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DANCE REVIEW

Beantown fest taps into past, present, and future

Michelle Dorrance and her company and Aaron Tolson were on the bill at the Beantown Tap Fest Friday night in Watertown. Michelle Dorrance and her company and Aaron Tolson were on the bill at the Beantown Tap Fest Friday night in Watertown. (Emily Henderson (Left), Lois Greenfield)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / August 22, 2011

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WATERTOWN - Imagine the rocketing rhythmic footwork of tap dance fused with the rolling hips and shimmying shoulders of salsa. Or tap combined with the sharp isolations of hip-hop, the weighted, off-center shapes of modern dance, or the stark theatricality of postmodern abstraction. Traditionally, the Beantown Tap Fest’s big dance showcase unfurls a series of improvised solos by its esteemed faculty. But this year’s “On Tap!’’ Friday night, produced by festival founder and director Julia Boynton, did that and more, giving an enthusiastic crowd a glimpse of tap’s past, present, and very lively future.

The most adventurous work came from the two Bessie Award-nominated guests from New York. Michelle Dorrance is not only a dynamo in tap shoes but a compelling, imaginative choreographer as well. She and her company, fresh from performances at Jacob’s Pillow, performed two works that stretch the boundaries of tap. “Three to One’’ put a tap-shoed Dorrance in between two barefoot dancers, Scott Nicholson and Mishay Petronelli. Stark lighting highlighted feet that skittered, knees swiveling in and out, bodies twisting side to side, casting the contrast between bare feet and hard shoes into sharp relief.

Excerpts from “a petite suite’’ were considerably lighter in tone, with an undercurrent of narrative. Playful competitiveness winked in and out of group sections, which complemented the dancers’ skillful tap work with striking body shapes and floor patterns. Ryan Casey and Elena Steponaitis were adorably floppy in a duet that suggested dancing rag dolls.

Max Pollak, a New Yorker by way of his native Austria and time in Havana, merges tap with Afro-Cuban influences. His solo brought him dancing, clapping, and singing down the aisle, ramping up the rhythmic activity not just with his feet but with body slaps and beat boxing, drawing the crowd into call and response rhythmic games. His jazz tap work is enlivened by the quick cross steps and sensuous body moves of Latin dance, arms pumping furiously. With the Yoko Miko Trio, which deftly accompanied many of the night’s solos, Pollak created a sophisticated web of cross rhythms.

Aaron Tolson peppered his solo with high-stepping hitch kicks, skitters, and slides, the heels, toes, and sides of his feet etching squiggles into the black Marley floor. Barbara Duffy’s supple knees and swinging arms created a bouncy, almost floating style in the upper body complemented by fleet, crystalline footwork. Petronelli contributed a compellingly dramatic and athletic modern dance improvisation that seemed a little out of place, but Lauren O’Donnell’s stylish, dynamic “Flamenco por Alegrías’’ was illuminating, highlighting similarities and differences within styles of percussive dance. While the footwork was not as flashy as in most of the evening’s tap routines, she showed tremendous flair in fluidly expressive arms and sharply shifting planes of the upper body.

Kudos for most inspiring performance go to Sean Fielder’s enthusiastic Boston Tap Company. Ranging in age from 7 to 33 with a variety of body types and skill levels at play, the dancers of this spirited homegrown troupe were so clearly out there for the total joy of dancing. And the four talented soloists who joined Fielder to open their set showed not just skill but impressive imagination. As the group stomped a repetitive groove, each took a solo, displaying risky, off-balance moves that took them on their toes, sliding across the floor, and jumping and twisting midair.

Josh Hilberman opened the show with his playful, crowd-pleasing “Square Dances,’’ a kind of loose-limbed, ring-around-the-rosy for himself, Steponaitis, and Shannon Sullivan that was tightly choreographed but still left room for some breakout solos. The most charming section was set to a simple children’s song, letting the gentle taps and slides of the dancers create a delicate, syncopated filigree within the lilting rhythms of the music. The concert’s finale pulled all the cast onstage to unite in the classic “Shim Sham.’’

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.

ON TAP! Beantown Tap Fest

At: Arsenal Center for the Arts, Friday night