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DANCE REVIEW

A troupe's cheer is far from tapped out

October 27, 2008|Victoria Looseleaf | Looseleaf is a freelance writer.

It must be hard to keep smiling for 27 years -- especially these days.

But Linda Sohl-Ellison, artistic director of Rhapsody in Taps and perpetual beamer, has been doing just that since co-founding the locally based company in 1981. And there she was Saturday -- along with six other hoofers -- as glaze-faced as ever, celebrating the troupe's 27th anniversary at the Aratani/Japan America Theatre.

Happily, there were some displays of genuine emotion during the eight-part program, one highlight being the premiere, "Tribute to Foster Johnson," Sohl-Ellison's onetime teacher, a composer and tapper who died in 1981. The work consisted of three Johnson-choreographed numbers and a loving video of the man.

In "A Cappella," veteran Bob Carroll and Gabe Copeland -- both tuxedo-clad -- tore through Johnson's vaudeville-like routine with panache. "Waltz" featured Sohl-Ellison in a heel-clicking call-and-response solo accompanied by RIT's stellar musicians.

The company then sailed through unison dips and quarter-turns in "Just One of Those Things." Another premiere, the body-slapping, "Mambo Musings," didn't take off until musical director Tim Messina erupted on soprano sax.

Copeland and Daphne Areta offered salsa spinning a la "Dancing With the Stars," while shoulder-shimmying and hip-swaying predominated in an ersatz conga line. Unfortunately, frozen smiles ruled and Ro George's unflattering costumes -- an array of brightly colored satin pants and oddly proportioned black velvet tops -- looked garish.

Carroll's new solo, "Bye Bye Blackbird," grooved. Whether skittering across the stage, walking on his heels or tossing off flurries of polyrhythmic steps, Carroll made it look easy. "Deciduous Dances" (2007) showcased Sohl-Ellison and husband Monti Ellison in tribal lite mode: She wore ankle bells around one pant leg; he sported shells and bells around his waist and ankles.

He drummed; she tapped; he sang "Autumn Leaves," she jumped and flapped her arms. Leaves then fell from the ceiling in this weird Tiki-esque excursion, with Monti also standing to shoulder-shake.

Completing the program: Mindy Millard Copeland, robotically perky, occasionally took to her toes in her solo, "Higher Learning"; the overly long "Beat! Percussion Dis- cussion" (1997) had the company riffing on drums; and "Laughing With Tears" was a veritable klezmer tap-fest -- think "Extreme Shtetl Makeover." The audience loved it.

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