We spoke to Michelle Dorrance, founding member of tap sensation Dorrance Dance, about her career to date and the inspiration behind her work.
1. Tell us a bit about Dorrance Dance, how did the company come about?
The truth about what elements in my life led me to establish Dorrance Dance: I danced for almost too many New York City-based tap dance projects, companies, and choreographers from my late teens through my mid-twenties. I developed a solo career during that time as well, which extended through my time performing with STOMP in my late-twenties. I simultaneously started playing bass in my best friend’s band (Darwin Deez – who had some great songs in rotation on BBC Radio 1 not too long ago!) and we toured the US, UK, parts of Europe and Australia, before I realized I was trying to do WAY too much. It wasn’t until I broke my foot at the age of 30 that I was struck with how pertinent it was for me to put my vision for the possibilities I saw in tap dance, and in very specific tap dancers, first. This timing was met with a great opportunity to premiere new work at New York City’s beloved Danspace Project and the company was formed!
More formally, I created Dorrance Dance in hopes to share the incredibly dynamic range that tap dance has to offer; in order to engage with audiences on a musical and emotional level through dance; in order to spread the great history and legacy of this American art form throughout the country and the world. Of course, I love experimenting, creating my own work, my own choreography, my own compositions, but I love sharing the brilliant individual voices and styles that are pushing the form forward today.
2. How did you first become interested in tap dancing?
By 8 years old there was nothing I loved more than tap dance. What could possibly be more exciting than being a dancer and a musician at the same time?! My mother was a professional ballet dancer and I studied at her school from age 3 to 17. During this time, I was incredibly lucky to have Gene Medler as my tap teacher and mentor. He sought out the living masters of our form (people like “Honi” Coles, Buster Brown, “Peg Leg” Bates, Jimmy Slyde, The Nicholas Brothers, Cholly Atkins, who at the time were in their 70s, 80s, and 90s) and he took us all over the United States to study with them. He is a master educator and taught us the history of tap dance, its cultural significance, and its unique nature as both a form of movement AND music. I performed throughout the States and internationally with his North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (NCYTE) for 10 years and I am the dancer I am today, because of him.
3. ETM: Double Down uses electronic boards to add to the sounds of your footwork, can you tell us about how this works? What does this add to the performance for you as a performer?
ETM: Double Down features what is essentially an electronic drum kit for the feet, designed by my choreographic collaborator, co-creator, and dear friend, Nicholas Van Young. Each small board that we play with out feet (we call them trigger boards) is connected to a computer and can be assigned any sound, note, instrument, anything you can imagine! Then, the entire set can change! Nicholas originally designed this particular way of interfacing with the technology in order to compose music live WHILE dancing/soloing to it. What we have been exploring in ETM: DD is the way our percussive composition/choreography for our feet can interface with a musical composition, where sometimes the dance is literally the dance of playing ONLY the melody or baseline of a song, and sometimes the dancers straddle the playing of a few notes each in order to make up the entire composition, while simultaneously executing separate tap choreography/percussive score. When you are in the midst of it, it is totally mind-blowing.
4. As well as using the electronic tap boards, ETM: Double Down also features live musicians. What’s the process of creating a dance piece so integrated in music? Are the musicians involved from day one?
First and foremost, we work with some very special musicians who love and respect tap dance and have a tremendous sensitivity to its collaborative, percussive compositional element. The development of the original music that we use in ETM happened in a myriad of ways so I’ll give you a number of fun examples: Nicholas Young, my co-choreographer composed some of the oldest segments in the show and was working on those before choreography started. He was the only composer around for “day one”. Greg Richardson, our bassist, composed a brilliant work for fun while we were in the creative process for ETM: The Initial Approach, never intending to have to play it live, but we absolutely fell in LOVE with it so he adapted the entire build of it to his looping pedal in tandem with dancers playing a repeating patterns on trigger boards that shift every 20 counts!
When we realized how we wanted to introduce ETM: Double Down to the audience conceptually and logistically, we asked one of our dancers, Warren Craft (who is also an electronic music composer), to work on the very opening segment for the show with very specific guidelines in relationship to how many trigger boards we could move with x number of dancers on stage at once. Once we were working on a section we call “piano” (in which 16 boards are lined up side by side), Donovan Dorrance, our pianist/controllorist (also my brother), composed an entire piece with the direction of dancers’ movement up and down a scale, toward and away from one another, in mind. And our vocalist, Aaron Marcellus IMPROVISES compositions (literally composing live every night) by layering his vocals on top of themselves using a Nintendo wi-mote. The compositional process for this show is incredibly arduous, but also extraordinarily rewarding!!
5. You were here at beginning of the year, performing an extract of ETM: Double Down as part of Sampled. What are you most looking forward to about performing the full ETM: Double Down at Sadler’s Wells?
We are most looking forward to connecting to, engaging, and ROCKING with the beautiful people of London, sharing with you all what we love most, illustrating how cutting edge and sophisticated tap dance is and inspiring less familiar audiences to see the endless possibilities in it! The extract we performed for “Sampled” was a tiny glimpse into only the acoustic section of the show. We are using this technology on a scale and in a way that has never before been done and we are SO EXCITED to bring this work to London and are honored to be performing at Sadler’s Wells!
You can see Dorrance Dance in action 12 – 15 July. Click here for more details.
Casting date: Wednesday 28 June 2017
Location: Birmingham Hippodrome/Dance Exchange Studio 2 (entrance via Thorpe St.)
