Percussive dance has long enjoyed a rich and diverse significance in the history of movement arts, with origins that extend out from African tribal dances into the arteries of Spanish flamenco and Irish clogging. But it wasn’t until the early 1920s — when dancers began nailing or screwing “taps” onto the heels and toes of their shoes — that American tap dancing as we know it shuffled onto the streets of New York City, eventually landing on the soundstages and in the vaudeville halls of Hollywood.
As a sprightly member of the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, Michelle Dorrance was mesmerized by the complex and syncopated steps that defined this highly technical dance form, pouring over the history and styles of tap as she made her way east to study at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. When she formed her own company, Dorrance Dance, in 2011, she knew that her approach to tap dancing would reflect a generational style — “not by stripping the form of its tradition, but by pushing it rhythmically, technically, and conceptually.”
Thanks to the programming prowess of UCSB’s Arts & Lectures, Dorrance and her company will be hitting the Granada stage on Sunday, May 5, for her latest incarnation of new- and old-world traditions with ETM: Double Down, an evening-length work combining high-octane hoofing with a technically driven interactive stage that reacts to movement and sound underfoot. Using an electronic tap board, eight dancers and three musicians will work in unison to create a soundscape that underscores the intrinsic relationship between music and dance. (Early recordings of tap dancers have demonstrated that their syncopations were years ahead of the rhythms in popular music.)
Following in the footsteps of grand dame choreographers Jeni Le Gon, Lynn Dally, Linda Sohl-Ellison, and Brenda Bufalino, Dorrance is no doubt leading the charge as torchbearer for this electric dance form, balancing fresh innovation with nostalgic appeal to bring the wit and charm of tap dancing to new audiences. For one night only, Santa Barbarans will be treated to the critically acclaimed choreographer’s infectious flavor of “buck and wing,” “rhythm,” and “freestyle” tap — classic styles turned on their head in signature Dorrance fashion. You don’t want to miss it.
UCSB’s Arts & Lectures presents Dorrance Dance Sunday, May 5, 7 p.m. at The Granada Theatre (1214 State St.). Call 893-3535 or see artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.