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In ‘JUBA!’ at Kennedy Center, tap-dance masters take steps in a new direction

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Since his breakout success in the 1996 Broadway production “Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk,” it has sometimes felt like Savion Glover has a chokehold on tap dance. His style — a no-fuss, informal approach in which he connects more deeply to the music than to the audience — seems to constantly show up in other tappers’ work, whether by design or osmosis. It’s understandable because he is such an enormous talent, but it can be frustrating for a viewer who craves variety and inventiveness.

That’s why a Friday performance at the Kennedy Center was such a welcome relief. “JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance” was full of strong efforts to innovate this art form or at least take it in a different direction.

In “Three to One,” choreographed by Michelle Dorrance, three dancers moved in a narrow shaft of light that sharply illuminated their lower legs and barely revealed their faces. Dorrance was the only one wearing tap shoes (her fellow performers were barefoot), and she pounded out emphatic but not overly intricate rhythms that interplayed nicely with the sparse musical score.

All three dancers zipped their legs apart and together in urgent steps, stomps and skitters. It was anxious and harried and managed to probe a dark and intensely psychological realm.

Another especially strong work was Jason Janas’s “In the End.” Its score was the Linkin Park song of the same name, only it was played live by the Greg Spero Trio jazz emsenble. The band managed to inflect the pop-rock song with a sense of grief and longing that the original version lacks, and the dancers were clearly propelled by it. Each one was a storyteller, modulating the volume and complexity of his taps to create emotional peaks and troughs in the work.

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Halzack is a freelance writer.

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