Chicago on Tap

Article excerpt

Is there a new spirit afoot among young jazz-tap artists? Chicagoans got a chance to judge for themselves during Chicago on Tap, which featured a dozen dancers, aged twenty to seventy-seven, from around the country. Or maybe that fresh breeze was literal: the sounds and smells of water are never far away at the beautiful new open-air Navy Pier Skyline Stage on Lake Michigan.

The older generation of jazz tappers are showmen with carefully constructed personas--especially Jimmy Slyde, who co-hosted the event with Sarah Petronio. His stumbling falls and dizzy turns into deft, nuanced tap arpeggios reflect a general pretense of instability in the upper body, a pretense as sly as his mock-naive looks at the audience--He's completely sure of himself. Tall, stooped Chuck Green is as still as a dignified crane over his gentlemanly taps, while former prizefighter Lon Chaney huddles over his meaty hoofing--a clown peering up at us, arms out, hands splayed.

Middle-aged Petronio and Brenda Bufalino are pivotal figures. Bufalino apparently aims for gaiety, but eventually her light, even steps and happy-go-lucky manner seem artificial, monotonous. Petronio is more spontaneous and flexible, her mobile face mirroring her search for the right rhythms, however eccentric. Looking within herself or listening to the music (a four-piece jazz band at these performances), she almost frowns, then breaks into a smile when she finds and delivers what she wants.

Of the seven young dancers, two are more in the traditional line: Karen Callaway is a graceful dream, arms prettily suspended, with taps as happy as a song, while Van "The Man" Porter is a real showboat, exaggerating his big-boned style into a macho persona that seems a little old-fashioned despite the break-dancing bits. …