Chicago Tap Allstars was established by Bill Barrett, Founder of M.A.D.D. Rhythms and Mark Yonally, Founder of Chicago Tap Theatre as a way to lessen the divide between tap dancing communities on the North and South sides of Chicago. Initially sparked by an open letter written by Barrett addressing inequities in the tap community during the civil unrest of June 2020, the collaborative performance “Bridging the Gap: One Step at a Time” sought to make due on some of the changes promised by both tap communities.
On May 22nd at the Harold Washington Cultural Center we saw evidence of a more inclusive tomorrow. “Bridging the Gap: One Step at a Time” was a balm that re-invigorated the brilliance of tap dance, showcased its diversity and intrigued us with an array of abstract solutions to the many challenges we face today.
A moody jazz quartet composed of keys, trumpet, percussion and guitar set the stage for the dynamic personalities to grace, serving as the perfect accompaniment. The afternoon was special as it was the birthday of the late legendary tap dancer Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and it was a rare occasion that tap communities from the South and North sides of Chicago came together to display their affection for the form and ultimately bridge the gap between the two communities.
The performance kicked off with one of the most beautifully deconstructed versions of “Summertime”, choreographed by Donetta ‘Lil Bit’ Jackson. It’s a classic song that I’ve heard sung many times over, but what Jackson created with a spectrum of sound gave it an entirely new form. Red, black and white tap shoes spoke to us in tongues. A cool combination of ten dancers, gliding like elevators in percussive duos traveled between space and time. They were jammin! Revolving doors of pairs created lovely partnerships which set a bright tone for the unification of class, race, age, style and geography.
In the second piece, Jay Fagan served as the fifth instrument in the jazz quartet, giving us sneaky tricks. He showcased a spectrum of tones and volumes that exist within sound, Illustrating that slow and quiet leaves room for intrigue.
Striking a lovely balance between cool and classic we were able to have fun when the youth came out to showcase their skills in “Rock With You”, reminding us they are right on the brink of greatness themselves. Their adorable shuffle ball changes and pendulum hip rocks to the lyrics “Rock with you” gave us all the reasons to smile, sing along and have hope for a better tomorrow.
The afternoon also gave us a taste of the legato side of tap. The silky Patti Vickerman gave us a smooth and very Chicago energy in the piece “I love Paris”. Floating with effortless cool, her sounds were quick, technical, delicate and mature; illustrating a humble confidence throughout the performance.
“Bridging the Gap: One Step at a Time'' gave us a wide variety of cool, classic, fun and smooth styles, but I was not prepared for the experimental neo-soul tap that took my breath away. For this dynamic duo, the jazz quartet took a backseat. Vocalist and guitarist Amyna Love sang and played a rendition of Erykah Badu’s Appletree with an unmatched afro breezy freedom. We were already at epic heights with her refreshing energy, but when Nico Rubio joined the conversation with his multifaceted tapping, we entered another realm of consciousness. Visualizing the tree, the summer sun and fellowship, Rubio’s spirit induced millie rocks fused with Love’s mighty whisper. By the end of the piece you were certainly a fan of “Appletree '' and the possibilities of tap-if you were not one already.
The Chicago Tap Allstars gave me something unexpected and special- a glimpse of what felt like an underground society. They exposed me to the continent of tap, a world within worlds. I saw Chicago, Italy, South Africa, New Orleans, I even saw me. If I was unclear what I should be looking for during previous tap performances the object was now crystalized. Tap is a spiritual experience, tapping into our highest intuition and rawest form of expression not just in our feet but our entire being. It is pure freedom, ripe with flavor, history and infinite possibility. We don't approach the form looking to forge judgment, we witness hoping to be liberated from what we think we know. Thank you Chicago Tap Allstars.
If you are interested in seeing the performance filmed on May 22nd, it will be available through livestream from June 4-10.
CHICAGO - M.A.D.D. Rhythms, Chicago’s premier Tap collective, and Chicago Tap Theatre, Chicago’s vibrant dance company preserving and celebrating Tap, as Chicago Tap All-Stars, present a performance collaboration to bring unity and connection across the entire Tap community with “Bridging the Gap: One Step at a Time.” This stream was filmed Sunday, May 22 during Chicago Tap All-Stars performance at the Harold Washington Cultural Center as part of its National Tap Dance Day events and is available June 4 - 10. Tickets are FREE - $40 at http://bit.ly/chicagotapallstars.