I always like to open interviews with a “tell me about yourself,” and Dorrance immediately responded “I love Dr Pepper, but I’ve stopped drinking it.” It was such a wonderful way to start our chat before she told me about her experience with tap.
Dorrance has an incredible history, including studying under masters of tap, joining STOMP, and choreographing numerous pieces, to name a few of her accomplishments.
“I feel very lucky to be part of my generation of tap dancers. We grew up when our great masters were still alive,” she said. With the mention of her company and how it came to be, she added, “I feel incredibly fortunate to have been a part of the community growing up and being a teenager in the 1990s when Gregory [Hines] and then Savion [Glover] revolutionized tap.”
“Everyone always says tap is coming back,” said Dorrance. What’s exciting about the show is that there aren’t many opportunities to see tap shows outside of some Broadway productions. “[The tap community] is insular, it’s a small community. It felt really exciting to be part of it, because it was a small community,” she said.
Dorrance Dance was a way to combine different talents by showcasing individual dancers, instead of creating a mold for the dancers or company. Dorrance noticed the different talents throughout her career: “There were a lot of younger dancers and people my age that were studying with me. Moving to New York and having this sea of really unique tap dancers around me, I was interested in bringing them together, but also showcasing each of them. I wasn’t interested in creating a ballet company with a core of people that looked really alike to each other. There were also people I wanted to dance and make music with.”
Dorrance Dance is set to perform their Myelination on the Southam Hall stage. While we’ve seen a few triple bills at the NAC this season, Myelination is a bit different.
“Really it’s featuring one longer work, and the other two are short stories that lead into the other. All three works are very different in tone, and it’s a good experience for an audience being introduced to tap dance,” Dorrance said.
“We’re different from a lot of other folks—we invite you to make noise. If you’re moved to make noise, feel free to!”—Michelle Dorrance
Dorrance hopes that “people go home and think ‘wow I really loved these three dancers and they were completely different.’ People want to point out the one star, but just like athletes, we want to show them each performer and show their style. The individual is a unique part of the whole! I’m really excited for how these particular works show off my company.”
The show opens with “Jungle Blues,” which “lives in more of the traditional world of tap blues, but not necessarily what people think of as traditional. Each of the two dancers gets to experience a different horn solo. Each horn has such a unique dynamic — it’s a really New Orleans–jazz feeling. It’s sort of a simple little something,” said Dorrance.
The music choice for the performance: “Branford Marsalis! For that reason I use the recording—who’s going to match his performance.”
“Three to One,” the second piece in the triple bill couldn’t be more different from the first, said Dorrance.
“[It includes] Radiohead’s Tom York’s epic compositional voice. That piece features one tap dancer and two barefoot dancers. I don’t want to give away too much about the piece!” Dorrance said.
The final piece, “Myelination,” is an original composition by the company’s musicians, heavy with improvisational dance solos, a style that Dorrance likened to the technique of William Forsythe.
“I think at any point—close your eyes and listen because for us, the musical element—the composition—is just as important as the visual composition.”—Michelle Dorrance
“It’s an original composition by our musicians. What I mentioned before is we feature each dancer as an improvisational soloist! I think there is a pretty structured emotional narrative; I try not to force it down anyone’s throats, so people can superimpose their own feelings on the dancers. That all features two dancers that are not tap dancers—they’re both breakers and house (hip hop) dancers. The way it polarizes is a unique element of the show. I’m really proud of the way each of them perform and their solo moments,” Dorrance said. “There’s a sense of novelty that comes with each performance because of these improvisational solos: Those solos can change every night because they’re improvised. Whatever choices they do make they make with full honestly, vulnerability, and intention. One dancer in particular, Warren Craft, really pushes the element.”
Dorrance suggested the audience pay attention to sound: “I think at any point—close your eyes and listen because for us, the musical element—the composition—is just as important as the visual composition.”
Her advice for new spectators was fresh and quite different from a lot of the advice I usually hear and publish.
“What I would say about tap dance, in particular, is don’t walk in with any preconceived notions,” Dorrance said. “Allow us to invite you in because we want to. You don’t have to sit on your hands and be reverend—you’re allowed to be part of the show. We are not jarred or upset by people who become a part of it.”
“We’re different from a lot of other folks—we invite you to make noise. If you’re moved to make noise, feel free to!” she said. Dorrance mentioned there would be a pre-show announcement that lets the audience know that participation is welcome!
Dorrance Dance performs Myelination at the National Arts Centre (1 Elgin Street) February 29th at 8pm on the Southam Hall Stage. The performance runs approximately 70 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available here and range from $31-$91. Half-price student tickets and $15 Live Rush are available for this performance.