Review: ‘Leather, Sand, Metal: An Audible Exploration of Tap Dance’ by Capitol Tap at Dance Place

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Tap is its own beast. Any dancer can tell you that they can transfer training in ballet to jazz or contemporary, or swing into hip-hop, but they cannot transfer anything to tap. You either do it, or you want to. The talented group of young hoofers (ages 8-18) that make up Capitol Tap, a group in residence at Knock On Wood Tap Studio in Washington, D.C., demonstrate why tap is not, nor should it ever be, a dying art form.

Under-18 dance ensemble Capitol Tap, which performs June 15 and 16 with District Tap at Dance Place.
Under-18 dance ensemble Capitol Tap, which performs June 15 and 16 with District Tap at Dance Place. Photo courtesy of Capitol Tap.

Producers Lisa Swenton-Eppard and Baakari Wilder helm Capitol Tap, which boasts incredible talent and energy and features young talent that would make Gregory Hines proud. District Tap, an adult ensemble now in its sophomore year, joins with its sister group Capitol Tap in this evening of cacophonies, blending seamlessly together to create a masterful study of sound in Leather, Sand, Metal: An Audible Exploration of Tap Dance.

Act I is an homage to the evolution of tap through different media, hence the title of the program. The first number, The Final Frontier, uses humans to create machinery, representing metal, gears, trains, and all without taps. In this number, the dancers wear jazz shoes, scooting off-stage in a geisha-like shuffle, with their faces mirroring the humor that ripples through the audience. The premiere performance of Layering Time in Three Acts highlights the miracle of making syncopated sounds with bare feet, then in sneakers and finally, on sand in squares situated upstage. The barefoot sound is clear and crisp and the dancers are in sync even while flapping their bare feet of all sizes. The dancers in the next phase began in a slow, methodical number wearing sneakers, with a tapper setting a pace in the aforementioned sand square. Then, she double-times the speed of her pace, and the company double-times the speed of the entire piece, turning what seems like a gentle, pleasant number into a masterfully frenetic and playful explosion of energy.

Capitol Tap. Photo by Enoch Chan.
Capitol Tap. Photo by Enoch Chan.

Wilder, an internationally renowned dancer who made his Broadway debut in the hit show, Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, choreographed most of the tap numbers in Act II. This is when the show hits another level of awe-inspiring talent. Wilder’s style is a cross between Gregory Hines and cooked noodles (yes, cooked noodles: wiggly, able to twist in every direction, and always delicious). His dancers truly understand the music they make. They move with fluidity, blending staccato downbeats with gentle, quiet tinkles. It’s clear that Wilder knows how to hone the strengths of each dancer while creating a whole picture. There are several numbers in Act II, but they blend so well together that this writer cannot distinguish between each one. The most precious moment came when two young boys joined three teens for a number that practically had the audience on its feet. These two little men made such sounds with their feet, conjuring up images of a future, well, Baakari Wilder.

In all of the pieces, the dancers create magnificent sound while demonstrating their true expertise in an art form that was historically a form of communication in tribal cultures, among others. They adore what they do, and they have poise and passion that we all deserve to find once in our lifetimes.

In today’s world, when we question who are the adults and who are the children, this show reminds us that you can be a mature and whimsical PERSON, at any age. You walk away amazed that children can create a symphony with their feet. You can’t buy inspiration like this. You just need to be there, and be inspired.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Leather, Sand, Metal: An Audible Exploration of Tap Dance runs June 15 and 16, 2018, at Dance Place, 3225 8th Street NE, Washington, DC 20017. For tickets, contact the box office at 202-269-1600 or order online.

Capitol Tap: Miles Brown, Vivienne Gibbs, Max Heimowitz, Sam Heimowitz, Caitlyn Holland, Katharine Manor, Eli Miller, Kristopher Peters, Ja’Nai Redd, Lauren Snow, Elan Zucker

District Tap: Allie Bohm, Gabrielle Boyle, Andrea Cossetini, Zoë Kilbourne

Choreographers: Chris Teicher, Heather Cornell, Baakari Wilder, Max Heimowitz, Sam Heimowitz, Leon Collins