Time: 10am – 2.30pm
Contact: Claire Evans – 0121 582 0166 (Koala)
We are looking for dancers to take part in a short film for The Movement, a dynamic partnership between three of the country’s leading dance venues, Birmingham Hippodrome, The Lowry and Sadler’s Wells. You must be available to film on the 12 July all day and be available for rehearsals on the 7 July from 9.30am. Must be able to travel to Birmingham. Travel expenses only will be covered for successful candidates for the shoot only.
Looking for following styles:
HIP HOP / STREET / FREESTYLE/ MODERN / INTERPRETIVE / CONTEMPORARY/ TAP / JAZZ / BALLET
Please contact us at email@example.com to register your interest in attending the casting. Please include photo and contact number.
Please include your name and what area / areas you’d like to apply for (hip hop/modern/tap/jazz/ballet). You can apply for more than one of the areas as above.
Diversity is important to us and we welcome all performers from age 13 upwards.
We talked to Ella Spira, Composer and Producer with Sisters Grimm, about new show Voices of the Amazon which comes to Sadler’s Wells’ stage in July.
1. How have you approached creating the score for Voices of the Amazon?
When approaching the creation of the score for Voices of the Amazon, it was very important to think about the story of the show and how I could represent the different cultures, storyline and themes. I was fortunate enough to visit Brazil and the Amazon Rainforest to gain inspiration and where I could get a feel of the spirit of the forest as well as learn about the devastation of deforestation. I felt I wanted to give a voice to the nature that was being destroyed and this features as an important part throughout the score.
Click here to listen to Sem Voce
2. What was it like to collaborate with Olodum on this?
The foundations of Olodum are both morally and artistically very much in line with our approach and this was very appealing to me as a composer. It was a great experience to collaborate with them and work with them to create percussion lines for the Voices of the Amazon score.
3. Can you introduce a little background on the music in VOTA, what can the audience expect to hear?
The music in Voices of the Amazon can be described as merging the cultures of Brazilian influences and rhythms with the haunting classical choral music associated with the Western world. We think this is particularly shown in the choir vocals at the end of the first act as they represent the trees crying as they are destroyed and burned by the fire over the raging and furious percussion and strings that build throughout the scene. Expect to hear a lot of percussion, strong melody lines and themes that re-appear to represent different characters throughout the story.
Click here to listen to Cracoao Selvagem
The thought and placement of the sound world and narration was thought through thoroughly, Jeremy Irons was top of our list and our dream voice for this part, the pace and timbre of his voice means he weaved through the music becoming another element of the score, similarly the sound effects created by Adrian Rhodes that were recorded in the Amazon Rainforest are also an integral part of the whole sound world of Voices Of The Amazon.
4. VOTA tells the story of a water spirit’s journey from the Amazon river to the rainforest, how do you create the sense of those two very different environments through music?
We thought carefully about getting the distinction between the two different worlds, Beleza the water spirit has hew own theme especially when she tells of her quest to find a cure for her sister. Her theme is full of movement that ebbs and flows with the whole score to show the water world in which she lives. The sound of the forest is much more Rooty with fast rhythms using the percussion to represent the natural rhythms of the forest. These interweave when there are scenes that incorporate Beleza surrounded by the forest and the animals that live there.
Click here to listen to Beleza’s theme music
5. Voices of the Amazon features a live onstage band, what do you think this adds to the performance for the audience?
As an audience member I think that with a live onstage band, it makes you listen to the music more as you can physically see the music being created in front of you. Usually when you see a performance, the music is in the background as you are focusing on what you are visually seeing on stage. Seeing the band brings the music to life in a different way, especially when you can see how the music is tied to the characters/dancers movements.
6. What song are you most looking forward to seeing performed live onstage?
It’s so hard to say, they are all important to us and I’m so proud how all aspects of the music have come together with the live band and the dancers singing live as well. I’m looking forward to seeing the audience’s reactions to some of the bigger numbers, Gaia, Um Novo Dia and Bem Vinda as they are sounding particularly stunning.
Voices of the Amazon comes to Sadler’s Wells 4 – 8 July, click here to discover more.
Meet Fran Landsman
Ahead of this year’s Elixir Festival, which celebrates lifelong creativity and the contribution of older artists, we caught up with dancer and film maker Fran Landsman to find out what makes her move.
How did you get in to dance?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love to dance, but as a child it was more jiving with the curtains as a partner than plies and jetes. As an adult I was always first on the floor at parties, but I was too busy with my work as a film maker to actually try a dance class. Then I made a film for the ‘Imagine’ strand on the BBC about the Company of Elders. It was a joy to spend time with them and I knew that when I hit 60 I’d love to find something similar near where I live in Bath. It took me six years, and then I read an article about a company called Yama. I was there like a shot and it has become an enormous joy in my life.
What makes you want to keep dancing?
It’s good for the spirit. It makes me happy. It’s good for my health. It’s fun to perform. And I dance with the best bunch of women ever.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Anna Heighway – our teacher who puts up with a large group of women who all think they know best. She is patient with our lousy memories and various aches and pains, and she manages to get the best out of us, whilst enabling us to have fun as well. Sylvie Guillem, Carlos Acosta and Pina Bausch are also huge inspirations.
What would you say to someone who thought dancers should retire at 35?
It’s not a matter of retiring. It’s wonderful to see young people dancing. It’s also wonderful to see old people dancing, but it’s not the same. There’s no reason at all to retire from something you love, you just do it differently.
What will you be performing at the Elixir Festival?
It’s a piece called Grandma’s Hands. It’s about our stories – of the past, the present and the future. And it’s also about how our hands express these stories. In fact they express everything we experience, from cooking to cuddling, and everything in between.
What advice would you give someone wanting to get into dance later in life?
GO FOR IT!
The Elixir Festival is at Sadler’s Wells from 23 – 27 June. Click here for more information.