Dance troupe revels in roots
By Lisa Traiger
Friday, June 29, 2012
Appalachian flatfooting mixes it up with hip-hop while traditional rhythm tap trades riffs with Irish stepping in “Vaudevival: Old is the new New,” an evening of dance, theater, dialogue and poetry that journeys through the archives of American vernacular dance.
“I have had many interests that converged around American vernacular dance,” says Emily Oleson, who conceived of the piece as a graduate student in the University of Maryland dance school. “I really had this sense that there was nothing that was off-limits, nothing is irrelevant.”
Oleson’s dance training has crossed many borders. While growing up in Staunton, Va., she eschewed her parents’ efforts to sign her up for ballet or sports. Instead, she took up Irish step dancing in high school. Curiosity led her to try contemporary dance, hip-hop and other forms.
Oleson brings “Vaudevival” to Dance Place this weekend, joined by a pick-up troupe of dancers and musicians she has dubbed the Good Foot Dance Company. The performers include members of D.C.’s acclaimed Urban Artistry; the kids and teens of the new Capital Tap; and the New Band, an assemblage of folk musicians. The work unfolds like an old-time vaudeville show; the collection of short acts looks at the evolution of the variety-show format as well as how race -- and racism -- was at the root of many show-business traditions, including minstrel performances. Oleson also examines the intermingling of percussive dance forms -- from their African roots to Irish jigs and hornpipes, to Appalachian clogging and flatfooting, to today’s contemporary street dance.
For its time, Oleson contends, vaudeville was multimedia.
“There were actors and musicians and dancers and animal acts and novelty acts,” she says. “Like today’s television skit shows, from granddaddy ‘Saturday Night Live’ to ‘America’s Got Talent,’ these modern-day variety shows draw on the same tropes that made vaudeville popular and viable.”
Tap dancer and Washington native Baakari Wilder, who shone in Savion Glover’s “Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk” on Broadway, is joining Good Foot for “Vaudevival.” Wilder is working on a duet with Oleson’s husband, percussive dancer Matthew Olwell, that combines African American tap rhythms with Appalachian clogging and flatfooting.
“I’m excited about dancing to other rhythms that you might not think a tap dancer would use,” Wilder says. “We’re showing how the rhythms relate and how ideas evolve and how we’re mixing things together to make something new out of something old.”