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DANCE REVIEWS : New Vigor, Life at Rhapsody in Taps

November 07, 1994|LEWIS SEGAL

The dancers in Rhapsody in Taps often look so glazed and slick in their displays of technique that a performance can be wildly animated yet strangely lifeless: the tap of the living dead.

Happily, signs of hope intruded on the locally based company's annual festival of steps and painted smiles Saturday at the Japan America Theatre. For starters, new recruit Bob Carroll enforced a redemptive rough-edged vigor in his improvisational "Night Watch" solo. Plenty of tap fireworks too, with startling changes of impetus coming from nowhere, over and over.

"Cheatin' the Snake" by guest choreographer-composer Keith Terry managed to showcase all six dancers in the company while inventively denying the most mannered among them their usual strategies of audience-courting. Hand- and body-clapping, sequencing ploys and elegant spatial patterns added to its appeal.

Two new solos by artistic director Linda Sohl-Donnell confirmed her technical excellence, with "Footprints" also capitalizing on her lyric line. But here and elsewhere on the program the clatter of fast tapping clashed with slow, moody music played by the company's fine five-member band.

In "Two Ta' Tambour," Sohl-Donnell's tapping adroitly embellished the percussion solos of M. B. Gordy, and she seemed fully awake and responsive to the moment--qualities sometimes missing when she danced alongside others in the company.

For all its praiseworthy proficiency, Rhapsody in Taps works a very narrow range of tap expression--one so lightweight it scarcely qualifies as concert dance. But its latest experiments are undeniably encouraging. And overdue.

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