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Thomas DeFrantz in Monk's Mood – A Performance Meditation on the Life and Music of Thelonius Monk – presented by SLIPPAGE: Performance | Culture | Technology

by Robert Abrams
December 13, 2009
Joyce Soho
155 Mercer Street
New York, NY 10012
212-431-9233
web.mit.edu/slippage
Thomas DeFrantz conceived and performed this experimental dance incorporating tap dance, jazz music and computer technology. The computer was periodically activated using buttons (touch sensitive copper plates) taped to the floor that were pressed by Mr. DeFrantz's foot. In response to these button taps, the computer then adjusted the music, lighting and projected images. (According to the program notes, "these plates allow the step of the performer to influence media events in the performance space at random, and these mediated events influence the shape of the performance." I was informed by Amber Henrie, Mr. DeFrantz's PR person, that the computer randomly draws upon an archive of 100 selections of music and light, which means that while every performance has the same theme, the exact sequence of music played and steps danced will vary from performance to performance, which is both a new idea and one that is consistent with the improvisational nature often found in tap dance.)

Mr. DeFrantz's dancing often fit the music well. This kind of jazz is not the sort of music I usually listen to, but I was held by the performance nonetheless. I appreciate having had the opportunity to hear jazz in a new way.

Mr. DeFrantz sometimes wore a pair of glasses during the performance that looked so cool, if he had put a coupon in the printed program, I might have bought a pair after the show. He also used a very fine collection of hats throughout the show. I liked Mr. DeFrantz's suit too.

Mr. DeFrantz's dancing could be fast and fluid, bouncy, as well as slow and soulful. He is especially enjoyable to watch when he gets going.

My main criticism (negatism?, since a criticism can be positive) of the show is that sometimes the music was a little too loud. Not so loud that it hurt (I have been to a show like that once), but in a few of the show's passages, if the volume had been lowered just a tad, I think the music would have been easier to hear and the dancing easier to see.

I liked the way that the music would sometimes shift unexpectedly at the touch of Mr. DeFrantz's foot in part because the effect was similar to what happens when my 1.5 year old daughter plays her "piano" – pushing a key starts a new sequence of music. As a relatively new father, I have been looking for ways to connect kids and dance. Finding a connection between the music of Thelonius Monk and the music of a toddler was unexpected. My daughter's piano doesn't have any Monk in it; I wonder how she would dance if it did.

At the end of the show, the audience was very happy: clapping, hollering and foot stomping. During his bows, Mr. DeFrantz paid his respects to the floor upon which he had just danced – I thought it was a nice touch to end the evening.
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