Michelle Dorrance goes to a lot of places, and every time she does, she brings something. Just about anybody who sees her perform, checks out her choreography, or just reads about her in a magazine sees it right away, but If you asked every single one of them what it is that Michelle Dorrance brings, what exactly she has, you might never get the same answer twice. There are so many dimensions, so many perspectives, so many moving parts to everything she’s doing that everybody sees it a little differently; she brings a lot to the art of sharing her art.
Surprisingly, it’s possible to not even know about Michelle Dorrance if you don’t know anything about the rich past, and richer present, of tap dancing; If you do, though, you really can’t miss her. She’s the one with the rocket-quick step, the stylish look and the bass-player-in-a-rock-band steadiness, the one on the cover of Dance Magazine, on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with STOMP and Paul Simon, at The Blue Note Jazz Festival and at the United Kingdom’s prestigious Royal Variety Performance. She’s known both as a dancer and as a choreographer, as someone who can pull from the past while she pushes the future, and she’s the only tap choreographer the Princess Grace Foundation has ever recognized with a Choreography Fellowship.
Dorrance began dancing at the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, as Gene Medler was making it into one of the brightest stories in preprofessional dance, and the mixture of history and creativity that illuminated the NCYTE program has a lot to do with the way Michelle Dorrance can light it up now. The North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble is a repertory company, but the young dancers Medler teaches learn the art of improvisation at the same time that they learn about the art of choreography.
Because she came up through a respected repertory Company, Dorrance learned tap dancing from some of the art’s most admired and irreplaceable icons. “She is one of a small group of dancers who had a chance to work with the generation of vaudeville, Broadway, master hoofers who have almost completely passed,” observes Lane Alexander, the Artistic Director of Chicago Human Rhythm Project.
At the same time, though, because she came up in a world where the art of improvisation was an essential part of her training, Dorrance is always on to something new. The faster-than-thought creation of dance while you’re dancing has been part of tap’s enchantment from the beginning, and Dorrance began learning it early. “I was improvising before I even remember doing it,” she says, and she brings the intrinsic creativity of that unique respect for the moment to her choreography as much as to her performances.
Dorrance has just created a new work called Push Past Break for BAM!, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s exceptional resident ensemble. BAM! will perform the work on Thursday, April 4 for the Auditorium Theatre’s MUSIC + MOVEMENT FESTIVAL with a live performance by the Greg Spero Trio and jazz vocalist Teresa Thomas, before they go on to present it on tour in Michigan, at the Spring to Dance Festival in St. Louis, and again this summer at JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance.
Watching Dorrance’s final rehearsal with BAM! in Chicago is like watching a seminar in how to balance discovery with respect. Push Past Break is a fusion of action and imagination, where moments of character stories intertwine with the rhythmic arrangement of choreography and the individual creativity of dancing. It’s an absorbing precision, and Dorrance and BAM! put it together with a shared awareness that the only way to bring dance this rich to an audience is to be balanced inside it, moving easily between the established forms of a storied art and the brand new looks of that art’s next steps.
That’s where Michelle Dorrance finds it, in the past and in the future; that’s where she gets whatever it is that everybody can see that she has. That’s why her performances and her choreography can elicit such a variety of enthusiasm, because there’s such a variety of artistry available to anyone who knows where tap came from, and even more to anyone who can see where it might go next. Just go see for yourself.
BAM! will perform Michelle Dorrance’s Push Past Break on Thursday, April 4th at 6PM at the Auditorium Theatre for their MUSIC + MOVEMENT FESTIVAL