The Jam at the Toronto International Tap Dance Festival

An improvisational and intergenerational evening of tap By Miya Shaffer
  • Johnathan Morin / Photo by Andy Yu

The Toronto International Tap Dance Festival is a three-day event, from June 2nd through 4th, 2017, co-produced by Toffan Rhythm Projects and the Harbourfront Centre. In its inaugural year the festival featured performances, workshops, panel discussions and an all-are-welcome improvisational dance jam.

Performances included works by established tap dance artists Heather Cornell and Ted Louis Levy. Cornell presented What the Ear Sees in collaboration with the New York-based ensemble Making Music Dance. Her work was set to African balafon, violin and classical guitar, but relied on the rhythms of tap and flamenco for percussion. In Levy’s Singin’ and Swingin’! a cast of dancers performed alongside classic jazz standards played by the Toronto Jazz Orchestra. Commissions from local tap dance artists introduced both Cornell and Levy’s headlining acts. These works, commissioned by Allison Toffan, Artistic Director of Toffan Rhythm Projects, showcased the diverse choreography of Toronto’s tap dance scene.

The Jam, an improvisational tap dance party, was the final performance of the festival. The event had a two-part format: the first section featured local tap dancers performing mostly improvised sets, whereas the second half of the show became an open-invitation jam session, where dancers of all ages and levels could perform. The co-directors of Toronto-based tap collective Rhythm and Sound, Cori Giannotta and Johnathan Morin, opened the show. The two dancers had a playful chemistry between them and combined an effortless performance quality with flawless technical execution.

The same playful feeling resonated throughout the other performances, particularly in the dynamic between dancer and musician. The Jam featured a three-piece band and a vocalist, whose jazz scat vocalizations responded to the vibration of tapping feet. The dancers and musicians, keeping consistent eye contact with each other, improvised off of one another’s rhythms.

Both sections of The Jam brought a diverse group of dancers to the stage. The young dancers of the pre-professional company, The Rhythm Ensemble, performed before Toffan herself took the stage. Heather Cornell improvised during the open-invitation second half, alongside a group of female dancers in various stages of their careers. According to Toffan, this diversity is central to the tap dance form. “Part of our art form is being multicultural and multigenerational,” she states. “The multigenerational unit is the most integral part of tap dance.”

The Toronto International Tap Dance Festival, and events like The Jam in particular, work to recognize all generations of tap dance artists and remember how much one demographic can give to the other. As Toffan states, “We need to put the masters on stage to honour how much they’ve given us but we also need to give the younger generations opportunities to perform. That’s why The Jam exists. Everyone needs a second to stretch.”

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