MacArthur Fellows Program

Michelle Dorrance

Tap Dancer and Choreographer | Class of 2015

Reinvigorating a uniquely American dance form in works that combine the musicality of tap with the choreographic intricacies of contemporary dance.

Title
Tap Dancer and Choreographer
Affiliation
Dorrance Dance/New York
Location
New York, New York
Age
36 at time of award
Area of Focus
Choreography and Dance

Michelle Dorrance is a tap dancer and choreographer breathing new life into a uniquely American art form in works that combine the musicality of tap with the choreographic intricacies of contemporary dance. Dorrance uses her deep understanding of the technique and history of tap dancing to deconstruct and reimagine its artistic possibilities.

Tap is primarily an aural dance form, with dancers creating complex syncopations through technical feats of footwork. In a high-contrast physical style, Dorrance maintains the essential layering of rhythms in tap but choreographs ensemble works that engage the entire body: dancers swoop, bend, leap, and twist with a dramatic expression that is at once musical and visual. In SOUNDspace (2011), she shapes the architecture of the stage space by moving dancers in and out of view; the dancers create an acoustic chamber as the audience is surrounded with textured rhythms created by leather, wood, and metal taps on the stage, backstage, and balcony.

Dorrance has moved beyond the episodic nature of traditional tap pieces—with solo dancers competing for the most audacious phrase—to craft evening-length ensemble works that tell compelling stories through rhythm and the arrangement of visual information. The Blues Project (2013) is an encyclopedic depiction of the history of the blues as told through tap-based works as well as an active collaboration between the dancers and the musicians who accompany them. In ETM: The Initial Approach (2014), Dorrance creates a fusion of acoustic and electronic sound. The dancers perform on platforms that are activated by their contact to emit sounds and enable electronic looping, allowing a real-time exploration of how movement and sound affect each other. Dorrance’s choreographic sense of tap as a musical and visual expression is bringing it to entirely new contexts and enhancing the appreciation of tap as an innovative, serious, and evolving art form.

Michelle Dorrance received a B.A. (2001) from the Gallatin School at New York University. A member of the faculty of the Broadway Dance Center since 2002, Dorrance has performed with preeminent tap companies and has taught and choreographed for institutions and groups across the United States and abroad. She toured with the Off-Broadway production of STOMP (2007–2011) before founding Dorrance Dance/New York. The troupe has performed Dorrance’s choreographic works at such venues as Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, the Joyce Theatre, and Danspace Project, as well as at numerous festivals throughout North America and Europe.

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Credit: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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