The Lady Hoofers tap into a jazz­i­er Nut­crack­er’ with Tapcrack­er’

3 minute read
The Lady Hoofers look to represent dancers of all backgrounds. (Photo by Bill Hebert)
The Lady Hoofers look to represent dancers of all backgrounds. (Photo by Bill Hebert)

The all-women, all-tap Lady Hoofers are bringing Tapcracker back for its third year at the Suzanne Roberts Theater. Artistic Director Kat Richter says the company wants to establish a holiday tradition that people can look forward to, down to the hot cocoa bar at intermission during the matinees (and a full bar at the evening show).

Tapping into tradition

In Philadelphia, we are all about tradition, and Tapcracker brings together two of our most cherished: The Nutcracker and tap dancing. Tap, as we know it today, grew up with jazz and Broadway. Philly’s great tappers, such as LaVaughan Robinson and Germaine Ingram, have been all about the hoofing. We are the birthplace of street dance tap. Richter founded her company in 2011 to build on the great Philadelphia Legacy by representing a broad spectrum of styles while retaining the improvisational Philadelphia soul.

As for the Nutcracker, Richter says that she has always wanted to do it in tap. “I performed in a ballet version as a kid and I have always just loved the tradition of the Nutcracker at the holidays, and the music,” she says. Richter wanted young tap dancers from around the region to have that “what part are they going to be cast in this year” experience that young ballet dancers do.

Tchaikovsky’s music, with those delicate waltzes, is not exactly a good fit, but then she learned about the version that Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn had created for the Dance Theater of Harlem. “I started listening to that music,” she said. “I was amazed and thought, that would be perfect for tap.”

A step ahead

She was right, but she went a step further. The E.T.A. Hoffman story features a mysterious uncle and a nutcracker prince. Lady Hoofers is all women and girls, and they fly all the colors of an ethnically diverse city. Richter wanted a story that reflected her troupe and her audience. She says the idea came to her on the morning news: “The year that we were tossing around this idea, trying to figure out how we were going to pull it off, was the year that the Eiffel Tower in Paris was actually shut down because there was a rat infestation in a number of the parks."

Richter and managing director Katie Budris put their heads together and concocted a confection for the new age. On her first trip to Paris with her mother, Clara slips away from a grown-up dinner party to visit the Eiffel Tower, which has been taken over by rats. A battle with the Tower guards follows, and then a visit to Versailles, where the queen of the castle brokers peace between the rats and the guards. There are big Broadway tap numbers (Richter loves the corps as much as I do!), rhythm taps—hoofing—at the dinner party, and an improvisational dance battle among the wait staff at the party.

Rickia Dallum, my favorite last year as the captain of the guard, is now studying tap at Oklahoma City University. But Richter promises that the new captain, Kennedy Barnes, will knock our socks off in the show-stopping dance of the Tower Guards (with choreography by Sarah Flynn). Other changes to look for include an expanded role for Clara, danced by Emily Bartholf, and some new choreography for the rats.

When the Lady Hoofers are not on stage, you can find them at the John Moffet School. With support from Capezio, the dance apparel company, the troupe provides free tap shoes and lessons to the entire 5th-grade class.

What, Where, When:

The Lady Hoofers present The Tapcracker, December 14-15, 2019, at the Suzanne Roberts Theater, 480 South Broad St., Philadelphia. Visit online or call (215) 985-0420.

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