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Flash Review 2, 3-22: Tamango! (& Crue)
Urban Tap, and More, in the House at the Joyce

By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Vanessa Manko

NEW YORK -- Whatever one says about Urban Tap, there is no denying the ambitious artistic vision of artistic director Tamango. "Full Circle," receiving its New York premiere this week at the Joyce, is a work that not only combines tap, break, capoeira, and African dance, but also assimilates film and an abundance of musical sounds. It is a far-reaching work and one in which the viewer will encounter the riffs and scuffs of tap dance alongside the head-spins and other acrobatics of break dance. In addition to the melange of dance styles, Urban Tap serves up diverse musicians and vocalists hailing from Brazil, Tunisia, Paris, Italy, Haiti, Philadelphia, and Columbia, to name a few locales. And while "Full Circle" is an exploration into rhythm, it is also a celebration of cultural diversity.

Musicians are grouped in a semi-circle, and a large screen is set as the backdrop onto which various images are projected throughout the work. Musicians enter one by one, each adding on a musical layer in what mounts to an all-engulfing sound. Things quiet when Tamango enters and begins his tapping. He is a fluid tap dancer, adding slides to the riffs, ball changes and lightning fast shuffles, giving his dancing an ethereal quality. What is so great about this kind of tap dancing is the complex sounds created by simple moves. What ensues is a dialogue between the dancer and the musicians; something akin to the call and recall of jazz, where dancer and musician challenge each other rhythmically.

The breakdancing sections of this work were equally fun. The compact James P. "Cricket" Colter and Ivan Mariquez appeared to have springs in the places of joints as they bounced themselves, literally, off the floor and into hand stands, back flips, and head spins. Sometimes it looks as if they are moving backward and forward simultaneously, moving with a remarkable ease and control. This is a technique they've mastered and one feels confident in watching them pull out all their tricks.

One of the most exhilarating performances in "Full Circle" is that of capoeira free stylist Cabello of Brazil. Cabello moves with agility and grace through the sweeping kicks, handstands and continuous flow of movement of capoeira. But Cabello is as strong as he is agile. He manages to extend his body horizontally, with his entire weight resting on two arms. Another worthwhile performance was given by tap dancer Sheila Anozier. There is something about Anozier's style that is hard to pin down. She has less grace as a tap dancer than Tamango, but she offers such gumption, flare, and clear articulation that it makes for a refreshing performance. Donning red tap shoes, she mesmerizes with her rhythmic feats (no pun intended).

As with most overly ambitious works, there comes a moment where things fall flat. Repetition ensues and some parts get rather murky and unclear. When Tamango enters wearing an African mask, proceeds to drop sand on the floor and tap around in it, things begin to seem unarticulated and not well thought out. In short, the work could have used some paring down. Additionally, Tamango's emceeing interludes -- including instances in which he steps to the microphone and urges New York City to "relax" and to "unfasten your seat belts" -- could have been omitted. Watching the actual dancing and listening to the music would have sufficed.

On top of the wide-ranging dance and music, filmic images project on screen throughout the work. At times these images are overpowering and too busy, with shots of cities, stills of dancers, and converging images that look like Rorschach inkblots. But what is interesting is the use of two cameras that capture the actual dancers on stage, projecting them in what looks like daguerreotypes on screen. The live dancing body is juxtaposed against the film image. It's an intriguing effect because it seems to emphasize the immediacy of live performance; the film image moves along with the live dancer, but is caught in a sort of slow motion as if in another dimension.

The evening also featured the haunting live vocals of international pop star Amina and Vishal Vaid in addition to a plethora of musicians including Daniel Moreno, Fabio Morgera, Bonga (Gaston Jean-Baptiste) and Rufus Cappadocia. "Full Circle" didn't leave anything out, which proved to be both its strength and weakness. In short the viewer was brought "full circle" and then some.

Tamango, Amina, and the rest of the Urban Tap Crue are in the house at the Joyce through March 29.

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