Michelle Dorrance in ETM: Double Down, photo by Tristam Kenton.

What happens when dancers take control of the music? Or rather, when musicians can’t control their bodies’ urge to dance? A collection of artists whose hearts must beats in staccato  rhythms in whole body percussive movement, synchronized and not, creating patterns that satisfy the path your mind is on before your brain has the chance to reach them.

An upright bass sits center stage. Drums bounce around from their home in a set stage left. Shakers, chains, using instruments both external and bodily, Dorrance Dance‘s ETM: Double Down is a hypnotizing display of a genre entirely its own.

Developed through residencies at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Yard Offshore, and The Joyce Theater, Double Down is the brainchild of Vail Dance Festival Artist-in-Residence, Michelle Dorrance, and dancer/musician Nicholas Van Young. Using small electrified drum pads as trigger boards, this unique performance explores “the range of possibilities inherent in being both dancers and musicians”, according to Dorrance. It certainly brings America’s first street form to the 21st century, and perhaps even beyond, electrifying a historically acoustic auditory-visual art form.


Dorrance Dance Artists in ETM: Double Down, photo by Tristam Kenton

Everyone on stage is a dancer, and everyone on stage in a musician. Act II begins with hauntingly beautiful improvisational riffs sung by Aaron Marcellus, who uses a small device to record and layer his own voice again and again, creating breathtakingly deep harmonies. It sets the tone for what is to come: a stacking and stripping of layers. A symphony of sounds.

The versatility is astounding. Futuristic reverberations echo, hollow and impending. Quick taps tickle, joyful and bright. Conversational choreography emotes, proving tap can be narrative, too. Like the board mixing sound, Double Down blends contemporary with breakdancing, hip hop with tap dancing, music with movement.


photo by Christopher Duggan.

At one point the entire cast of dancers arranges their soundboard squares into a row downstage, creating a gigantic keyboard. Dorrance’s cheeky attitude peeks through as the lights go out and the dancers mount their “keys” in the dark, producing a cacophonous burst followed by an audience chuckle. The lights reveal the cast once more and together they tap across their keys, essentially becoming a human piano. The teamwork, talent, and remarkable freshness of this group cannot be overstated. Their bodies like soundwaves, a visual representation of the auditory vibrations they are producing, they never stop dancing. The focus is never entirely dancing nor music producing. It is ceaselessly split between the two, begging the audience to wonder why the two have been separated so long.


Dorrance Dance in ETM: Double Down, photo by Hayin Heron

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