No longer can you expect that a tap event will be an unassuming display of foot skills. Urban Tap’s Caravane, at the New Victory through Sunday, is a glamorous show, despite its spirited improvised competitions. (It’s also short and sweet, a parade of surprises aimed—along with the early curtain times—at attracting kids and their families.)
Tamango, the show’s director, choreographer, and star, hits the stage wearing a tailcoat and puffy pants made of little strips that give the effect of feathers (he soon sheds the coat to dance bare-chested). d d Cronos, moving more like a panther than your average video cameraman, tracks the dancing, and at his console, VJ Jean de Boysson marries images to keep the screen at the back aflutter with patterns. Roma Flowers makes light magic. A veritable mountain of percussion instruments fills one side of the stage, and DJ Signify adds his own eruptions to the mix, which includes trumpet, cello, and bass.
Tamango does most of his dancing on a small miked area, and the textures he lays down—from his initial sonorous stroll to his most complex and quivering rhythms—sound more like wood than clattering metal. He is, above all, elegant. No hunkering down and slamming the floor like his skilled colleague Max Pollak. He’s also unlike Rod Ferrone, a Jimmy Cagney type in a porkpie hat, who plays the spunky vaudevillian, flipping his hat and rising onto his toe tips. Tamango carries his body erect; he may kick his legs out, but he’s always centered. His arms swing easily but sparingly. He seems to ride his tapping, pattering fluently about his little space even as he acknowledges gravity through the weight and force of his steps.
Ferrone and Pollak aren’t the only ones to solo and hold foot conversations with Tamango. Cabello launches himself into the flips and upside-down pirouettes of a master capoeirista. Caravane is sort of a world percussion festival. Tamango does a sand dance in what looks like a tribal mask. Ivory Coast stilt-dancer Vado Diomande challenges him from four feet in the air. The Guinean singer-dancer Sidiki Conde, his small, paralyzed legs tucked around him, performs on his hands. And the amazing “human orchestra” Kenny Muhammad commands his voice, vocal cords, nose, cheeks into multilayered rhythms that rock the house.
Since Kraig Patterson founded bopi’s black sheep in 1997, his choreography has grown steadily in scale and his grasp of form and eccentric turn of mind have blossomed. The company’s Danspace performances last week displayed the same musicality, humor, and theatricality we admired in Patterson’s dancing with Mark Morris’s company.
In The Feats four servicemen (Jon Guymon, Lawrence Cassella, Rubén Graciani, and Trey Gillen) frolic to Benjamin Britten’s Diversions for Piano (Left Hand) and Orchestra, Opus 21 with four women (Deborah Abramson, Ede Thurrell, Eden Mazer, and Jennifer Howard) whose hairdos are as bouffant as their 1950s shirtwaist dresses (Patterson designed the costumes with Josué Asselin). The excellent dancers’ stiff marching, cowering, wounded limping, kiss blowing, and rifle aiming become thematic material to be repeated, varied, and mixed with exuberant dancing and flirtatious encounters. At the end, the group, having donned Mickey Mouse ears, prepares to launch one of their number at the audience. The piece is extremely beguiling, if slightly confusing. What’s Patterson’s point of view? Is this combat and shore leave as a kid’s game—Ken and Barbie go to war?
Pieces (as in “going to . . . “) is simpler. It can be performed as a solo by Patterson, and when he’s joined by Bernard J. Brown, Turrell, Graciani, and Theresa Ruth Howard, the somewhat ragged unison multiplication of distraught carryings-on magnifies the notion of a whole entity splintering. Wearing boxers with backward shirts and ties and one shoe and sock each, the staff members of this “office” fall off their folding chairs, stagger, flail, and finally get trapped in the chairs, while Björk’s voice wails about how broken she is. Patterson’s over-the-top performing sets him apart from the others, which I’m not sure is his intention.
Patterson enters the lists of ballet satire with Margot, in which a bunch of divas in fluffy tutus explores the joys of mannerism and one-upmanship. The choreographer handles the predictable shovings with style, and creates at least one delicious moment in which all six women cluster tightly and then try to execute slow developpés. Some of his most intriguing designs occur in Pommes de Terre (to Philip Glass music), a kind of dispassionate Walpurgis Night in which furious motion and collapse infect the crowd. As the 14 black-clad dancers drag themselves, crawl, and galumph, they disappear temporarily behind four fabric “trees”—you never know who is going to pop from where.
In these big pieces, Patterson sometimes veers close to losing control of his material and overindulging a clever idea, but his craft, smart steps, and odd turn of mind deserve the cheers they received.
You can’t exactly say that Lawrence Goldhuber is coming out as a fat dancer. He did that without explanation years ago in the company of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane. And we loved him for it. But in When the World Smells Like Bacon, part of his P.S. 122 program earlier this month, Goldhuber good-humoredly explained his heredity (holding up pictures that showed the achievement and disappointing aftermath of his teen years in weight reduction camps) and humiliating performing experiences, while tantalizing us with the smell of bacon he’s frying up for a BLT. Just so we know what he feels like every day. He also runs us through his career as a successful heavyweight in a collage of ’80s TV commercials edited by David Brooks. He’s a knockout as the Lotus salesman leading an entire office staff in a jubilant, it’s-changed-our-lives dance.
Goldhuber uses his size (and gender) to more poignant effect in the 1998 Soy (I am) choreographed with erstwhile partner Heidi Latsky. In this he’s an old woman in a head shawl, holding a guitar and undulating massive hips, while Lola Beltran’s taped voice sings mournfully of solitude. Scrubbing the floor with her skirt, reverently covering her guitar with her scarf, this woman enters your mind and won’t get out. Goldhuber reminds us how wonderfully Jones featured his bulk in a sad King Kong solo from Jones’s 1992 Love Defined.
Some pieces have nothing to do with Goldhuber’s physique. In Gretchen Bender’s film Head Duet, he and Latsky nuzzle each other and entwine lovingly, the camera watching from very close or from above. In the charming new Dances With Wolves, he and Keely Garfield play off one another in a sour Fred-and-Ginger routine, the pair’s superb comic timing and performance subtleties a delight. Amid clever white fabric columns by Gisela Stromeyer, they traverse the dance floor with tiny, well-behaved steps that include a little rhythmic hiccup as a sign of trouble to come. He lifts her, and both look pleased. Next minute, they’re yanking each other into huge, clumsy leaps. Refinement only temporarily masks rage and confusion. In the end, she shreds his credit card.