Understatement sure ain't the m.o. of BeauteeZ 'n the Beat, the all-female dance and music troupe headed by French-Moroccan tapper Roxane Butterfly. Their colorful Symphony Space gig felt heavy, with spoken-word passages asserting Womankind and The Goddess. While sympathetic to womanist notions, a viewer might reasonably conclude that the passionate, in-your-face performancesparticularly hip-hop dancer Rokafella, Afro-Cuban dancer Goussy Celestin, saxophonist Sweet Sue Terry, and the dazzling Butterfly herselfspeak sufficiently loud and clear. Neither the Leonard Nimoy Thalia's floor nor its sight lines (unless you luck into a seat in the first few rows) favors tap dance. But Butterfly wouldn't be the star she is today if not for love and single-minded determination. When she warmed to the music and the moment, shaking off an initial tightness like a . . . well, yes, a cocoon, she became master of all she surveyed. "Why the hell do I have to dance so fast?" she asked, grinning. Who the hell cares? Just do it! Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Ronald K. Brown/Evidence first took a turn down Dirt Road: Morticia Supreme's Revue in 1994. Brown's reconstruction of this important piece, wisely retitled Dirt Road, launched 651 Arts' "Black Dance: Tradition and Transformation" series at the BAM Harvey. The title conjures the rural Southa literal destinationbut more broadly suggests the earthiness of life's spiritual path. Inspired by multiple losses in Brown's family, Dirt Road takes a nonlinear approach to showing intimate and universal acts of worship, love, mourning, despair, and celebration. Varying times, places, and nonspecific identities succeed each other or coexist onstage, forming and dissolving like ghosts. Brenda Dolan's expert lighting carves out and sometimes overlaps diverse spaces. Iconic musicfrom "Strange Fruit" to Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)"similarly distinguish fleeting temporal dimensions. One contemplates the tragic loss of artists like Billie Holiday, Marvin Gaye, and Sylvester and poets Essex Hemphill and Donald Woods, whose voices or words appear in the piece, underscoring the challenging, painful journey toward resolution and uplift. Seeds of what we now expect in Brown's mature work are visiblestrong chests open, arms flung wide and lusciously suspended, springy footwork smoothly pivoting bodies at differing speeds from one direction and level to another, a dash of West Africa, the dance club's communal, juicy release. Diedre Dawkins, Camille Brown, Keon Thoulouis, and Arcell Cabuag danced at full throttle with absolute investment. And unifying all: the values of an artist as earnest about healing the world as he is about creating beauty.E.Y.A.
Barry Blumenfeld's Tap Fusion (Duke, April) fuses tap with modern. Sometimes he asks one dancer to merge the two forms; sometimes he simply sets the metal-shoed next to the barefoot. In Seven Blessings, inspired by the Jewish wedding ceremony, the fusion works only occasionally. When tapping dancers circle a disc of light, repeating a rhythmic phrase and adding a sound to it at each revolution (a clever adaptation of the traditional tap Walkaround), soloists move in the middle silently and expansively; the contrasting forms distinguish between collective ritual and individual ecstasy. Later, when the dancers break into a hora, the tap shoes they wear seem entirely appropriate. Who knew? More often, though, one form is sacrificed to the otherthe taps get sloppy, bodies appear stuck to the floor. The work strains toward joyful awe, but attains it only in flashes of theatrical inventiona Chagall-like wedding contract is projected onto the stage, and dancers wielding white shields reveal the picture in pieces: part of a dove, a phrase of script, the happy couple.
Tap Fusion's greatest blessing is live musicKatie Down's collage of water bowls, ethereal vocals, and Brazilian percussion. The band also saved Poon, Jordana Toback's erotic cabaret (P.S.122, April). Tom Rossi's music creates the ideal atmosphere, African and Indian drumming driving a Tom Waits-style carnival, and his fez-topped players keep a groove going through the long intervals while dancers change from one outlandish outfit to another. The production's four costume designers riff on the standard four natural elements, and so does Toback, though her ingredients are more eclectic, an original jumbling of Fosse, burlesque, cancan, kung fu, and belly dancing. Shouting and sighing in rhythm, her performers stare their spectators down, a hint of tenderness hidden in their perpetual winking. They're sexy, yet the dances don't go anywhere. Is it male of me to want a climax?Brian Seibert