Philadelphia is a great town for tap dance, with local masters ranging from the elegant Germaine Ingram to the exuberant Corinne Karon. But Dorrance Dance is something else again.
The four-year-old troupe made its Philadelphia debut Wednesday night at the Prince Theater, presenting excerpts from recent works that demonstrate the performers' technical virtuosity and stylistic range, plus the inventive choreography of company founder Michelle Dorrance.
In Act I, the only music was that created by the dancers' feet, thanks to special, handmade wooden taps that produced surprisingly rich sounds. This was a rare and wonderful opportunity to revel in the multilayered rhythms and unexpected accents that are the essence of tap.
Dorrance is known for interspersing group numbers with the more usual tap solos. And the unison work was impressive, focusing on Dorrance's signature moves (like slowly scraping different parts of the foot along the floor), without sacrificing individual personalities.
An early showstopper by Nicholas Van Young demonstrated both physical control and theatrical flair, including an homage to Stomp!, the long-running hit, in which both Van Young and Dorrance have performed. Van Young also exemplified the versatility of many Dorrance Dance members, settling down to play the drums during the second part of the program, while other company dancers doubled as vocalists, or played guitar or keyboard.
Act II was an entertaining, often moving, series of vignettes performed to live covers of tunes made famous by the likes of Dave Brubeck, Antônio Carlos Jobim, and Radiohead. Especially memorable were a tender duet by Leonardo Sandoval and Byron Tittle; a striking, sensual solo by Karida Griffith; and Warren Craft's riveting and eccentric turn, which segued into a loose-limbed duet with Dorrance herself.
Initially, that second-act music seemed intrusive, making it harder to hear the taps. But the band's winning arrangements - plus the exquisite singing of Aaron Marcellus - soon wove a magic of its own.