ETM: Double Down – Dorrance Dance: Sadler’s Wells, 12 July 2017

Down at heel

What a seven-strong Wii team looks like. Dorrance Dance in ETM: Double Down. Photo by Hayim Heron

In some ways, it’s hard to fault Dorrance Dance’s show ETM: Double Down. The achingly hip New York-based tap dance company have seven outstanding tap dancers that provide an inexhaustible supply of beats, rhythm and joie-de-vivre. They’re joined by a couple of excellent musicians and an ingenious method of using feet to provide further music.

Traditionally, street tap dancers (or hoofers) use wooden soundboards to amplify the sound of their shoes. Dorrance Dance have taken this a step (ho,ho) forward by building lots of small trigger boards wired up to electronic software; whenever these highly mobile trigger boards are stepped on, they create musical notes and sounds. This means that the score is frequently being created by the choreography, and vice versa.

It’s very clever and full of inventive methods of presenting the art form, and yet, and yet. This may be a personal thing but beyond the technical brilliance of the dancers there’s very little else going on. Tap doesn’t emote a great deal; there’s little variation in the noises shoes produce and the cold electronic sounds of the trigger boards seemed to underline that fact.

Also, the sections that did capture my imagination, like the sparring session with the timbales players and the line of trigger boards lined up to look and sound like a piano, were invariably cut short, whereas the many improvisatory solos meandered on for what felt like an eternity.

In choreographic terms, the more thought-out approach of the ensemble routines worked best. Bizarrely though, despite its unparalleled connection to the music, the choreography often didn’t work in tandem with it. When a singer was introduced in the second half, smooching out slow, soulful melodies, the dancers were still going hell for leather in front of him.

There was also a hip-hop dancer boosting the ranks but she didn’t add a great deal to proceedings, popping up every now and again to show how many times she could twist her waist in the wrong direction. In a way, she kind of embodied ETM: Double Down; too many ideas being thrown at it, with nothing fully developed.

That all said, plenty of people in the audience loved it, so maybe tap is just not for me. I’ve seen a few tap shows now and not really enjoyed any of them so perhaps I should just admit defeat and add it to my ‘tried but failed’ list, right after Riverdance and flamenco. Hmm, I can see a pattern developing there – is there a word for a fear of noisy feet? Tippytappyphobia or something?

Dorrance Dance’s ETM: Double Down runs at Sadler’s Wells until 15 July 2017. Tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

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