Canadian Tap Dance

On Stage and Screen By Lys Stevens

“When I slid out onto the stage, my body could feel the sound waves of the 65,000 people screaming.” At that moment on February 12th, choreographer and soloist Brock Jellison joined 120 volunteer tap dancers performing at Vancouver’s BC Place for the 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies. A few minutes later the “hero” tap dancers, some of Canada’s hottest tappers, were added to the mix for a few more minutes of high-level and high-energy foot stomping, while fiddle bows flew with rousing Celtic music. The section, “Rhythms of the Fall”, ended as the bare-chested and tattooed Jellison was joined by flamboyant fiddler Ashley MacIsaac in an electrifying master duet.

Close to four billion people worldwide were watching, a fact hero tapper Travis Knights was fully aware of. “For that one moment I was going to be at the centre of the world,” he says, “and that was a very earth-shattering experience for me.” But those ten or more minutes of personal glory were equally momentous for Canada’s tap dance community. Amid the extreme nationalism and exaltation of athleticism that is the Olympics experience, the moment will likely prove pivotal for tap in Canada.

Tap dance has been featured in performances across Canada in recent years. The 2010/2011 performance season also includes a number of events showcasing tap in various contexts. Fans can revisit the tap stylings of Canadian tap icons Ruby Keeler and Jeni LeGon on screen. The Eastern Canadian Tap Conference takes place in Mississauga on October 16th and17th at Living Arts Centre, and the next Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival and Tap in Canada Conference is planned for fall 2011.

On stage:

After a foray into the commercial dance world internationally, Brock Jellison returned to Vancouver to explore his own artistic voice, creating Ruckus Company, which incorporates tap, hip hop and contemporary dance. His major pieces are 77 minutes (2006) and Ricochet (2007), both featuring original music. Ricochet toured British Columbia in 2009. www.ruckuscompanyproductions.com

Although Ontario-native Heather Cornell’s career is international and largely based in New York City, she maintains strong contacts with Canada’s tap community, recently creating CanTap, an ensemble of top Canadian tappers including Travis Knights, Tasha Lawson, Danny Nielsen, Matt Shields and Dayna Szyndrowski. They have performed in Vancouver, Boston and Germany and would love to tour more in Canada. www.manhattantap.org

Choreographed by Joel Hanna, a Canadian based in New York City, Revolution, The Show was presented at Jacob’s Pillow this summer before touring Europe. Hanna is looking for more North American engagements for the performance. www.revolutiontheshow.com

Decidedly Jazz Danceworks has produced several works involving tap dance including Tinge & Tone (Spring 2008), twentyfive by Heather Cornell (for their twenty-fifth anniversary in spring 2010), and 2010: A Tap Oddity by American Joshua Hilberman, presented in March 2010. www.decidedlyjazz.com

At the Vancouver International Tap Dance Festival this September the performance of Tap Grace included work by the Vancouver Tap Ensemble, the BC Tap Project, Jeff Hyslop and others. www.vantapdance.com

TapCo is VTDS’s youth performance ensemble directed by Mika Komatsu. They will tour BC in the 2010/2011 season. www.vantapdance.com

Kim Chalovich’s company What’s on? Tap! and Everett Smith’s new SR and pro-level companies will be performing during the Eastern Canadian Tap Conference in October 2010, at Toronto’s Dance Weekend in January 2011 and in March and June 2011 at the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga. www.whats-on-tap.com

Vancouver Tap Dance Society and the Centennial Theatre present American tapper Savion Glover in Bare Soundz on November 4th and 5th at the Centennial Theatre, Vancouver. On February 5th, 2011 Glover returns to Canada to perform SoLo in TiME in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre. www.saviongloverproductions.com

Tap Stew, created by Jennifer Bishop (The Urban Tap Squad) and Peggy Giesbrecht was presented to two sold out audiences in Vancouver in 2010. Watch for it in 2011! www.s2sproductions.com

Bill Coleman, of the contemporary dance company Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie, performs his unique “cosmic tap” alongside the live fifteen-piece Sun Ra Arkestra in Hymn to the Universe, presented at Place des arts in Montréal this December. www.colemanlemieux.com

Tap appears blended with African-Caribbean and popular dance styles in Ballet Creole’s Glorious Soulful Messiah each December in Toronto. www.balletcreole.org

Contemporary dance icon Marie Chouinard expands the possibilities of the tap shoe in a solo for Lucie Mongrain. Created in 2001, Étude No. 1 returns to the Montréal stage in April 2011 presented by Danse Danse. www.mariechouinard.com

On the silver screen:

Dartmouth-born Ruby Keeler was dubbed the “queen of taps” for her role in the 1933 film 42nd Street. Other movies in which she dances include Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade all produced in1933 by Warner Brothers and all with dance direction by Busby Berkeley.

Jeni LeGon can be seen tapping alongside the great Bill Robinson in Hooray for Love(RKO, 1935), as well as in independently produced all-black cast films including Double Deal (1939), Take My Life (1942), and Hi-Di-Ho (1944) with jazzman Cab Calloway. Originally from Chicago, LeGon moved to Vancouver in 1969. Living In a Great Big Way is an NFB documentary on her life produced in 1999.

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