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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Film review: Dean Hargrove's "Tap World"

New York-born tap star Jason Samuels Smith (left)
 and the late Kathak guru Pandit Chitresh Das forged an unexpected and electrifying
cross-cultural partnership, as noted in Dean Hargrove's new feature film, Tap World.
(photo courtesy of

Tap World's run at New York's Village East Cinema has been extended through next Thursday, July 23. Hooray, and let's talk about the important thing that this award-winning documentary from Tap Heat's Dean Hargrove does absolutely right.

No, Tap World does not offer an intellectual primer on tap history or tap technique or how hard tap dancers train, as the New York Times critic appears to have needed. It does allude to tap's origins in the African-Irish encounter in colonial America. And the mad skills necessary for its proper execution should be crystal clear to everybody--just try it--as should the discipline and loving dedication.

So if Hargrove's 72 minutes--largely derived from footage submitted by dancers from many nations--focus on how much joy, and soul healing, these dancers get from this art and how much joy they give, what of it?

Tap World does what the rest of U.S. dance could and should do. It shows why dance matters to this society and to our world. It reaches past the official arbiters of what's important about dance and instantly, solidly connects with the public. It moves people. Just like the best tap does.

"Rhythm is the language of life, the international language," says acclaimed dancer/actor Ted Louis Levy, one of numerous tap artists and teachers sharing thoughts and personal narratives here. "The simple things--rhythm and love--transcend difference," says Chloé Arnold, the dynamic performer and dancemaker who, along with sister Maud Arnold, is one of the film's producers. That philosophy informs the entire film. We're treated to a virtual world tour watching how this once uniquely American art form has enchanted and fulfilled dancers of one country after another--from France to Taiwan, from Brazil to India. Dancers the world 'round use tap to expand and express themselves.

Yet, as Kathak soloist Rachna Nivas lucidly explained in last evening's post-screening Q&A, tap remains itself, never blending in a "fusion" with other cultural forms. Hargrove includes a tantalizing sample of one such intercultural moment, an excerpt from a shared performance by two greats in their respective fields--Jason Samuels Smith and Nivas's teacher, Kathak guru Pandit Chitresh Das, who died this past January. When these two live wires connect, the energy will rock you right out of your seat.

See Tap World in New York City--now through July 23--
at Village East Cinema (directions).
Click here for times and tickets.

Now playing
at select theaters nationwide

Click here for scheduled screenings,
live performances and Q&As.

Watch for the DVD release this November.

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