Brief but brilliant solo dances are one of life's extraordinary pleasures. Interaction between performers at the top of their game is another. At Highways in Santa Monica on Thursday there was a taste of that, offered up in the name of world dance hybridity, on a program that brought together performers from tap, modern, flamenco, bharata natyam and Javanese dance. All were under the direction of the Jazz Tap Ensemble's Lynn Dally and enjoyed the impeccable jazz underpinnings of musical director Jerry Kalaf.
Called "Rhythm-a-ning," the program started mildly, with the focus on Dally tapping alone, then trading percussive phrases with flamenco dancer Liliana de Leon. Would this be one of those "Anyway you can stamp, I can stamp different" fests? Not once the next three soloists expanded the rhythm theme with their amazing sense of attack and shape-making.
First there was the razor-edged modern dancer John Pennington in "Footprints," lunging, carving and spiraling his way around the small space with jazzy abandon, plunging in and out of the clearest-cut shapes this side of Baryshnikov.
Then, the impossibly fluid Eko Supriyanto in "Slow Blues," gliding through elegant little essays in cool, making sudden Javanese warrior dives and lyrical, Elvis-like recoveries to the bluesy guitar of Bill Fowler and solid bass of Domenic Genova. After that, Channing Cook Holmes, in "Seven," tapped out his side of an edgy conversation with the beat--bullying it, sweet-talking it, spinning around its edges and making it sing. "Solea" provided a meeting point for these three forces, as well as De Leon and bharata natyam dancer Parijat Desai.
It was a bracing series of interactions that could serve as a model for danced international diplomacy and daring. Tap and flamenco propelled a great tango. Postmodern Javanese dancer and tapper improvised handily with the modernist. Bharata natyam dancer and flamenco dancer found they had filigree hands and elegant arms in common. Everyone did palmas (clapping). There was a sense of ebb and flow, using whatever energy was on the table, all to the wandering soprano sax of Doug Walter, in a Kalaf composition that could have come from half a dozen countries.
Watching the seemingly unforced interaction, you couldn't miss the metaphor. The dancers came from different places--it was written all over their bodies after years of training and moving in particular patterns. They came on strong, but they also shifted and "listened" and pretty much spoke in tongues. Not tepid multicultural musing but a sharply executed experiment.
On more familiar territory, Dally's group piece "Noche," with its seductively simple unison taps, lyrical upper bodies and clockwork meandering, provided a nice showcase for tappers Becky Twitchell, John Kloss, Melinda Sullivan and Namita Kapoor.
"Rhythm-a-ning," Highways, 1651 18th St., Santa Monica. Tonight, 8:30. $16. (310) 315-1459.