Dorrance Dance review – tip-top tap gets into the groove

Sadler’s Wells, London
Michelle Dorrance’s superb pieces range from rubber-legged slapstick to brilliantly musical moves

Michelle Dorrance may be a dancer, but musicianship is the bedrock of her talent. Dorrance’s rhythm tap (as opposed to theatrical tap dance) is as much a musical form as a physical one; some of the dancers even double as instrumentalists. The New York choreographer’s 2017 piece Myelination, preceded here by a couple of short works, is a live exchange with an on-stage jazz band – jazz in the loosest sense of the word. The title refers to a process that helps neurons transmit information quickly, and there’s a lot of info whizzing around the stage, as dancers actualise and amplify the rhythmic layers and crosscurrents of the music, and offer their own propositions.

Dorrance orchestrates her dancers as a stylish group, but there is plenty of space for their individual personalities to shine. Dorrance herself has a “Let’s do this!” air, and seemingly endless permutations of rhythm and texture at her feet. In a trio with other female dancers, their feet skim the surface of the stage, creating complex lace-like patterns.

Christopher Broughton in Myelination and Other Works by Dorrance Dance.
Showman … Christopher Broughton in Myelination and Other Works by Dorrance Dance. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

There is tall, gawky-framed Warren Craft, who has a fascinatingly awkward style and a bit of David Byrne about him. (He cameos on guitar as well.) Craft’s fidgety expulsions are like abrupt bursts of thought he’s just got to get out. In the opening piece, Jungle Blues, he slides across the stage in rubber-legged slapstick – also great.

Byron Tittle is a dancer of distinctive grace, Christopher Broughton more of a showman, his whole body joyfully propelling his beats, and Nicholas Van Young, in suit and tie, looks as if he’s come from a bad day at work and has a lot to say about it in a cavalcade of super-fast taps. Dorrance includes two hip-hop dancers who add another layer of texture.

Some rhythm tap can seem like a punishing, never-ending drum solo. Dorrance’s work is all about clarity of melody, counterpoint and groove as she upends tap dance’s cheesy reputation. Her work is great fun and full of pleasure, but it also dances with complexity, musicality, invention and effortless style.


Lyndsey Winship

The GuardianTramp

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