Rappin' With the Masters Of Tap, Hip Hop, & Rap

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

WHEN Dance Umbrella announced the first-ever Jazz Tap/Hip-Hop Festival, some people undoubtedly scratched their heads. But judging by the audience response last week at the Strand Theatre in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood, the marriage of the two genres makes sense and makes history.

Festivalgoers were treated to an extravaganza of rhythm, movement, and sound - where tap shoe meets sneaker and the past helps legitimize the present. The performances were encapsulated by the title of a piece choreographed by 19-year-old Broadway star Savion Glover: ``Gettin' Hip To Da Tap Hop.''

Glover - who's currently starring in ``Jelly's Last Jam'' and is the youngest person ever to receive a National Endowment for the Arts Dance Fellowship - was a star of the festival, performing solo tap, playing drums for hoofing legend Jimmy Slyde (the other star of the show), choreographing, and even rapping during the finale. I enjoyed one of the best seats in the house, behind Glover's No. 1 fan: his mother. She cheered the performers on: ``Go baby'' (to her son), ``C'mon guys,'' ``Work it, kids!''

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Leave it to Dance Umbrella to present an eclectic mix of acts that included the legendary Slyde; B-boys; community children just starting out in professional dance; and a percussion ensemble from Brighton, England.

The tap duo Hot Foot (Rod Ferrone and Joe Orrach) emceed the festival, getting in their own comedy moments, which included a history of their meeting (in a New York cab) and a rock parody of the song ``Wipeout.''

The Tobin Express Yourself! Tappers opened the show with an impressive display of timing for a local troupe of 14 dancers aged 11 to 14. Choreographer Latanya Jones has worked with the children for only nine months with the objective of affirming the strengths and vitality of Boston's urban youth.

Glover's piece ``Gettin' Hip to Da Tap Hop'' featured some 26 young people acting out a face-off between dancers of tap and dancers of hip hop that ends with all of them joining together in mutual appreciation.

Ghettoriginal Productions Dance Company's ``Concrete Jungle'' was a more disturbing portrayal of the challenges faced by urban youth. In the dance, they indulged in superb displays of breakdancing, only to be harassed and then gunned down by ``police.'' The dance company was formed by members of the pioneering hip-hop dance troupes Magnificent Force, Rhythm Technicians, and Rock Steady Crew.

Ghettoriginal continued with ``Moments,'' in which seven male dancers simulated slow-motion running with such extraordinary accuracy that it made you want to get in front of a mirror and try it yourself. Later, the troupe performed ``Jam'' wearing sweat suits and Nike sneakers and again delighting with street stunts - ``lockin' '' and ``poppin' '' and Gabriel (Kwikstep) Dionisio's endless spinning on his head.

Glover, introduced as the ``ultimate tap treat in the world,'' performed his solo work to the drumming of two friends whom Glover discovered performing in Times Square. The two use overturned plastic buckets as their drums.

Glover, towel in hand (always), and dressed in black, exhibited the kind of tapping that has caused master tappers to shake their heads in amazement, thinking about how many years he has ahead of him.

But the most endearing part of the show was seeing Jimmy Slyde dance while Glover drummed. The two exchanged smiles constantly, young to old; old to young, imitating each other's rhythms. You begin to wonder if there is even a floor under Slyde, his dancing is so smooth. The legendary Slyde has been in such movies as ``A Star is Born,'' ``The Jazz Adventure,'' ``The Cotton Club,'' ``'Round Midnight,'' and ``About tap and TAP.'' His wide-eyed looks and casual talking brought smiles to all the faces in the

audience. ``Tap, rap, hip-hop - call it what you want, but swing with it. I think it's here to stay,'' Slyde said.

Two pieces on the program were more performance art than pure dance: Shoehorn, a one-man show of simultaneous tap and saxophone-playing, provided an amusing routine with a serious message.

He dedicated his ``Rap Tapsedy in Blue,'' to the fight against racism worldwide, rapping such observations as: ``Failure to communicate has been the source of so much hate.''

STOMP featured eight performers who opened their ``percussion extravaganza'' by tapping tall wooden dowels. Next, five of the men played a catchy rhythm by shaking matchboxes. They ended with an all-out assault on the ears by playing every type of garbage can imaginable. They banged, danced, crashed, and, yes, also stomped in an exciting series of movements. Trash-can lids became cymbals, brooms became drumsticks, and the dancers' own calculated collisions with one another added a boisterous effect.

The finale brought everyone back on stage for rapping and dancing of the unchoreographed kind.

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