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Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer  |  April 01, 2016

Dorrance Dance coming to Cleveland with revitalized tap, and live music (preview)

CLEVELAND, Ohio Everything you know (or think you know) about tap dancing is about to be invalidated.

Whatever stereotype, whatever past experience, whatever old image of tap you're cradling in your mind: Dorrance Dance, the latest offering on the 60th anniversary season of DanceCleveland, is certain to dash it.

Tap, proclaimed company namesake Michelle Dorrance, is not only America's oldest original dance form. It's also, she added, "so misunderstood.

"People have no idea. It has such a dynamic range. Anything is possible. Any stylistic form can be a part of tap."

Even the way Dorrance talks about tap is different. Where others speak of steps and choreography, Dorrance, by phone from the troupe's New York home, frames tap as a kind of music, referring to her feet as instruments.

Steeped in dance practically from birth, the North Carolina native and former New York "Stomp" cast member said she gravitated to tap and went on to found her own company in 2011 because tap aligns with her innate senses of rhythm and melody. Never mind that tap is unusually hard on the body, especially the feet and ankles, or that longevity hinges on being "obsessed" with "maintenance."

"I think that's why I excelled in it," Dorrance said. "I fell in love with it as a musical dancer. There's so much to explore with our two feet and bodies. There are always ways to innovate."

Evidence of that truth will be front and center at Cleveland Public Theatre, where Dorrance Dance will appear April 7-9 as a first-time co-presentation by DanceCleveland and DanceWorks 2016.

Whether or not the company performs its latest, still-in-the-works creations remains to be seen, Dorrance said. At a minimum, though, she said, the troupe will present two works from its touring rep: "SOUNDspace" and "Myelination."

The former, a long work calling for the full touring company, explores that very notion of tap as music. With help from at least one live musician, the troupe will combine various shoes and surfaces and tinker with the elements of music to create a work as that's both composition and dance.

The other, "Myelination," is both shorter and more theatrical, Dorrance said. Employing the full complement of musicians traveling with the troupe, the piece expands on the tap-as-music idea but also unveils tap's rich emotional and humorous dimensions. One prominent review of "Myelination" said the piece "showcases a bit of everything" and "pushes the boundaries of tap."

What makes tap uniquely American, Dorrance said, is its individual nature. Every performer has his own style, and improvisation plays a central role.

But it isn't just the dancers who exemplify individuality. The audience does, too, at least in Dorrance's case.

"Everybody has their own favorite parts of the show," Dorrance said. "I love it."

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