Noone loves popular American culture with the fervor of the French. They see metaphysics in our movies and read our pragmatic novels as epics of transcendental scope. Now a Frenchman has settled in Washington to spread the gospel of tap dance. Chris Belliou, director the Hot Feet studios in Brookland, where he teaches and preaches percussive dance forms, on Friday presented a homespun program of tapping plus a couple of other domestic styles on the stage of elegant La Maison Francaise at the French Embassy in Georgetown.
There's no question that Belliou is enamored of tapping. He watches himself as he dances so that he won't miss an instant of his beloved art form. And that seems to be the reason he neglects being a performer.
Technically, Belliou is respectable. He uses heel and toe to create rhythmic monologues and conversations. The dynamic range is decent, from small and hushed to forceful to sharp. When he chooses, Belliou can be fast. For the eye, he has slides, jumps and toe stands. Some passages in Belliou's solos and in his duets with Artis Brienzo are memorable. In the opening moments of "Tappin' Under the Influence ...," he has turned his back on us and folded his arms but the right leg, tapping, begins to travel forward as if to escape the sullen stance. And in "Can't Get Enough of It," Belliou's and Brienzo's steps call to each other across an empty stage; only long after their rhythms have met do the dancers appear from the wings and gravitate to each other, he from the right and she from the left.
Never, though, does Belliou inhabit his dancing and present himself to the audience, he's so outside himself as the riveted observer. Could this be the reason, too, he doesn't attain the intense clarity that is the hallmark of superb movement? It will be interesting to see if, in the future, Belliou learns to love his art wisely and hone his skill.
Brienzo, who has a nice high leg swing, neither outdances Belliou nor tries to outproject him. The other dancers on the bill (the Hoofery group that performed Mary Pat Cooney's "Java Jive" plus Belliou's students) were amateur, though the youngsters who tapped were cute. The top professionals on this program were the musicians of the Hot Jazz ensemble -- drummer Brooks Tegler, bass player John Previti, tenor saxophonist Al Seibert and pianist Ray Ohls -- as well as solo percussionist Steve Bloom, who was also the emcee.