Dorrance Dance, under the artistic direction of Michelle Dorrance, began their “SOUNDspace” performance at the Strathmore by inviting the audience to quiet our mouths, bodies, minds, and hearts in order to become fully attuned to the brilliant significance that ordinary, easily overlooked background splotches of noise can have when thoughtfully woven together into a rhythmic tapestry. The opening sequence of “SOUNDspace” forced the audience to strain their ears and listen in still, reverential silence. In the darkened theatre, our attention was lured by unseen dancers with everything from quiet footsteps to gentle toe taps; a single snap of fingers to a bird call; the shuffling of feet to the climbing of a staircase; and eventually, circles of sound enveloping us from all sides of the auditorium. The few patrons who were rudely talking during the beginning of the show quickly realized that the dancers couldn’t be heard over their (supposedly) hushed voices and thankfully ended their conversation in order to (finally) appreciate the performance. Elsewhere in the audience, a purse zipper was abruptly stopped mid-zip when it became a glaringly conspicuous scene-stealer.
The sheer brilliance of complex rhythms and masterful artistry of the dancers took my breath away…
It goes to show just how audible so-called background noises can be and how distracting they are during live performances. This reviewer would remind the post-pandemic crowd that we are no longer in our living rooms watching Netflix but back in public, where sitting silently is not a suggestion but a necessity. Dorrance Dance skillfully and effectively dealt with this modern day blight of manners by refusing to spoon feed their audience. They could have started their show off with a literal bang, tapping as loudly and vigorously as they did later in their performance to stir up a more raucous crowd energy. Instead, they chose to use near silence. Once the audience’s attention was snared, it was glued to the dancers for the rest of the performance.
What a performance it was! We were treated to tap solos, duets, and trios, as well as the full ensemble of troupe members. Many dancers combined other dance traditions with their tapping, making their show-stopping moments uniquely theirs—from a body beat, step squad-type performance to modern dance mixed with tap. We witnessed a musically rhythmic call and response duet between upright bass and tap dancer, as well as tap dance battles. One of my favorite parts was when two dancers poured a canister of salt onto their tap boards and scratched out novel sounds that eventually blended with the whole ensemble into a mesmerizing composition.
Throughout the performance, we were treated to many humorous moments by the dancers, but also achingly beautiful and elegant sequences that tugged at my heartstrings. The troupe also used many different means of sound production. It appeared as though they were sometimes using leather or wooden-heeled dance shoes instead of the traditional metal taps. I would have loved to have had some information in the concert program about what their approaches and methods were to dancing in the Strathmore. I’m assuming that, as in their performance in New York’s St. Mark’s Cathedral, they had to take care not to damage the floors. I feel like an educational opportunity was missed by not having show-specific content and background information in the program. As the program was digital-only, page space would not have been a publishing concern.
Regardless, whether I knew what type of shoe was producing each sound, I could hear the multitude of tonal distinctions and appreciated each one. The Strathmore’s Music Center is truly a remarkable venue in that this type of full-concert hall, tap routine could be performed here—utilizing the hardwood floors in the audience aisles and on the stairs to great effect, as well as the concert hall’s remarkable acoustics.
Dorrance Dance left no doubt in my mind that I witnessed some of the finest tap dancers in the profession, pouring their all into a non-stop ninety minute performance with unflagging energy and precision. The sheer brilliance of complex rhythms and masterful artistry of the dancers took my breath away, earning the dancers a well-deserved thundering ovation at the end of the night. “SOUNDspace” was unfortunately a one-night only event, so I highly recommend that you catch Dorrance Dance when they next come to town.
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
“SOUNDspace” by Dorrance Dance was presented on November 3, 2022 at The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane North Bethesda, MD 20852. For more information on Dorrance Dance, click here. For more information on upcoming events at the Strathmore, click here.