From the DC Dance Journalism Project
Metro Tap Roots Review at Dance Place
November 5 and 6, 2016
By Taryn Brown
Once upon a time, I went to see jazz music weekly. It was the summer of 1995 in Winston-Salem, NC. I had fallen madly in love with a jazz musician in arts school who left for a gig in Singapore. In order to feel closer to him and try to understand the world he lived in, I went to hear jazz…a lot. The jazz world was new to me; the sounds, the musical structure, the racially diverse crowd, and the general spirit, was something I had not been privy to beforehand. It was my “summer-o-jazz” that I first thought of when I entered the theater to see Metro Tap Roots’ presentation of Branches from the Same Tree, for the evening length piece began with a jazz combo on stage (drummer, upright bass, keyboard) and three stools.
Opening with an audiovisual projected homage to Jimmy Slide, Gregory Hines, and Bunny Briggs, the first act of the evening, “Seeds,” celebrated history and respect to the aforementioned famed tap dancers through a series of three solos. The solos featured Baakari Wilder, Jason Samuels Smith, and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards. Each one showcased their dancer’s personalities and highly virtuosic tap dance abilities.
Mr. Wilder was chill and calm. He fit into the music completely, as if he was an additional instrument. Mr. Samuels Smith was playful, quirky, and clever. He hammered into the floor with his taps in a way that would make a general contractor dream of productivity. He was thrillingly fast and got cheers from the audience as he concluded. Lastly, Ms. Sumbry-Edwards provided a solo that ranged from gentle and dreamlike to dominant and fierce. She utilized the performance space with large circles while radiating her smile out to the audience. Her lightness was encapsulated with her robot dance joke and emanated all the way out of her golden shoes and into the floor. In essence, each dancer became an additional instrument within the musical score of the first act. They provided counterpoint and rhythmic accentuations with their bodies, and it was as if their shoes were physical extensions of their immaterial spirits. It also seemed that I could glimpse how they were working from the inside to out, even though the end product was successfully presentational.
The second half of Branches from the Same Tree, entitled “Fruit,” landed us in more of a present contextual time. The performers changed from their fancy garb into a few more relaxed looks. After a brief jazz standard, act two propelled us into a completely new experience with a musical rap by Baakari Wilder and Jason Samuels Smith. The two men were on fire within this element. It was a sudden switch to hear their voices, but one that came easily. The ending of the show utilized amazing stellar unison movement with the trio coming together for the first time. It felt as if I was watching these dancers become versions of their legends, but as themselves, right in front of me.
This Metro Tap Roots event was low key, but highly produced. The miked floor gave power to the taps and the lighting and video projection complimented the piece. As learned in the Q&A following the performance, the dancers did improvise quite a bit because as Baakari Wilder said, “As professionals, we are in the mode of readiness to create” and that “we all have strong ears.”
Indeed, not only do they have strong ears, but they also have magical feet. Branches from the Same Tree could easily be an intimate Off-Off-Broadway show success. Its importance is summed up by the fact that it shows history, present day, and insights into the future of tap dance. It is personal and universal simultaneously. I left wanting to go see more live jazz (even without an old flame to pine for) and with an honest motivation to sign up for tap lessons.