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Live Music Makes Livelier Feet

Monday, March 21, 2005; Page C05

Piano, bass, drums and five pairs of feet: These were the instruments employed for Shelley Oliver Tap Dancers' Saturday performance at Dance Place. Appearing with the David Leonhardt Jazz Group, the Pennsylvania-based dancers married tap and jazz in a show that was as much music concert as dance performance.

Oliver, the company's director, handles several tap styles well. Her solo "Ode to Bo," a tribute to Bill "Mr. Bojangles" Robinson, triggered images of tuxedo-clad tappers, softly tripping across the dance floor. "Metal on Wood," featuring Oliver, Rebekkah Brown, Sarabeth Lewis and Christina Young, pounded away, the dancers sending splinters flying as they stamped out rhythms on four square wooden platforms, the bells that dangled from their costumes adding another layer of sound.

Shelley Oliver's troupe performed with the David Leonhardt Jazz Group. (Lisa Lake)

The integration of music and dance makes rhythmic layering the group's specialty. Few troupes have the privilege of performing with live music, so Oliver and Leonhardt make the most of the opportunity. The dancers interact with the musicians, counting them in after furious tap solos and facing off with them for duets -- the ones between dancers and bassist Matthew Parrish especially had the sense of a laid-back dialogue.

Musically, the tappers added polyrhythm to Leonhardt's compositions, especially when they burst into the end of his "Sao Paulo Samba." On their own, the trio of Leonhardt, Parrish and drummer Taro Okamoto transformed the theater into a jazz club with mellow renditions of classics like Gershwin's "But Not for Me."

-- Clare Croft

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