When the L.A.-based Jazz Tap Ensemble returns to the Joyce Theater November 26 through December 1, it will come, as usual, bearing guests. Since its inception in the late ’70s, by three modern dancers who tried to revive their first love, tap, by mounting it on their concert stage, the Ensemble has always brought tap veterans with them—the late Honi Coles, Eddie Brown, and Steve Condos. During the Ensemble’s 1999 visit to the Joyce, Harold Nicholas gave one of his last performances before his death. The Ensemble’s formula was shrewd: modern experimentation balanced against living, dancing connections to jazz tap tradition.
This year, however, will be different. While teaching in UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures, artistic director Lynn Dally made new friends: artists in flamenco (Liliana de Leon), Bharata Natyam (Mythili Prakash), and Javanese dance (Eko Supriyanto, who won’t appear because he couldn’t get a visa). In her Joyce program, Dally incorporates her guests into novel combinations, like a tap-flamenco duet, and as unusual ingredients in old recipes, like her 1988 All Blues. “It’s the same dance,” Dally says, “and yet the new flavors are wonderful!” Whether or not the experiment works, the juxtaposition should provide a fresh perspective on the Ensemble’s tap dancers Derrick Grant, Channing Cook Holmes, and Charon Aldredge. Dally has a great eye for talent, and these young artists, each featured in a new solo, are some of the finest around. With fewer and fewer old masters alive, she’s searching for a new direction, but she hasn’t forgotten her original formula. Only these days, partly through Dally’s efforts, the tap tradition has grown young.