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A Return to Gregory Hines and the Tap Dancer as Musician: Andrew J. Nemr's Where The Music Lives

by Tonya Plank
January 11, 2008
Julia Miles Theater
424 W. 55th Street

New York, NY 10019
212-239-6200
Choreographer and tap dancer Andrew J. Nemr and his five-member ensemble of young, up-and-coming dancers, Cats Paying Dues (CPD Plus) put on a charmingly low-key program entitled WHERE THE MUSIC LIVES from January 9-13 at the small Julia Miles Theater in midtown. Basic black pant-suits with different-colored undershirts for the two men and three women served as costumes, and sets and props were sparse. Rather, the evening consisted simply of very good dancing to music ranging from Hollywood classics to Duke Ellington-era jazz to contemporary numbers performed by an excellent 12-piece band led by the engaging keyboardist Tommy James.

The wide variety of dances included ensemble work, solos, duets – both those where two dancers would tap back and forth in dialog and those where one dancer would sing, the other tap in response, pieces with music and pieces without. Most impressive throughout was the way in which the tap dancer actually became the musician. In the first few numbers, the band provided only the background accompaniment while the dancers produced the actual melody. Tapping in perfect unison created a harmonious rhythm, and every part of the shoe was used to render different pitches and notes: the very tip of the toe made the faintest and most subtle sound, the heel a sharper and more staccato one, a stomp of the full foot obviously made for the loudest and most percussive pitch, and a slow drawn-out slide sounded almost like a siren's song. Claudia Rahardjanoto, who danced with the most visual clarity and excelled at the slides, was a viewable demonstration of the group's full use of the shoe to maximum aural effect.

In one ingenious piece, a music-less solo, dancer Rebecca Snow, evoked in sound one's waiting for a subway train. Heel to the floor, she tapped the ball of her foot repeatedly, sounding like an impatient would-be rider. At other points in the solo her tapping would become more elaborate, resembling a multitude of passengers shuffling along the platform. When her dancing eventually built to a crescendo, it was reminiscent of an approaching train. It was a brilliant idea, excellently executed.

To be sure, this is a very young group and its members have a way to go in fully developing their artistry. Nemr was a protégé of the late Gregory Hines and it shows in the way he manages to combine a jazzy, laid back, seemingly effortless attitude with conspicuous speed, precision, and complicated footwork. However, a Hines-in-the-making though he may be, a Dean Martin he is not, and he was often noticeably off-key in his singing parts. If he wishes to continue performing non-dance, singing roles (and there is no reason why he must; he could easily hire a singer), he must develop his vocals. Conversely, Gemini Quintos, while somewhat lacking in dance virtuosity, had a gorgeously rich singing voice and she belted out her bluesy lyrics as if there was no tomorrow. The performer who can dance and sing with equal ability and intensity is likely very rare.

It was Orlando Hernandez who quickly emerged as the most captivating and naturally talented of the group. He is only 17 years old and it showed in his lankiness. But with his nimble footwork, lively expressiveness, obvious commitment, and above all commanding stage presence, once he grows out of his gangly teenage body, he will no doubt be top notch; most definitely one to watch on the tap scene.

With tap dancing having become a spectacle as of late — from Savion Glover's thrilling hopscotch theatrics to the roving onstage cameras and scantily clad women utilized by Joel Hannah and Michael Shuster in their rock extravaganza "Revolution," Andrew J. Nemr marks a welcome return to the elegance of simplicity and the tap dancer as maker of aural magic.
from left to right: Gemini Quintos, Andrew J. Nemr, Claudia Rahardjanoto, Orlando Hernandez, and Rebecca Snow.

from left to right: Gemini Quintos, Andrew J. Nemr, Claudia Rahardjanoto, Orlando Hernandez, and Rebecca Snow.

Photo © & courtesy of Aaron Epstein

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