'The Nutcracker' in tap shoes

The Lady Hoofers present ‘The Tapcracker’ at Suzanne Roberts

3 minute read
A young Devon Collins defies gravity as Clara. (Photo by Sa'Mantha SayTen.)
A young Devon Collins defies gravity as Clara. (Photo by Sa'Mantha SayTen.)

When I first heard about The Tapcracker, I didn’t know what to make of it. The Lady Hoofers, a tap-dancing troupe made up entirely of women, had created a tap version of the Nutcracker staged at Suzanne Roberts. With the Pennsylvania Ballet’s seasonal extravaganza three blocks away, I didn’t see how the new show would work. But Tapcracker is a minor gem.

In the new story from company founder and artistic director Kat Richter, narrated by dancer and choreographer Kimberly Davidow, Clara (danced by the Lady Hoofers Youth Ensemble’s Devon Collins) travels to Paris with her mother for the holidays. Clara becomes bored at an elaborate dinner and wanders off to see the Eiffel Tower, where tower guards, led by Rickia Dallam as the Tapcracker, stand watch against an invasion of mice. A pitched battle between the mice and the tower guards follows.

The Mouse Queen, danced by Mia Valeriote, helps Clara to escape to the palace of Versailles for the set-piece dances: “Sugar Rush,” “Coffee,” “Chocolate,” and “Can Can.” The Queen of Versailles (Britney Kennedy) brings peace between the Mouse Queen and the Tapcracker, and the show ends in a Broadway-style production number with the whole cast.

Tchaikovsky meets Ellington

Richter and managing director Katie Budris’s re-envisioning of the Nutcracker combined a jazzy Broadway tap style, where the visual movement shone, and rhythm tap, in which the feet of the dancers created their own music. Richter set her Tapcracker to a jazzier beat as well. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn had us tapping our toes in our seats, while Tchaikovsky’s well-loved score ran like a thread through the performance, bringing us back to the story we were riffing off of.

It is hard to choose a favorite Tapcracker moment. Richter choreographed the overture as a Broadway tap number against a backdrop of shop windows on a Paris street. The company, in white coats nipped in at the waist with black tulle underskirts designed by Richter and Budris, ended the piece with a crowd-pleasing chorus line of Rockette-style high kicks.

The company’s rhythm taps provided the music for “Bon Appetit,” choreographed by Budris and company apprentice Katherine Moore. Dancers sat at a long table and tapped with their feet and with spoons and plates and cups, while the waitresses engaged in tap challenges on the side.

Rickia Dallam (with the ‘Tapcracker’ Tower Guards) is a dancer to watch. (Photo by Sa’Mantha SayTen.)
Rickia Dallam (with the ‘Tapcracker’ Tower Guards) is a dancer to watch. (Photo by Sa’Mantha SayTen.)

New star, new tradition

“The March of the Tower Guards” was a real showstopper. Sarah Mason choreographed the piece in 1999 as “The March of the Toy Soldiers” for Nutcracker on Broadway. Katie Budris restaged it for The Tapcracker. The tower guards, in fluid black pants, short red jackets, and tall hats, danced in tight formation, shoulders firm, their feet setting the cadence. At their center, the charismatic Dallam, all in black with gold braid, led the troupe, ending the piece on her toes. Here and in the battle with the mice, she lit up the stage with her easy grace while still commanding the floor with her taps, dancing so joyously that it lifted our spirits just to watch her. Dallam is still in the youth ensemble, but she is already a dancer to be reckoned with. It will be fun to watch her grow in her art.

The dance of the snowflakes became a balletic snowball fight, with the dancers, in white sweaters and hats and scarves, tossing fluffy snowballs to the children in the audience. And Britney Kennedy shone in the Queen of Versailles’s solo.

Unlike many dance companies, the Lady Hoofers ensemble looks a lot like its audience: different ages, different races and ethnicities, tall and short, slim and rounded. Richter and Budris designed comfortable costumes to flatter all shapes. The youngest dancer is 12 and the oldest is 37, but the company is still relatively new. I expect that in the years to come, the Lady Hoofers will hit the mark for senior dancers as well.

One welcome note for audiences who could not get tickets for this year’s sold-out performances: the company hopes to add a third show next year, taking its rightful place among the Philadelphia holiday traditions on the Avenue of the Arts.

What, When, Where

The Tapcracker. By the Lady Hoofers. December 8, 2018, at the Suzanne Roberts Theater, 480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 985-0420 or ladyhoofers.org.

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