Review: The Big Band Tap Revue

Image of dancers in Big Band Tap Revue

The Big Band Tap Revue, now on stage in Toronto, has great music, great dance, great fun

As we left the Brigantine Room at Harbourfront Centre after seeing The Big Band Tap Revue, my guest for the evening exclaimed, “Well, that was just pure fun from beginning to end!” And she was bang on.

The Big Band Tap Revue is actually less straightforward than it sounds, though. My favourite pieces were the ones that branched away from what I was expecting based on the idea of a ‘big band tap revue.’

Josh Grossman, the conductor of the Toronto Jazz Orchestra and co-creator of The Big Band Tap Revue with Allison Toffan, told the audience that he and Toffan set out to explore the relationship between the music and tap. In a press release, Toffan was quoted as saying, “We really do get the rare opportunity to step into each other’s roles, working side by side like never before, which is the ultimate goal for any creative collaboration”

The work they put into building this collaboration shows. The dancers and the music are working together. They are part of a whole. I didn’t feel like the music was backing the dancers, I felt like the dancers were part of the music.

It is possible that the sight lines contributed to that feeling. I could generally only see dancers from mid-thigh up, and when I stood up (I made sure I wasn’t blocking the view of anyone else) the situation was only marginally improved, I got to just below the knee. It’s simply the way the Brigantine Room is: the stage is low, there’s no way around it.

But for me, this was a bit of a blessing in disguise. It let me focus on the music side of things more. It was also a reminder that so much of dance for me is about how a dancer inhabits their body.

I went in feeling like the focus of tap dancing was the feet; I left realizing there’s so much more to enjoy. The feet are the instrument, the wonderful instrument, that is fantastic and exciting to watch being played. But dancing, that’s the whole body, that’s everything.

I said that the evening was less straightforward than it sounded. Well, there was some music you’d be more likely to expect, some stuff by Fats Waller, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and so on. Less expected was the music by The Roots, Outkast, and a great funk piece based on music from the movie Superbad. I really liked the variety.

My favourite was an original piece of music called “Transference.” It was based on a commission Toffman created, a percussive music piece where the only instruments were dancers and their bodies. In this version the original was used as a starting point, and Grossman composed music for the band based around the percussive piece the dancers were performing. I found myself a bit disappointed as the focus transferred to the band instead of the band providing background, but it is “Transference” after all.

Five excellent dancers took the stage, directed by Ted Louis Levy. They were all a joy to watch, all with their unique flavour.

Allison Toffan was not only a co-creator and choreographer, but one of the dancers. She also looked like she was really enjoying herself every moment she was on stage, and that means a lot to me as an audience member.

Stephanie Cadman impressed me not only with her dancing, but also with her violin playing in “Sweet Georgia Brown.” I never could resist a good jazz violin. Put it in the hands of a smooth dancer like Cadman and I was swooning.

Ryan Foley really shone when things were playful. His body felt relaxed and fluid and he seemed to be having a blast. I would have loved to see him in some kind of a playful thing on his own.

Danny Nielsen took a few minutes to loosen up, but when he did he really got into it. My first note on him was that he seemed technically great but it felt like he was in his head, and then my next note was, “whoa, well, something happened, he just found his body.” Those were in the same number.

While everyone was great, Travis Knights blew me away. He was everything I look for in a dancer. He was in his body, not his head. He seemed to be enjoying himself. His movements felt deliberate. He was fantastic.

And, in case the great band and the great dancers weren’t enough, there were also a couple of great singers: Sophia Pearlman and Justin Bacchus.

Ultimately it all comes back to what Elaine said: “Well, that was just pure fun, from beginning to end!”

With Saturday’s show sold out on this two day run, Sunday will be tight, so I recommend getting your tickets ahead of time rather than at the door.


Photo of company by E.S. Cheah

One thought on “Review: The Big Band Tap Revue”

  1. Wonderful to read such a great review Travis! Glad to have mini news of what you are up to . So happy for you!

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