Founded in 2011 by MacArthur Fellow Michelle Dorrance, Dorrance Dance has already become a tap favorite at Jacob’s Pillow (where Dorrance received the 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award) and in Boston, where Global Arts Live has presented the company in 2015, 2017, and 2019. This weekend’s appearance was originally planned as part of Global Arts’ 2022 Winter Dance Fest; COVID turned that into the 2022 Spring Dance Fest, but Dorrance Dance had to bow out after suffering breakout virus cases. The company was back at the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, and Friday’s fabulously exuberant performance made it easy to see why the weekend was all but sold out.
The program is Dorrance’s 65-minute “SOUNDspace,” which debuted in 2013 at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, in New York’s East Village. St. Mark’s doesn’t permit metal taps on its floor, so the company had to experiment with socks, leather soles, and wood taps. The piece’s touring version gets adjusted to the acoustics of the particular performing space; the Boston lineup has eight dancers and one musician, Gregory Richardson, on bass. But if Dorrance is right to call tap “movement as music,” then the dancers are also musicians, and “SOUNDspace” is a piece of music.
That was certainly the impression I got Friday. “SOUNDspace” begins in the dark, the dancers stomping on the stairs leading down to the stage. That prompts a soft but explosive volley from the stage, as if a centipede could tap. The centipede tries out different sounds, different rhythms, imitates a tree frog. Eventually the lights come up and six dancers create complex ensemble patterns, tapping in unison one moment, off on syncopated tangents the next. Claudia Rahardjanoto’s improvised solo swooshes and skates to start; then the footwork becomes more intricate and the tapped-out quarter and eighth notes become faster 32nds. As what sounded like 4/4 shifts imperceptibly into 12/8, Dorrance explores the perimeter of her spotlight, stops and starts, shifts her weight, muses, changes time signatures, as if tapping were how she makes her way through life. On a raised platform at the back, Leonardo Sandoval solos in 64th notes full of speed and weight. He’s joined up there by Dorrance and Elizabeth Burke; everyone does something different and it all fits together.
In an extended section performed along a strip downstage, Kathy Kaufmann’s lighting leaves only the dancers’ legs visible. A quartet beats out train rhythms with heel and toe, one dancer acting as locomotive. Two more dancers take up the clackety-clack, reminding us that rhythm is music. A high-energy solo for Burke leads to a mating/battle duet for Byron Tittle and Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie, who manage to break and tap at the same time.
The second half of the show begins like the first, only now the centipede has turned into a millipede. The lights come up to reveal Richardson on stage, his arco playing proof that if dancers can be musicians, musicians can be dancers. He shifts to plucking for a question-and-answer duet with Luke Hickey, who listens and embroiders. Addi Loving joins Hickey and they tease each other while playing “Ring Around the Bassist”; after she leaves, Hickey and Richardson engage in a “Boy Finds Girl, Boy Loses Girl” commiseration.
A club vibe, with feet as percussion instruments, features Asherie and Tittle again. The stage darkens, nightbirds call, and Sandoval does a bodyslapping solo, turning himself into an instrument, telling a story without words. The ensemble taps with hands as well as feet, and in the center Asherie creates visual music with her b-girl moves. Two teams of dancers face off, each playfully tap-charging the other in turn; that leads to the closing fireworks, where overlapping rhythms give way to a unison finale that pounds like an Irish reel. Movement as music indeed.
“SOUNDspace,” by Michelle Dorrance. Presented by Global Arts Live. At: Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, May 19.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.