Photos by Christopher Duggan
A joyous, onstage love fest between two great American art forms, The Blues Project comes to The Moore Theater of the Hopkins Center Friday and Saturday, April 7 and 8—a collaboration between all-tap Dorrance Dance, led by MacArthur “genius” dancer and choreographer Michelle Dorrance, and singer, songwriter and guitarist Toshi Reagon and her band BIGLovely.
Nine dancers and five musicians share the stage in a roof-raising tribute to tap dance and the blues through astonishing tap solos and dazzling complex ensemble pieces, all powered by Reagon’s husky-sweet vocals and her funky band. Dorrance and some company members also will lead a tap master class on April 8.
Winner of a 2015 Bessie Award for Outstanding Production, The Blues Project is now touring the country—pushing the boundaries of tap with an uproarious sense of fun and celebration. Wrote The New York Times, “With an ever-racing mind and big ambitions for her art form, Ms. Dorrance…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.” Wrote the Washington Post, Dorrance “pays homage to tradition yet does things differently, and she does everything very, very well.”
As for the music, wrote the Boston Globe, “It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n’roll, yes, but also very funky and wonderfully kick ass.” Commented The New York Times, “Reagon’s music envelops the dancing…through to the last chord and sometimes even beyond it.”
The show features some of the best dancers in tap today, including Dorrance herself and her co-choreographers on this project, Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Dressed like teenagers mobbing a 1950s sock hop, the dancers merge tap with street, club and experimental dance as they weave, glide and leap in solo or group formations. Sonically, the tart, cascading rhythms of their feet lock in with BIGLovely’s powerhouse original tunes.
Dorrance grew up performing with the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble and went on to perform with STOMP, Savion Glover, Manhattan Tap, Jason Samuels Smith and more. Founding Dorrance Dance in 2011, of which she is the artistic director, she is a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, a 2014 Alpert Award Winner and a 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award Winner, and she teaches and choreographs throughout the world.
Dorrance’s troupe includes stars of the dance world like Grant, a three-decade tap veteran whose credits include serving as original cast member and dance captain for Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring In ‘Da Funk and his own critically acclaimed show Imagine Tap!, as well as choreography for So You Think You Can Dance on FOX; and Sumbry-Edwards, who, in addition to having been pop star Michael Jackson’s tap coach for 11 years, has won top awards for featured performances with Jason Samuels Smith and Company and the Broadway show After Midnight; plus dancers whose credits include Cirque du Soleil, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Deutsche Oper Berlin, FOX’s The X Factor, and more.
Daughter of Sweet Honey in the Rock founder Bernice Johnson Reagon, Toshi Reagon was raised in a dynamic milieu of American music and activism and has been a performer in her own right for nearly 30 years. With a big-hearted, nothing-held-back approach to rock, blues, R&B, country, folk, spirituals and funk, she has “a love of mixing things up…[her] vocal style ranges from a dirty blues moan to a gospel shout to an ethereal croon” (The New York Times). She has shared the stage with such notables as Lenny Kravitz, Nona Hendryx, Elvis Costello, Ani DiFranco, Dar Williams, Lizz Wright and Me’shell NdegéOcello as well as her mother and her godfather, the late folk singer and activist Pete Seeger.