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REVIEW: La Jolla Music Society’s tap-meets-classical music concert a hit with the audience

San Diego Union-Tribune

Christian Hertzog
February 6, 2022

For over a century, choreographers have taken concert music and added dance, in ballets such as “The Spirit of the Rose” or “Les Sylphides.” Visual movement complemented pre-existing music.

Genres where dancers make music with their feet are more intrusive propositions, imposing an extra musical layer over the composer’s original intent.

Nevertheless, it has been successfully done with flamenco. In 1983, María Pagés added it to Bizet in Carlos Saura’s film “Carmen,” and three years later, the two reconceived Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” as a flamenco ballet.

Tap dance and classical music collaborations have not enjoyed such high visibility, but that may very well change with pianist Conrad Tao and tap dancer Caleb Teicher.In the duo’s sold-out Friday performance in Baker-Baum Concert Hall in La Jolla, Bach, Brahms and Mozart were embellished with time steps, shuffles and turns.

The show, titled “Counterpoint,” began with Tao softly and soulfully sounding the aria from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.” Teicher sat beside an 8-by-8-foot wood platform. I wondered how tap dance could possibly be added to Bach’s sublime melody without ruining it.

About halfway through the first part of the aria, Teicher stepped onto the platform and silently spun. He turned on one shoe like an ice skater, dragged his feet to create soft unbroken sounds, and as Tao ended the first section, Teicher quietly tapped out the closing notes of the phrase with Tao. Teicher gently accompanied the rest of the aria with spins, drags and carefully chosen tapping that respected Bach.

A similar approach was later taken with Brahms’ Intermezzo in E major, Op. 116, No. 4.

A more conventional pairing of jazz and tap occurred in a finger-busting performance of Art Tatum’s conception of “Cherokee,” enhanced by Teicher’s time step combinations. Elsewhere Tao improvised a jazz-like tonal piece with free-style footwork from Teicher.

An excerpt from Tao and Teicher’s extended dance work “More Forever” allowed us to see Teicher’s choreography, ably executed by him.

Could tap have complemented Tao’s exquisite, detailed renditions of Schoenberg’s Waltz from his Five Piano Pieces, Op. 23 or the Minuet from Ravel’s “Sonatine”? Perhaps, but those moments were given entirely to Tao.

Teicher had solo spots. He performed Brenda Bufalino’s version of Cole and Atkin’s Soft Shoe without the original music, a slowly swinging rendition of “Taking a Chance on Love.” He demonstrated that there was ample music in the stylish choreography alone.

In a program highlight, Teicher tapped out Mozart’s “Turkish Rondo” with no more accompaniment than his occasional good-natured scat singing. For the ending, he danced out the rhythms of this well-known work, allowing the audience to supply the music in their own heads.

The audience favorite was Tao’s virtuosic arrangement and performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” enhanced by Teicher’s happy merger of jazz and Broadway tap styles.

Throughout, Tao was a musical master of many different styles. His cool confidence was a good foil to Teicher, whose demure stage persona erupted into exuberant dancing.

In recent years, La Jolla Music Society has broadened the variety of music it presents. This concert, the first in its ProtoStar Innovative Series, was a hit with the audience, and perhaps points the way to more inclusive events that bring in people who might not otherwise attend a classical recital.

Hertzog is a freelance writer.