Pamela Hetherington, artistic director of Take It Away Dance, grins briefly at her fellow tappers on stage; Lauren Belasco and Alec Chupik, brows furrowed, are too focused on keeping time to catch it. In her Fringe show, The Destination is the Downbeat, Hetherington’s smile and the lackadaisical swing of her arms misconstrue the fury of movement happening beneath her ankles.
She, Belasco, and Chupnik tap dance with ferocity, overlaying their individual beats to create an impossibly fast string of rhythm (at last, shoulders hiked up to the ears reveal the difficulty). They jump while turning around themselves, landing at the exact moment to percuss a booming clack, and the energy dispels. I sit back in my chair.
Beyond the feet
Seeing Hetherington wink, grimace, and furtively glance across the room during The Destination is the Downbeat is delightful. In tap dance, it seems the whole of the body is less beholden to shape since much of the focus is the rhythm created mainly by the feet, and it is a sweet novelty to catch her authentic, in-the-moment reactions.
Hetherington’s face also illuminates her razor-sharp focus on her fellow performers, encompassing the other dancers in addition to pianist/musical director Erica Corbo, trumpeter Paul Giess, and bassist Nicholas Krolak. Everything oozes a casual coolness; as Giess’s muted trumpet swings a note upward, Chupnik’s feet thwak the floor with a somehow loose deftness, riffing off of the beat. In the warm glow of the lights in Fishtown’s Drummers space, the swing between tap dancing and the crooning of jazz music makes me want to bob my head, close my eyes, and snap along.
“Time is a feeling,” the show description asserts, and I see this most clearly in the moments I perceive the artists to be improvising. In an interlude carried by the musicians, Corbo on the piano skips around the base layer beat maintained by Krolak. Just when I think it’s gone off the rails entirely, she picks the thread back up and falls in with Giess and Krolak. Later, when the dancers reenter, Belasco punctuates fits of feverish tapping (how can she fit that many raps within a four-count?) with cool brushes of the metallic tap shoes across the floor. The beat is composed of both the notes, or taps, and the space between, and the whole cast pushes what can be held in that space with curiosity and ingenuity.
Perhaps time is merely a feeling. This performance feels like ten minutes, and I could have easily seen more.
What, When, Where
The Destination is the Downbeat. Choreography by Pamela Hetherington. Take It Away Dance. Through September 20, 2019, at Drummers, 2152 East Norris Street, Philadelphia, PA. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
This venue is accessible only by stairs.