Review: Dormeshia Coasts on her tap mastery in 'Rhythm Is Life'

It’s no surprise that “Rhythm Is Life,” the show Dormeshia Tap Collective is performing at the Joyce Theater this week, is a classy affa...


It’s no surprise that “Rhythm Is Life,” the show Dormeshia Tap Collective is performing at the Joyce Theater this week, is a classy affair. The Dormeshia tap dancer is the epitome of elegance, and has been since she was a child. But she’s not just classy; she is classic: so deeply versed in the tradition and technique of tap dancing that she has everything under her command and never has to worry.

“Rhythm Is Life” is a classical style tap dance concert. Dormeshia is joined by a jazz trio and three other clogs in a format that alternates between solos and group numbers, with group numbers switching between unison sections and serial spots for solo improvisation. Dormeshia’s choreography is very much like his improvisations: perfectly measured and modulated, complex without clutter, always clear and never without the dynamic rhythmic sense called swing.

Unlike Dormeshia’s last concert at the Joyce — “And again, you have to swing”, in which she was flanked by her peers Derick K. Grant and Jason Samuels Smith – “Rhythm Is Life” surrounds her with followers, representatives of a generation of tap dancers who grew up with her as a role model. The suits, which Dormeshia designed, echo his tasteful style as the company uniform: powder blue trouser suits with white belts matched with white shoes. “We are all equal,” the outfits suggest, though one dancer is the original.

Dormeshia is generous in sharing the stage with these young women, and they reward her trust both by performing her difficult choreography as if in one voice and by offering their own developing voices. Amanda Castro is the liveliest and most theatrical; even when her eyes close in reverie, she seems to give that joy to the audience. Christina Carminucci is the most serious, breaking up her sentences in search of greater intensity. Melissa Almaguer, like many talented tyros, sometimes throws too much at once, but she’s got the goods.

Predictably, Dormeshia reserves the penultimate spot for her own solo, and it’s a masterclass. As with other mature artists, the most stunning elements are not the fireworks (although she has plenty of them) but the ripples and thrown embellishments, the feeling of total control. At the first performance on Tuesday, it was in her character when, rather than giving her a big solo finish, she just walked away – an ambiguous gesture somewhere between pride and humility.

It was a “leave them wanting more” moment on a “leave them wanting more” show. The whole program is well under an hour long, and while such brevity is certainly a virtue, the production – first commissioned by Little Island – seems too modest for a queen.

Part of that impression comes from the music, which was composed and arranged by Dormeshia and bassist Noah Garabedian. Although often tasty, it has a functional quality. It was certainly made for tap dancing, and it’s indeed varied, but it’s generic, as song titles like “Music,” “Heartbeat,” and “The Dance” seem to admit. Each of the songs suggests a jazz standard without being distinctive or memorable enough to become a full-fledged jazz standard. Garabedian, pianist Chris McCarthy and especially drummer Shirazette Tinnin play with great skill and sensitivity but with little sense of risk.

Ultimately, risk, or ambition, is what the series seems to lack. “Rhythm Is Life” tells us what Dormeshia knows about tap dancing, which she knows better than anyone else. But what does she not know? What does this great artist still have to discover? May his next show be a surprise.

Dormeshia Tap Collective
Until Sunday at the joyce theater.

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