Tap City indeed: through time (decade by decade) and the world (beat by beat)

As if to underscore the Americanness of the form, the weeks around Independence Day always see a conflagration of hoofers and hoofing in Manhattan. This year, the events are particularly rich in history and scope. Besides Savion Glover at the Joyce through next week (reviewed at the bottom of this post) and the annual live Tap City events at Symphony Space and the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts, my friend and colleague, tap historian and critic Brian Seibert’s World of Tap Dance  is a must-see and hear. It transpires during the daytime hours and into the evenings. Here’s the notice and schedule:

A Two-Day Celebration

July 6th- July 7th, 2010

(I duplicate the website announcement in full, but click here for directions):

The Segal Center is pleased to devote two days to Tap Dance, a complex American popular art with a rich and under-recognized history and a present that’s vibrant and international. Presented in partnership with the American Tap Dance Foundation, The World of Tap Dance will feature discussions with renowned tap artists across the generations, special screenings of classic and rare dance footage, and live performances by a curated lineup of dynamic tap artists. Day 1 will look back on the history of tap, with a special focus on the late and legendary Chuck Green, while Day 2 will survey the recent bloom in tap activity around the world, from Europe to Brazil to Japan.

All Day Tuesday + Wednesday, July 6 – 7, 2010
Screenings begin at 10:00 a.m.
Panels /performances at 6:30 p.m.
Martin E. Segal Theatre Center in Elebash Hall. Free!

Tuesday, July 6
A look back on the history of tap, with a special focus on the late and legendary Chuck Green

SCREENINGS, curated from his personal collection and with live context and commentary by Brian Seibert, dance writer for The New Yorker and The Village Voice and author of a forthcoming history of tap dancing. Schedule subject to change.

10-11 a.m: Early Tap

Some of the earliest film segments of tap dancing, from the silent era (when technology missed half of the art) into the early sound era, when the filming of tap dancing exploded.

11a.m.-12 p.m: The Thirties Tap dance is at the center of popular culture. Hollywood knows this and fills its movies with tap numbers. Classic routines by such legends as Bill Robinson, Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ray Bolger, and The Nicholas Brothers join classic routines by lesser-known tap masters Hal LeRoy, The Condos Brothers, Tip, Tap, and Toe.

12-1 p.m: The Forties and Fifties
Tap is the dominant dance form, but changes, internal and external, are on the horizon. Holdovers from the previous decade are joined by The Miller Brothers and Lois, Teddy Hale, and Jimmy Slyde.

1-1:30 p.m.: Lunch Break

1:30-2:15p.m: The Drought Most of the tap jobs dried up, and Hollywood gave up on the art, but dancers kept tapping, some of them making it on film or TV: Coles and Atkins, Bunny Briggs, The Hoofers, The Copasetics, Arthur Duncan, Sammy Davis, Jr.

2:15-4:00 p.m: Revival
In the mid-70s, a new generation summons older dancers out of retirement and transforms the art. While this happened mostly on stage, some of it made it to film – and to video, which changed everything.

4:00-5:15 p.m: Rare Finds
A sampling of tap footage rarely, if ever, shown. Little-known clips of big stars such as Bill Robinson and Fred Astaire and of tap legends such as John Bubbles, The Nicholas Brothers, Baby Laurence, The Condos Brothers, The Four Steps Brothers, Jeni LeGon, and Tip, Tap, and Toe meet only-known clips of forgotten figures such as Roland Holder and The Edwards Sisters.

5:15-5:45 p.m: About Tap
George Nierenberg’s 1985 documentary on tap aesthetics. Featuring Steve Condos, Jimmy Slyde, and Chuck Green.

5:45-6:15p.m: Chuck Green
A look at the subject of our evening panel discussion, Chuck Green (1919-1997). A compilation of classic and rare video is highlighted by never-before seen footage, courtesy of Jackie Shue.

6:30-8:00p.m: Panel on Chuck Green (plus informal demonstration).
With David Gothard, Josh Hilberman, Mable Lee, George Nierenberg, Jackie Shue, Tarik Winston (schedule permitting), and Brian Seibert, moderator.

Wednesday, July 7
A survey of the recent bloom in tap dance around the world.

SCREENINGS: Brian Seibert screens footage of the contemporary international scene, organized by region and supplemented with historical footage and commentary about the development of tap dancing in different parts of the world. Schedule subject to change.

10-11 a.m.: Canada

11a.m.-12 p.m.: Russia/Finland/Estonia

12-1 p.m.: Japan/Taiwan/Australia

1-1:30p.m.: Lunch Break

1:30-2:30p.m.: Spain/France/Netherlands

2:30-3:30p.m.: Germany

3:30-4p.m.: Britain/Ireland

4-4:30p.m.: Brazil

4:30-6p.m.: Expatriates, World Music, and Miscellaneous

Sweet Feet, a new documentary short on tap today by Jackie Paré

6:30-8:00p.m.: Panel on International Tap (plus informal demonstration).
With Guillem Alonso (Barcelona), Roxane Butterfly (France/NYC/Barcelona, schedule permitting), Christina Delius (Portugal/Germany), Mari Fujibayashi (Japan), Josh Hilberman (Boston), Kazu Kumagai, (Japan, schedule permitting), Olivia Rosenkrantz (France/NYC), Jason Samuels Smith (Hell’s Kitchen, schedule permitting), Gregoire Vandersmissen (Belgium), Tony Waag, Director of New York City Tap Festival, and Brian Seibert, moderator.

Plus a special historical photo exhibition on tap in London curated by David Gothard

Since we’re on the subject of tap, here’s the start of my Financial Times review this week of Da Savion’s trippy and, yes, wildly musical show, through July 10. Glover has received a critical drubbing for this outing, and Sole Power, as he punningly titles it, is far out, but it is never not musical, if you know to tune into the post-bop jazz vernacular that has long been Glover’s model. The critical slams reminded me of what balletomanes said about Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake at its premiere–that all this blaring noise didn’t count as music. I’m quite sure history will prove the nay-sayers wrong, again. Is Glover eccentric in his idea of a tap concert? You bet. But if you go along with him–let the darkness and the sound envelope you–you might hear some marvelous music of the spheres. I did, and I was even pretty skeptical until the lights went out. The review:

Rhythm king Savion Glover has long wrapped his shows around an extra-tap conceit: flamenco, gospel, classical music and now outer space. What does flamenco have to do with a galaxy far, far away? Part cosmos-loving Carl Sagan and part freaky Funkadelic mothership, Sole Power will demonstrate.

Fibre-optic stars twinkle in the black theatre sky while a soundtrack fit for a planetarium washes over us. Glover begins with his back to us, as usual. But this time it is less Miles Davis salute – signalling the strict limits any self-respecting African-American sets to audience-pleasing – than an invitation to focus on sound over sight.

Glover has long created a chasm between eye and ear, keeping his large feet close to the ground and his legs stiff while the beats come fast, warm, intricately enchained and thwackingly loud. With Sole Power, he directs our attention to that gap. At a crucial juncture, he orders the lights out in a booming Wizard of Oz voice and dances in the dark. The effect is genuinely trippy. Rhythms chug so far out, you think they’re lost to another galaxy before they sail back into view. When the lights come up, I notice that the clickety-clack that accompanies Glover’s perambulations moves four times as fast as his legs, as if an invisible man were racing inside him.

After inducing this state of awe, the hoofer suddenly gives it up. In the goofy, fabulously decked-out second act…


Badass Savion Glover in a moment of fashion-conscious repose.
Photo by Julie Lemberger

For the whole review, click here.

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