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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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