New York On Tap

A fine collection of tap dancers grace the London stage

Two sell-out crowds packed London's Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank on Thursday 6 and Friday 7 June 2002 for New York on Tap, a celebration of the art of American rhythm tap dancing. Featuring dancers from the UK and the US and a small band, the show was an imaginative piece of programming as well as fine entertainment.

The event was compered by The Jiving Lindyhoppers' Carolene Hinds, with occasional help and hindrance from Will Gaines. Will was on fine form with his cheeky sense of humour, and also took a turn on the boards.

The show opened with the instrumental Speak Low, featuring the band led by Malcolm Creese. They were joined by the UK Tappers for an introductory piece, C Jam Blues.

First up for the solo pieces was American Barbara Duffy. She presented some neat footwork to A Soldier's Hymn. Barbara was followed by Lorraine LeBlanc, with her interpretation of Stacks.

The fun really started with the arrival of Diane Hampstead and Junior Laniyan. This piece took the form of a tap challenge, with each trying to outdo the previous steps of the other. Another Jiving Lindyhopper, Theresa Jackson, followed this with Killer Joe. This was a tap conversation with bassist Malcolm Creese, who took centre stage as Theresa danced around him.

A fine technical dancer, Marshall Davis performed All Blues, in very difficult 6/8 time. While admiring the technique, Davis made no effort to interact with the audience. His heads-down approach was reminiscent of those gloomy indie pop bands of the Eighties, which were densely populated by similar shoe-gazers. This was a performance to be admired, rather than enjoyed.

Fortunately Will Gaines rose from his stage-side seat to bring a smile to everyone's face. First with a solo piece, and then joined by some friends from the Edinburgh Festival. Poet John Dowie, who had written a piece for him, and saxophonist Charlotte brought the first set to an entertaining close.

Willow Weep For Me was the number chosen by the band to open the second half of the show. The four-piece featured Matt Scanlon on drums, Gareth Williams on piano and Rickey Woodard on tenor saxophone.

The opening act as the Marshall Davis Student Group which danced its way through his choreography to Satin Doll. Davis then found himself In A Sentimental Mood. Again, fine technique, but little communication, except at the end when with clasped hands he bowed and produced a winning smile before departing the stage.

Diane Hampstead returned for some fabulous footwork to Lover. Her taps were like snow on Christmas morning - crisp and even. She covered the stage and showed how great technique can be married to audience communication with smiles and hand gestures.

Then a revelation: Marshall Davis returned with Barbara Duffy to dance Fifty-Three, a piece choreographed by Duffy's dance teacher. And this time he got it all right. Head up, smiles and an air of enjoyment added to the performance ten-fold. Duffy was immaculate again, and as a duo the piece really worked.

Junior Laniyan, seen recently dancing to Mr. Bojangles on the Robbie Williams video, was next up. This time he had time to excel as he danced On Green Dolphin Street. The youth and enthusiasm displayed here were a good reason to be confident about the future of rhythm tap in this country. Barbara Duffy followed with her final piece, a slow, burning version of Summertime.

Then came the show-stopping act that many had come to see. The Clark Brothers bounded on stage dressed immaculately in blue tail suits. Jimmy and Steve appeared in the film Killer Diller in 1948, and here they were, looking only slightly older (!) and in fine form.

Steve took to the piano while Jimmy hammed it up in the background. They did solos and a marvellous duet to Me And My Shadow. This is tap dancing as it was, and an object lesson in how to entertain without compromising on technique. When you see artists like this enjoying what they do so much, you can't help but be swept along by it all.

The finale featured all the dancers on stage for a giant Shim Sham, led by Jimmy and Steve Clark. The crowd bayed for more, but eventually had to let them go. Carolene Hinds couldn't resist getting up and dancing off with Jimmy Clark, who showed a couple of neat swing moves before the evening ended.

The show was an outstanding success on all levels, and plaudits are due to artistic director Terry Monaghan for collecting together such an array of talent.

  July 2002 Andrew Winton. 

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