Rhythm tap is an early American style of tap dance founded on the sound of syncopation – as opposed to the later Broadway “show tap”, with influences from ballroom and modern jazz that brought greater emphasis on body line. Turned on Tap is director Terry Monaghan’s second (and more successful) showcase of rhythm tap. Its pleasures are partly down to its distinctive performers, especially Americans Jason Samuels Smith and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, and Canadian Heather Cornell.
She soft-shoes her way through a sand dance, as supple and sensual as a brush caressing a cymbal
Cornell is a laid-back dancer who has an easy rapport with the spot-on band (led by nimble-fingered pianist John Colianni). She soft-shoes her way through a sand dance, as supple and sensual as a brush caressing a cymbal. Sumbry-Edwards can sparkle like a diamond, her steps pattering like rainfall – but she can also get low down and earthy, with a swing in her hips and a kick to her legs. Samuels Smith, meanwhile, looks so deeply in the groove that the music seems almost to squeeze the moves from his body, bucking his shoulders and slapping the floor with staggering steps.
Compere Earl Okin explains that rhythm tap was influenced by Irish step-dancing, and Colin Dunne, star of Riverdance, performs a solo to demonstrate. You can see it in the footwork, but his straight, lifted torso and floating unicorn leaps feel oddly out of place. It’s down to another Irish dancer, the wonderfully unassuming Seosamh Ó Neachtain, to show the connection, with his personable, lolling style.
In comparison, the Brits don’t quite cut the ice – with the exception of Junior Laniyan, who can hunker down and belt out steps as if he had all the time in the world. Diane Hampstead and Derek Hartley’s duet is a charming but museum-piece homage to a bygone Astaire and Rogers style. And while the London Jazz Tap Orchestra impress with their precision, it’s ultimately down to the North Americans to show that tap can be both contemporary and cool.