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Jazz Tap Ensemble: Tap Roots

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Jazz Tap Ensemble: Tap Roots
(Jazz Tap Ensemble Website)
Lynn Dally, Artistic Director
Musical Director: Jerry Kalaf
Sound Design: Don Tittle
Costume Design: Leighton Aycock
Lighting Design: David Covey
The Joyce Theater

Dancers: Sam Weber, Jason Samuels Smith, Chloe Arnold,
Maya Guice, Phillip Attmore, Ananda Bena-Weber

Musicians: Doug Walter, Piano
David Dunaway, Bass
Todd Anderson, Saxophone
Jerry Kalaf, Drums
Leslie Lewis, Voice


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 21, 2008

This dynamic ensemble of tap dancers was entertaining, energetic, and overflowing with enthusiasm. The tap tributes to the TAP GREATS, such as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, John Bubbles, Fred Astaire, Eleanor Powell, the young Nicholas Brothers, Gregory Hines, Gene Kelly, Coles & Atkins, and the Condos Brothers, were dynamically and dramatically performed in solos, duos, and ensembles, after the audience was treated to an “Overture”, a film montage of the early American Tap genre. Act II also included “Bahia Dreams’, a commissioned work for the Joyce Theater’s 25th Anniversary Season. Lynn Dally choreographed this work to an original score, “Xango”, by Jerry Kalaf, today’s Musical Director and drummer. Sam Weber and Jason Samuels Smith added scintillating improvisations to this Premiere.

Tribute highlights were: “Jukebox”, danced by Maya Guice and Phillip Atmore, for Astaire and Powell, “Lucky Number”, danced by Chloe Arnold and Maya Guice, for the young Nicholas Brothers, “That’s How You Jazz”, danced by Jason Samuels Smith and the Ensemble, for Gregory Hines, and “Gotta Dance (B’Way Rhythm)”, danced by Philip Attmore and the Ensemble, for Gene Kelly. These tributes were ambitious and extremely well performed, especially in the case of Jason Samuels Smith, who riveted the audience with high-flying gymnastic-tap, using stairs and props, and every bit of the wooden tap dance floor. This is a dancer we will surely hear about again, very soon. “Takin’ a Chance on Love”, a “Softshoe Tribute to Coles & Atkins”, brought out Leslie Lewis on vocals, and Jason Samuels Smith and Chloe Arnold were rapturous and danced with tour de force virtuosity.

“Mayor of Harlem”, a Bojangles tribute, included Sam Weber on an up and down staircase, plus Jason Samuels Smith in his mesmerizing solos. This Bojangles choreography also featured the ensemble in “Doin’ the New Lowdown”. My favorites were: “It Ain’t Necessarily So”, music by the Gershwin Brothers, a John Bubbles tribute danced by Jason Samuels Smith and Leslie Lewis, “Top Hat”, with Sam Weber re-creating Astaire’s memorable dance, and “Begin the Beguine”, danced by Ananda Bena-Weber and Sam Weber, all performed with beguiling bravura.

“Sand” and “More Sand”, danced by Philip Attmore with Ananda Bena-Weber and later with Sam Weber, had the dancers sprinkling sand on the floor for that old-fashioned gritty tap effect, a great throw-back to the old Broadway dance films. “War Dance of the Wooden Indians”, a tribute to the Condos Brothers, was danced in full Indian head-dresses, by Sam Weber and Jason Samuels Smith, and the children in the audience loved this historical work. “Clown Bit #1” and “Clown Bit #2”, created by Bill Irwin, were both danced by Sam Weber, and, again, the children in the audience were engaged by the humor and wiggly motion.

Act II featured the premiere work, “Bahia Dreams”, mentioned above, “Interplay”, in memory of Dr. Jimmy Slyde, who choreographed this work for ensemble and solo dance in 1995 to a score of jazz standards (and today it includes Jerry Kalaf originals), “Groove”, with Jerry Kalaf’s score and Gregory Hines’ choreography, danced by Jason Samuels Smith and the ensemble, “Boogie Strut”, danced by Phillip Attmore, with Anada Bena-Weber and Maya Guice, plus the “Finale”. It was this “Finale” that brought the house down, as Sam Weber and Jason Samuels Smith led the ensemble in a Tap conversation, as each one-upped the other in rapid, spinning, dare-devil Tap.

Jazz Tap Ensemble, founded in 1979, is the first touring tap repertory company, the Joyce notes say, and its performance today, as part of the Joyce series, was contagious. In fact, I was accompanied by my five year-old niece, Camille, who received her birthday tap shoes as her gift, during the intermission of this production. Upon hearing the “tap tap” sound of the shoes against the lobby floor, Camille broke into a tap dance, her first, and some of the Joyce audience encouraged her to dance and dance, evocative of today’s Act II work, “Gotta Dance (B’Way Rhythm)”. Kudos to Jazz Tap Ensemble, the talented musicians, and guest artists, plus Lynn Dally and Jerry Kalaf.

Jason Samuels Smith
Courtesy of Rose Eichenbaum

Camille Taps in the Joyce Theater Lobby
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Camille Taps in the Joyce Theater Lobby
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

Camille Taps in the Joyce Theater Sidewalk
Courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at