The first rainy day in weeks ushered in an eclectic crowd of young and old, half shaved heads and grey perms, Rockports, Birkenstocks, and Vans to Night Cap, a tap dancing and big band concert. Curious to see how this mix would fare inside The Fox Cabaret – previously the last 35mm porno theatre in North America – now a bustling milieu of inspired and conspiring culture seekers.
Walking in, we felt like parents coming to an art school graduation with the cool kids being cool and the parents frantically jockeying for the best seats in the house. The Fox event staff played the role of the school councillors smoothing out ruffled feathers and calming the hyper not-so-cool kids. Lucky for us, our host sat us down with two aspiring dancers who proved to be a great source of insider tap-dance culture info.
The eight-piece “Last Call Band” warmed up with a casual jazz ditty that cautiously drew our attention and introduced all members of the band, one solo at a time. Out of the gates, tap dance master Jason Samuels Smith killed any perception that this was an amateur event. When he hit the floor the little tiny hairs in the ear canal registered a change, perhaps a premonition that we were about to witness something special. Taking a solo tour cue from the band, each of the performers took a turn on the dance floor, warming up the audience and the toes. Danny Nielsen is fascinating to watch: he is tall, lanky, and unassuming, with an unmistakable ease to his stage persona. He has a smile that draws you in. World renowned dancer, Joel Hanna rounded out the final third of the intro by showcasing unmistakable talent and skill. He was also the host for the night, which was delightfully entertaining. He made the crowd laugh by picking on a photographer for being too good looking and spoke about his heartfelt appreciation of all in attendance, notably the incredible talent on the stage.
Without overindulging on the mic, Joel introduced singer Jaclyn Guillou. Her singing was uniquely smooth and ethereal, nearly impossible to compare in likeness to other singers. In a pool of singers that all sound like someone else, Guillou has developed something truly special. The crowd expressed their appreciations with Wows, Oohs and Ahhs.
Danny jumped in with Jacklyn and created magic by playing off each other in a super smooth slow jam. This was a completely new experience for us, listening to the dimensions of live music interlaced with the physicality of tap dancing. Close your eyes and image a love story unfolding with lush crescendos and an ebbing feeling of separation between the performers – ultimately becoming one sonorous amoeba.
Then, Joel let the crowd know it was break time and to “have a drink or ten.” Not bad advice considering he was up after the break. How could he possibly follow what had already unfolded? By making it his own. Joel has an extensive background in many styles of dance including Flamenco, Irish and tap. His playfulness mixed with meticulous metronomic timing was a pleasure to watch. Mentally storing away the previous performances for later reflection, the crowd swayed and swooned as Joel removed a layer of clothing to signal a notch was about to be cranked in this Latin- inspired piece. This was a show, an experience, not an eye was trained elsewhere. As the piece drew to a close, Joel switched gears to MC, breathlessly asking for a bottle of water. Get this, he then sat down and owned a cover of U2’s “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and then kicked into another Latin- inspired piece.
The Finale was appropriately offered to Jason Samuels Smith. A few days earlier at a tap festival in Austin, Jason was bitten on the leg by a spider, he told us. For any other dancer, a painful spider bite on the leg might have proved difficult for performing. Not so with Jason. As he tapped his way across the stage without missing a beat, it was clear to the crowd that whatever pain he did suffer, Jason had squashed it away.
As the night came to an end, the audience walked out of the Fox with a spring in its step, knowing that we were the lucky few who were smart enough to snag tickets to an incredible show.
The show was not sold out. It should have been.
Photos: Allison Kuhl