic range with their solo parts and among the ensemble.
Musicians have their time in the spotlight, as well. Gregory Richardson deftly maneuvers between the electric guitar and upright bass, looping the two together. Vocalist Aaron Marcellus (also a STOMP alum) uses the same tech for his vocal improvisations and also contributes some dance vocabulary.
Although the individual facets prove utterly captivating and the innovation and collaborative efforts are undeniably remarkable, the overall effect of the evening produces mixed thoughts. Because so many areas are subtle and understated, it takes a moment to realize the various nuances and complexities. Even with the more upbeat segments, the work feels a tad long. Audience reaction throughout seems equally mixed, with certain moments garnering reaction from only a small portion of patrons. They received a standing ovation for the one-night-only performance, however, proving that even though it can be underwhelming at times, it’s an important addition to our dance season.