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The annual festival that the tap impresario Tony Waag puts together to celebrate America’s great jazz dance features exponents from all over the world as well as emerging and established US tappers. Yes, they tap-dance in Russia, Estonia and Finland, not to mention Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Israel, Japan, Spain, South Africa and Taiwan – in so many places, in fact, that one almost expected to see penguins too. But not all were happy feet. In a short but lively evening, the universality of tap was obvious, although what was on stage varied hugely from the expert to the amateurishly banal.
America’s tap roots (no pun intended) go back to Africa. As Marshall and Jean Stearns describe in their seminal book Jazz Dance, slaves brought the seeds of it to the West Indies and from there to America and particularly New Orleans, where jazz evolved. In the first number, Izzici, a South African “gum boot dance”, the Tap City Youth Ensembles performed in wellingtons with taps on them, a slap-your-thighs-and-stamp-your-feet number, forming fours and singing. Apart from the boots, though, it was unremarkable.
Jussi Lindroos, a Finn, has the lightest of whispering techniques that took him through an intense, understated piece confined within a light beam slanted along the floor. A volatile foursome from Japan, Takahiro Ayashi, Kazu Kumagai, Daisuke Omiya and Shoko Taniguchi, danced as if they’d been palling around with Savion Glover, absorbing his style, in a souped-up version of Duke Ellington’s Caravan.
What might have been fun, Brazil’s Christiane Matello’s Tribute to Carmen Miranda, with electric bass accompaniment by Gilberto de Syllos, fell a bit flat. Despite her acid-green, feather-trimmed costume and towering headdress, she never out-Miranda’d Miranda (who could?) but her tap- toe-dancing in sparkly sandals was tackily impressive.
Andrea DelConte’s classical staccato flamenco heel work contrasted oddly with Barbara’s Duffy’s bouncy, puppy tap style for their duet and solo suite. Max Pollak, Chikako Iwahori and Lynn Schwab blended with the saxophonists Paul Carlon, Norbert Stachel and Gottfried Stoger for Orisha Suite, a free-for-all to traditional Afro-Cuban music.
But it was the Japanese participants Iwahori and Kumagai who, separately, showed exceptional speed and finesse. Iwahori was light-footed and graceful in a mambo with Pollak, while Kumagai’s feet beat as fast and lightly as insect wings in a terrific concluding number.
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