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Flash Fringe Journal #3, 8-30: Of Broken Floors and Blended Genres
"Break the Floor"'s Tap Stumbles; As We Go Flows

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2001 Susan Yung

Tap dance is increasingly insinuating itself into the realm of contemporary dance. Dance has become more interdisciplinary, and the intensity of tap means that it is best enjoyed in small doses, mixed in with other elements. Two such productions were presented during the recently concluded FringeNYC Festival: "Month 22," an intriguing, mixed-genre work by the duet named As We Go, and "Break the Floor," a raucous, appropriately titled ensemble effort intending, but failing, to blow away the audience.

"Break the Floor" (seen Friday at Harry de Jur Playhouse) is the latest concoction by Gil Stroming and friends. It was chiefly fueled by massive amounts of youthful adrenaline, taking shape in shin-splinting tap segments which alternated or competed with garage band rock songs. The brief scenes and songs were performed in a rapid cadence. They covered a small range: big ensemble tap-offs, sound/light/fog enhanced rock anthems, guy numbers, chick numbers, guy/chick numbers, and an anomalous traditional duet of the talent show variety. The entire production felt like a huge amount of spent energy for a modest reward.

All of the dancers were ferocious -- about what wasn't clear; perhaps the competition of performing, or making the most noise, or wanting to sneer the fiercest. The men danced with a looser style than the women, whose classical tap training slipped through on occasion, only to be quickly streeted down. The performance began with a monologue of beat-like prose that bordered on a spoof, so self-important was it. The ensuing number utilized two yard-square platforms that amplified the tapping to a deafening level; one elevated, plexi-topped tapping surface that was lit from within; and some unfortunate choreography perhaps inspired by the Knicks City Dancers, performed in sneakers by the women. Empty plastic water cooler jugs were used as drums, and with the lights down, revealed embedded light sticks.

I'm no music critic, but will venture to say that the several songs performed were formulaic, with predictably hackneyed lyrics. But the visceral energy of electric guitars, bass, and drums conveyed what seemed to be this crew's raison d'etre. It was unfortunate that when the band accompanied the tap dancers (or vice versa), the effect of the taps was virtually nullified, blanketed by the band. I was puzzled by the placement of sound monitors downstage, obscuring the audience's view of the dancers' feet. And in view of the massive amount of gadgetry (rapidly-swiveling club spotlights and fog machine) I can't figure out why the cast was shorted by the absence of any sort of program but for a postcard with the performers' names. "Break the Floor"'s warm-up act was Kah-put, a cute, sassy group of young girls who no doubt aspire to be in the next cast of "Break the Floor."

As We Go is a duet comprising Smruti Patel, a female dancer trained in classical Indian dance and modern dance, and Sebastian Weber, a percussionist and tap dancer from Germany. Presumably the show's title, "Month 22" signifies the length of time the pair has collaborated. Seen last Wednesday at the Ontologicial, the two functioned as if they've been performing together for far longer, however, intently following each other's rhythms and movements and working smoothly in tandem, despite their disparity in height of at least a foot.

They began with Patel performing an invocation, per traditional Indian dance, to Weber's percussion on clay vessels. He gradually unfolded his lanky frame and took the spotlight, vocalizing, tapping and slapping various parts of his body to her singing. He was so focused on his work and so unselfconscious that he seemed to be in a trance. Patel reappeared on all fours, scaling one of the columns in the theater with her feet and lower body half. She showed her unique vocabulary, a blend of Indian dance with contemporary modern, and sang rhythmic Indian music in a sweet voice. They concluded, logically, with a percussive danced duet -- he in tap shoes, she with bell-covered ankle cuffs -- that united the disparate genres. The duet performed with an uncommon balance of needing to connect with the audience and listening to their internal creative forces. Their intensity and unselfconsciousness were extremely appealing, in contrast to the rebellious cockiness of "Break the Floor."


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