Of all the intriguing Dance performances that anybody is going to put together this year, the one that Chicago Tap Theatre is presenting on Saturday April 20 just has to be one of the most promising. The much admired Chicago ensemble is joining with two of Europe's most imaginative tap companies in a program called Liaison; the whole idea is to show a one-night only audience at the Athenaeum Theatre just how many remarkable ways rhythm, movement, music and imagination, in other words tap dancing, can brighten a night.
Chicago Tap Theatre will share the Athenaeum stage with two very different groups of dancers, Tapage, from Toulouse, France, and Tap Olé from Barcelona, and perhaps the best short explanation of why this concert has so much to offer comes from Tap Olé's website, where the Company shares this insight: "... fusion is a universal language, which combines the creation of new and exciting sensations". Fusion is at the heart of Liaison, because the three Companies are not just presenting their own uniquely imaginative ideas of what tap dancings is, and is becoming, they also perform together, with live music, in a number of the works.
The reference to fusion at Tap Olé's site is actually to their very unique vision of the interaction between Spanish music and tap dance; the Company consists of Guillem Alonso and Roser Font, both dancers and choreographers, and guitarists Roger Raventós Mateu and Alejandro Pérez Grácia. Their precisely colorful presentations find a myriad of ways that the rhythm and energy of these two distinct arts can be melded into a new kind of audience enchantment.
Tapage is a group of twelve French tap dancers with a similarly far-reaching vision; Artistic Director Valérie Lussac's approach to the art is especially broad in its conception, and she sees the very success of tap's history as a major opportunity for its expansion. "Because the best known forms of tap have been done so well," she says, "It gives us the freedom to try new things." Lussac creates architecturally intricate visions of tap, and the Tapage dancers present a new but complete dynamic in the art's progression.
Among the works that the three Companies will present in Liaison, one in particular is emblematic of the forward looking fusion that motivates the evening. Same but Different is an acapella work that Chicago Tap Theatre Artistic Director Mark Yonally originally created for his own Company, but for Liaison, he had the idea to dramatically expand the work's fascinating concept. He recorded the rhythms of the work's performance, and sent them to Tapage and Tap Olé without any video, the idea being that each Company would choreograph their own interpretation of movement to the sounds of the piece's rhythms. Until the arrival in Chicago of the dancers from Barcelona and Toulouse, none of the three Companies had any idea what the others had created, yet they've constructed a joint performance of all three Companies, each with different movements to identical rhythms.
It's an approach that would be difficult to imagine, except for the refined rhythmic understanding that tap dancers share. "When we have a rhythm, we can already see a movement," explains Tap Olé's Alonso. "It was organic for us, it was natural, but everybody, especially dancers from different cultures, has a different way of moving organically." Tapage's Lussac was equally enthusiastic, and equally undaunted by the unusual challenge. "The easy part was not to be restricted by the music," she says, "the hard part was to figure out how not to move too much, to make it simple, so that when there are three companies combined it would not be chaos." It promises to be a remarkable sight, three outstanding but completely different artistic ensembles performing together, almost at once both independent and in unison.
Liaison is a measure of the kind of boundary defiant understanding that like-minded artistry can achieve. "It's the ability of music and rhythm to communicate beyond language, beyond culture," Yonally explains. "We can express our emotions to each other, we can make each other laugh, and we can do it without words."
Liaison will be presented one night only in Chicago, prior to its European tour in September, on Saturday, April 20 at 8PM. Tickets are available from The Athenaeum Theatre.