The first few minutes of the Dorrance Dance company's ETM: Double Down performance left me with two thoughts. One: These dancers are incredible. Two: What did I just watch?
The opening scene is atmospheric — the stage literally cloudy with smoke — as one dancer follows another, who is adorned with suspending wires like a marionette. The wires, it turns out, are connected to wooden panels (designed by tap dancer and percussionist Nicholas Van Young) that are triggered as the trailing partner dances on them.
Such is the beginning of the tonal trip that is the first half of the show.
Michelle Dorrance's evocative choreography progresses from reserved to cacophonously captivating through the course of the almost two-hour show.
What prop might be pulled in next? What instrument (several are lined up on stage, waiting their turn) will accompany the next section? Which dancers will reappear?
The build-up is steady enough that by the time four dancers pull out four heavy link chains, you're not all that surprised. The chains are dropped on a wooden board, adding an extra component to the beat. The board already has a ribbed silver edge for yet another layer of texture.
A few sections within the piece reminded me of "Evolution of Dance," the 2006 viral video of motivational speaker Judson Laipply dancing his way through history that became synonymous with the rise of YouTube.
It feels simultaneously momentous and disruptive when, near the end of the show, one of the dancers introduces a synthesizer. She dances around it with the curiosity and awe of an early human discovering fire, inviting the members of her tribe to figure out how this thing works — how they can move to it.
The soaring vocals of American Idol alum Aaron Marcellus accompany some of the most poignant performances, including a heartbreaking duo between Gabe Ortiz and Byron Tittle.
When all eight dancers finally make it to the stage together, stomping, cheering, smiling, and making music with their magic shoes, you might finally start to get it.
As she was making her way through the crowd and away from the packed bleachers at the Memminger Auditorium, one woman turned to me and said about tap dancing, "It's certainly changed a lot from when I was younger — well, everything has."