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On Center: Dorrance Dance uses stage as musical instrument in February 27 tap performance

by on January 01, 2018 10:56 AM

Michelle Dorrance, “one of the most imaginative tap choreographers working today” (The New Yorker), honors tap dance’s history while pushing its rhythmic, technical, and conceptual boundaries. By incorporating other forms that have shaped American culture — such as street, club, and experimental dance — her company highlights the traditional elements of tap and its musical rhythms in a contemporary context.

Dorrance Dance, a New York City troupe founded by the 2015 MacArthur “genius” Fellow, makes its Penn State premiere February 27 in a performance of ETM: Double Down at Eisenhower Auditorium.

“This is a show that will surely do for today’s tap what Bring in Da’ Noise and Tap Dogs did for previous generations,” writes a critic for The Guardian.

Choreographed by Dorrance and company member Nicholas Van Young, ETM: Double Down is a 2016 evening-length work that uses electronic tap boards. The stage, in effect, becomes a musical instrument. The score is not just danced to but danced by the company.

ETM, which stands for electronic tap music, features eight dancers and several musicians furiously exploring acoustic and digitally produced sounds.

“Since the beginnings of tap dance, practitioners have been lugging around wooden boards, instruments used to drum upon with their feet,” writes a New York Times reviewer. “Now, in an era of electronic dance music, new possibilities beg to be explored. What if you plugged those boards into computers? That’s what Michelle Dorrance does with her troupe, Dorrance Dance, in ETM: Double Down, a fresh and innovative show … . When ETM: Double Down is rocking, Dorrance Dance is one big band.”

Dorrance started taking ballet lessons at age 3 in North Carolina, where her mother was a founder of the Ballet School of Chapel Hill. It wasn’t long, however, before she switched to tap. Like her father — who has won 21 national championships as coach of the University of North Carolina women’s soccer team — Dorrance has flat feet.

Gene Medler, her mentor, taught her both the technique and history of tap. Before creating her company in 2011, she performed in various troupes and was a Stomp cast member for several years.

“Michelle Dorrance talks like she dances: fast. Her sentences start in one direction, pause for a quick, somewhat related observation or a random aside … and pick up vaguely where they left off,” observes a writer for The New York Times. “With an ever-racing mind and big ambitions for her art form, Ms. Dorrance, who has the gangly grace of a model, has charged herself with heavy responsibilities: to put tap on the cultural map by bringing it back to the concert stage; to educate the world about it; and to choreograph.” 

Dorrance Dance was a success out of the gate. Its first performance earned a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for “blasting open our notions of tap.”

“With each performance of Dorrance Dance,” a New York Times critic writes, “tap expands.”

For tickets and information, visit or phone (814) 863-0255. John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts.





John Mark Rafacz is the editorial manager of the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.
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