Urban Tap

'Full Cycle'

by Lewis Whittington

February 28, 2003 -- Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia, PA

The musicians of Urban Tap position themselves around a slew of Afro-Caribbean percussion instruments that flank the stage of the Perelman Theater for a concert called 'Full Cycle.' Under lacey blue hues, Tamango, the lead dancer of UT, walks in a simple circle, dressed in cowboy hat, fringed black leather vest, ropey cargo pants and miked cowboy tap boots, while thumping out a heartbeat on the drum he is straddling.

Tamango's first solo begins with familiar enough time-steps, side-slides, heal-scuffs and arrests, but soon taps a different terrain, instructing the audience not to be dazzled by those familiar dazzling phrases.

"I'm still working" he says, "This is a musical journey," holding up his hand to prevent applause at what he knows is the easy stuff. He immediate creates an intimate atmosphere of reflection that unfolds into a freewheeling, and sometimes jarring, improvisational rhythm and dance jam session.

The ethereal environment, like that of the best live jazz, is structured to create improvisational artistry from both the musicians and the dancers. Tamamgo dances bolt upright and, even with his quicksilver footwork, his body doesn't flail around. And, indeed, he shifts our attention to the musical possibilities of tap- body as a moving musical instrument.

Naj (Jean de Boysson) is the VJ (video jockey) who projects mostly blurred and arty images of the dancers in real time that show them from all sides, which can be so distracting in a live performance, but actually works for the most part as an assimilated artistic backdrop.

Next, Philadelphia hip-hop artist Zen One, a.k.a. Ron Wood, from Rennie Harris' PureMovement Company, joins Brazilian Cabello, who steps from behind his array of hand-crafted percussion and string instruments for a display of capoeira sparring. Capoeira fuses hip-hop with martial arts and the pair engages in a pugilistic duet, surprisingly executed adagio with playful sidekicks, punch-fronts flips, yogic contortions and fannning-somersaults. Both dancers excel in freezing a move when dancing on their hands. The strength and control is astounding -- Cabello, for instance, drops out of a handstand backward, holding his body horizontally inches off of the floor.

In a cryptic tableau, Tamango appears in a shaman's mask peering at the audience and ritualistically dumping sand and proceeds in a dance mime of a tribal hunting sacrifice. At one point trumpeter Fabio Morgera is crouched down next to Tamango, horn to the floor, for a blistering duet with Tamango. As brilliant as his playing is though, some of the haughty soundscape is, at times, too derivative of Miles Davis.

Dizzying dance patterns are in abundance also within the daring of Ivan 'The Urban Action Figure' Manriquez, who enters by hurling himself over the musicians with such velocity that it's like he has punched through another dimension. Ivan brings break-dancing into another realm, out of its pretzel logic virtuosity. His headstand pirouettes defy physics of the human body -- like an animated figure, Ivan spins like a top on his head, at times without his hands touching the ground for balance. He also flies into a circle, feet pointing to the ceiling and scissoring his legs.

Pointedly Tamango introduces his entire ensemble by naming the countries they were born and as New York artists. Tamango, a native of French Guiana whose off-stage name is Herbin Van Cayseele, founded UT in 1993 and continues as its artistic director. He is carving a niche of tap and urban world dance fusion exposés, like the martial arts-inspired capoeria, hip-hop acrobatics and street dance essays.

UT attracts brilliant musicians and practitioners of fusion dance who participate as guests, making every stop a unique local event that is both visually and aurally thrilling. This ensemble creates something so momentary and unique in a time of packaged music and dance, that it is uniquely lyrical, primal and unforgettable.

Edited by Mary Ellen Hunt.

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