moves: Urban Tap.
Mae G. Banner
Egg, Jan. 20
Haiti, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, French Guiana and New York City
all were represented in a smoothly flowing, warm-hearted show
conducted by the dancing impresario known as Tamango.
A clever chef of movement and music, Tamango (Herbin Van Cayseele)
was born in Cayenne, and raised and schooled in Paris, but
he made his name in the downtown clubs of New York, where
he gathered singers, dancers, musicians, and tech wizards
of the African diaspora into the stewpot of his Urban Tap.
Five members of this loosely bound coalition drew a willing
audience into the unflagging spirit of their dances in last
Friday’s close-up performance at the Egg’s Swyer Theater.
The hit of the show was Vado Diomande, a stilt dancer from
the Ivory Coast and member of a family of griots. Nine feet
tall in his wrapped stilts, his face hidden by a black stocking
mask with a long hanging nose, Diomande was a marvelous character—comical,
grotesque, delicate as a French ballerina en pointe.
He wore a straw skirt and false hands like whisk brooms, that
poked out from his long sleeves. He skreeked and squawked
like the Wicked Witch of the West, feigning disgust with Tamango’s
Diomande lifted and swung one leg in a three-foot-high ronds
de jambe that forced everyone to duck their heads. Then,
his straw hands fell to the floor and, stiff-legged giant
that he was, he couldn’t bend down to recover them. He strove,
he prayed, and finally, he did a ceiling-scraping handstand
(on his real, but hidden hands) and hand-walked toward the
inert straw hands. In a tremendous feat of one-handed balance,
he retrieved them, flipped upright onto his stilt legs and
swaggered off, triumphant.
When Diomande challenged Tamango to a call-and-response tap
number, the whole audience responded like kids at the circus.
In a happily involving show, this may have been the most engaging
Tamango’s Urban Tap played the Egg’s 900-seat Hart Theater
about five years ago with a multi-media show that incorporated
dreamy videos of ocean waves and a larger cast of singers
and dancers. Friday’s hour-long show was neatly scaled to
fit the smaller Swyer. Tamango himself danced far forward
on the thrust stage, drawing the audience in with his spidery
Dressed in red tunic and pants with bells at his waist and
mojos hanging from his wrists, neck and belt, he played call-and-response
rhythm games with himself and with us. He would listen to
the sound of his taps, then introduce a counter-rhythm, while
father and son Haitian drummers Gaston and James Jean-Baptiste
maintained the underlying beat.
Tamango fed off the audience’s energy, conducting the two
sides of the house in rhythmic clapping, letting our participation
inspire his improvisations. He moved like a side winder snake,
always with his knees bent. He used an electronic delay to
keep the sound of his taps going beyond what a human could
naturally do, and made us believe the magic.
Belinda Becker, originally from Jamaica, danced a curving
contrast to Tamango’s angular forms. Becker has brewed her
own choreographic style from elements of West Africa, the
Caribbean, flamenco, and modern club moves. Essentially, her
torso undulated non-stop, while her poetic arms traced flamenco
patterns and her feet strummed the ground at warp speed. Her
demeanor was inward, calm. She seemed to listen to her own
rhythms and to be rightly pleased with what her body could
By now, audiences have learned to connect the dots between
traditional African moves and their Caribbean and North American
progeny. We know there are stilt dancers in Congo Square and
mud- pounding feet in half-time stepping shows. Still, it’s
thrilling to see the past and present brought together on
one small stage. Right in front of our eyes, Tamango and Urban
Tap peeled back the layers and smoothly fit them together