What's left behind

Tap Olé at the Regent, Rachid Ouramdane at the ICA, Prometheus at Boston Conservatory
By DEBRA CASH  |  May 21, 2008
TAP OLÉ: Unison hoofing right out of 1940s Hollywood.

A week ago Friday, on the stage of Arlington’s Regent Theatre, dancer/producer Josh Hilberman asked for a moment of silence to mark the passing of legendary tap master Jimmy Slyde. Slyde’s death that morning just as the Boston community was celebrating International Tap Day — Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday, May 25 — was sort of like having Thomas Jefferson and John Adams die on the Fourth of July. Slyde, according to his friends, had always insisted that someone who had passed away hadn’t left but had left behind, so it was fitting that the silence should soon be broken by the clangor of the art form he did so much to preserve and advance. Tap Olé, a quartet of hip thirtysomethings from Barcelona debuting their full-evening show here in the States, made a joyful noise. Jimmy Slyde would have loved it.

Tap Olé is less a new-fangled bicultural fusion than a return to tap dancing’s foundational swingtime. Alejandro Pérez Gracia bent his contemporary flamenco guitar riffs bluesward like a Clapton wanna-be, eliciting a raised eyebrow from straight man Roger Raventós: the two were not beyond lacing their rumba with corny television themes and Beatles hits. Flamenco dancing is barely to be found in Tap Olé’s style, beyond a matador-like hand at the waist or a curling wrist overhead. How could it be? Flamenco is brooding and inward; tap, at least in the style Tap Olé has mastered, ingratiates itself with its audience. What Tap Olé does take from flamenco is fearlessness in the face of changing time signatures and the gift of making surprising decisions to accentuate the off-beat. For both the musicians and the dancers, Tap Olé’s syncopations seemed to derive equally from jazz and compas, a combination that got a special wink in Tap Olé’s performance of Chick Corea’s “Spain.”

Petite Roser Font has a bright sound to her footwork and a talent for spinning smoothly while her feet are playing out intricate musical arrangements. Occasionally she strikes a Shirley Temple “good ship Lollipop” pose that no American tap dancer would dare do, and she gets away with it. Guillem Alonso is more of a poet, whether emptying a bag of sand onto the stage in gorgeous ribbons, jack-in-the-boxing into the air, or increasing the intensity of his phrasing by adding to its density in sheer taps-per-second. Together these dancers can handle unison hoofing as crisp as any you would have heard on a 1940s Hollywood sound stage.

Tap Olé’s sunniness couldn’t have made a greater contrast with the traumatic revelations at the core of Rachid Ouramdane’s Loin. . . (“Far . . . ” or “Loin . . . ”). In this autobiographical performance piece, which the French choreographer presented at the Institute of Contemporary Art last weekend, Ouramdane seems to stand at the bottom of a waterfall flooded with images: the details of his father’s torture in the landscape of high-tech wires he commanded across the ICA’s stage floor; fans that swirl like surveillance cameras; video snippets where members of his family share stories that may or may not be reliable and faces are squeezed into fragmentary close-ups that resemble Tony Oursler grotesqueries. He’s the inheritor of intergenerational PTSD.

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  Topics: Dance , Entertainment, Andy Taylor-Blenis, Jimmy Slyde,  More more >
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