Keeping up with Dorrance Dance
February 19, 2019 by Susan Reiter
After three exciting and revelatory appearances at Fall for Dance, Michelle Dorrance brings her company, Dorrance Dance, to City Center for three highly-anticipated evenings at the end of this month. This tireless and inventive tap dancer/choreographer has been leading the way in opening up new possibilities for tap in recent years.
Her works have explored new possibilities of the relationship between sound and movement, intricate investigations into rhythm and syncopation, and a fascinating meeting ground between the traditions of the past and the possibilities of contemporary movement techniques.
Dorrance took time to discuss her City Center program, which in addition to her own choreography (a new work and a re-vised version of SOUNDspace) will include collaborations with Bill Irwin, and her company’s premiere of a work by tap legend Brenda Bufalino.
Your history with City Center goes back to the 2013 Fall for Dance Festival, and also includes being named a 2016-17 City Center Choreography Fellow, which provided ex-tended rehearsal space. Can you speak a bit more about that?
I love performing at City Center; everyone in the audience feels close to you. Being received in a space like that is unbelievable. The residency came at a very important time for the company. It’s a devastating problem in the tap community that a lot of the studio spaces that we were allowed to use have been closed. So, there are not many spaces that are both affordable and that we are allowed to dance in.
You seem to thrive on collaboration with a wide range of artists and this program’s work with Bill Irwin is evidence of that.
I think the nature of my excitement for collaboration is just that I often have visions for other people—whether or not I speak their “language.” If people are willing to play and create with me, what a humbling and beautiful opportunity to share and to grow. Collaboration has been the way I continue to seek out new knowledge and new experiences.
How did you and Bill Irwin come to work together?
I first met Bill Irwin as a teenager, while I was a member of North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, and he was collaborating with some friends of mine. I’ve been huge fan for a long time. The 2016 Vail Dance Festival was the first time Bill and I shared the stage. We collaborated to create Les-sons in Tradition, with Kate Davis, which we’re bringing to City Center. It’s a sweet conversation, full of his humor and eccentricity. It was so much fun to be able to perform with him. He’s brilliant. I’m especially excited about the new work Bill is creating—very specifically for Warren Craft, one of our dancers. It’s a re-en-visioning of Harlequin and Pantalone, a work that he had performed himself, for Warren to reincarnate. He’s really using Warren’s eccentricities well. Of course that includes his vocabulary as a tap dancer.
How did you decide to add Brenda Bufalino’s 1997 work, Jump Monk, to the company’s repertory?
It’s been a dream for a long time, to perform this piece. It’s a big work, for ten dancers. She has focused our attention to detail and rhythmic sensibility and the way we’re approaching the floor.
Does your company vary in size from project to project? Or is it a stable group?
We have a really strong, and pretty big, core group. There are such brilliant tap dancers in this city! I wish I could give more of them opportunities. There is such a healthy tap festival circuit, and a lot of young people seek those out. My generation was some of the first young people at those festivals, when they began occurring regularly. So, we were very lucky at that time. There was a young Savion Glover, Dianne Walker, Sam Weber. We had brilliant teachers on the festival circuit. We were learning different stylistic traditions and different approaches to technique. Savion was cutting-edge. He was doing stuff we had never seen, with such a different approach rhythmically. Now there are so many different voices for these young people to study from. There are a lot of young great up and coming dancers who are also teaching. I think it’s only going to continue to grow, this community of young dancers—and it’s very exciting.
Catch Dorrance Dance at City Center, March 28 – 30 at 8pm.
Susan Reiter is a freelance journalist who contributes regularly to TDF Stages, Los Angeles Times, and other publications.
Top photo: Jungle Blues, Dorrance Dance; by Dana Lynn Pleasant