Afisha, 5-18 November, 2007

During my journalistic career I have interviewed lots of people but this was the first time when I was talking to five foreign performers at the same time, when each of them deserved a separate interview and a separate story. I spent about an hour in the lobby of Armenia-Marriott Hotel talking to Tap City members from the United States and was absorbing the information on tap dance, its styles and directions, leading performers, origins and current trends. I learned that tap dance had originated in The Congo Square of New Orleans where back in the 19th century African, European, Caribbean and Gipsy cultures fused and blended. This was the place for navy and army officers, adventurers and fortune seekers, slaves and their masters, traders and minstrels who gathered to sing and dance. It is said that this was the place where jazz was born and hence this was the place where tap dance started.

There were five of them on the stage: Tony Waag, Nate Cooper, Margaret Morrison, Karen Callaway Williams and DeWitt Fleming. Each of them had a style of his/her own. Each of them is a master of tap dance; each of them has danced in famous groups on famous stages of Broadway and elsewhere in the world. This time they together presented the American Tap Dance Foundation that aims at preserving and promoting this truly American dance style. They perform, teach others, offer master classes, tour in the world and promote this dance in any way possible.

When we met our guests they did not have a chance to see anything in Armenia and usual questions of "Did you like Garni and Geghard, Yerevan or Armenian women?" remained unanswered. What the guests knew for sure that they would have a good dinner with plenty of cognac.

"Tap dance is popular in many countries, including France, Hungary, Estonia, Germany, and Japan. Tap dance festivals and competitions are held, and there are numerous schools that teach tap dance. Though currently tap dance is not as popular as rock-n-roll, disco, hip-hop, techno or other dance forms, it has many amateurs, which makes tap dance - along with other "aging" dances, including tango, waltz and foxtrot - a classic dance".

"Tap dance can be performed in any tune, but it is particularly good in jazz tunes. By the way, great jazz percussionist Max Rouch believed that bi-bop, one of the main styles in jazz originated from the rhythm of tap dance. Our colleague DeWitt Fleming can perform tap dance in rap music, Nate Cooper in country music".

"What in many countries is perceived as step dance is simply the classic American tap dance, while the classic example of step dance is seen in Irish groups that emerged widely following the first attempts of Michael Flatley. It's Irish step dance. What performed Leon Collins, Fred Aster, Jin Kelly, Gregory Hines and we are performing is the classic American tap dance".

During the 40 minutes of the conversation American hoofers briefed me on tap dance in such a detail that now I can probably lecture on that subject. However, I'll abstain from lecturing you now. I do want to share my impressions from the performance. I am eager to do it.

In the very beginning of the performance there was great confusion for the audience and the artists: first the microphone failed and then there was power outage. An intermission was announced. Later these minor inconveniences were fully recovered by the great mastery of the performers. They danced alone, in pairs, in trio, all five of them together. Their singing was soft and touchy. They joked through dancing and made the audience rejoice. Each piece performed was a meaningful one and with certain implications. There were scenes of rural America, or pieces dedicated to the great tap dance masters Charles "Honi" Coles and Gregory Hines. Women of this small group of performers demonstrated what and how is being danced at Broadway. DeWitt Fleming dazed the audience by his energetic dance in rap and modern jazz rhythms. Nate Cooper demonstrated tap dance on roller skates and Tony Waag, Artistic Director of the group was, of course, the life and soul of the party. He talked to the audience, offering some sort of master class, introduced his colleagues, danced and joked a lot making the audience to laugh. The first part of the show was over by storm of applauses. There was a surprise for the audience in the second half of the show: Armenian Show Ballet "Nane" appeared on the stage and that was а breakthrough. I think Michael Blatley and his Riverdance with its numerous clones may get some time off. The quintet of Armenian female dancers was so fast in their movements that my eyes couldn't catch all of the movements of their fast feet. It should be noted that their dance was accompanied with the "live" beats of dhol [Armenian percussion instrument] producing Armenian rhythms. This came to prove what American artists told me: step dance is in every culture. Believe me that Armenian step dance, at least the one performed by "Nane" is quite competitive and maybe even more effective than Irish step dance.

However, the last piece was the one that was thrilling. Before the performance in Yerevan both groups of hoofers had performed in Gyumri and Vanadzor and managed to make friends. Furthermore, they have jointly prepared a surprise which was the last piece of the performance. Traditional Armenian rhythms of zourna [Armenian wood-wind musical instrument, type of flute] in а contemporary arrangement started and girls of "Nane" appeared on the stage, then Americans and then they all together danced a sizzling blend of kochari [Armenian dance], tap dance and techno. Astounding, great, fantastic, cool and simply awesome! No words to describe! The capital city of Armenia has not seen anything like that. The audience requested an encore and they danced over and over again. After the third request of an encore the hoofers danced towards backstage and were obviously out of breath to get to the stage again. The audience was reluctant to leave and when they finally realized that hoofers can no longer afford physically being on the stage they calmed down. On their way out everyone was asking "Have you seen something like this before?" or "When we can see another show like this?"

Yes, when will be the next one?

Armen Manukyan

Afisha, 5-18 November, 2007

Translated by Tigranuhi Baghdasaryan