Tapestry Dance Company

Poetry and tap dancing share the stage in Tapestry Dance Company’s 25th anniversary show, “XXV - Anticipation of Next.” 

Director, veteran choreographer and dancer Matt Shields’ concept for the show, which incorporates dance, poetry and jazz, involves the audience gaining a look into the human mind. 

“I thought it would be interesting to create work that comes from the inside and is really real,” Shields said. “People are going to relate to that, because everyone has a conscious and contemplates choices and decisions they have to make in their everyday life.”

In order to make his idea a reality, Shields invited poet Ebony Stewart to perform spoken word throughout the show. Her voice serves as the conscience and narrator of the thoughts going through the minds of the dancers.

“I was sitting in rehearsal and writing what I saw, and then I would ask the dancers questions to see how they felt about a particular section,” Stewart said. “I wanted to write from what people could relate to, and what I thought people might see when looking at the dance.” 

Stewart wrote easily understandable poetry that is consistent with the dreamy style of dance portrayed by the tap dancers. 

“We wanted it to be relevant to people’s dreams in a metaphorical sense and in an actual sense. It’s very human poetry,” Stewart said. “I know sometimes poetry can be metaphorical, kind of a deeper meaning, but this is very surface level and at the same time thought-provoking.”

Stewart said that working with the various artists involved with “XXV - Anticipation of Next” was a challenge because she had to relate spoken word to different types of art. 

“It allows me to be versatile, so instead of just writing poetry, I get to then make my poetry match what someone else’s poetry might be,” Stewart said. “I feel like jazz, that’s their type of poetry. Tap dances, that’s their type of poetry. So I have to take what I know and make it fit and make it work.”

The idea of working with multiple types of artistry in one production has been around since Tapestry Dance Company was established 24 years ago. Under the artistic direction of Acia Gray, the company focuses on using mixed mediums as well as training its dancers to view tap in an unorthodox way. 

“In my opinion, what makes Tapestry what Tapestry Dance Company is, is that we take tap dance and put it in, wrap it up or attach it to an emotional, human condition,” Gray said. “To a place that means something on a spiritual or everyday life level.” 

As one of the original founders, Gray takes great pride in the company and its mission. In the past, she worked closely with dancers as the head director of shows, but she was recently diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.

“Obviously it’s major surgery, and it comes with two other surgeries right after it, and I just finished the second one not too long ago which kind of put me out of it for the beginning of the rehearsals and the preliminary set up in November,” Gray said.

Although she is recovering, the surgeries caused Gray to give more direction responsibility to Shields for this show and several before it. 

“It’s always challenging working with a group of people, especially when you’re the quote-unquote ‘leader’ or the person whose vision it is,” Shields said. “Trying to make people understand what you see and what you feel as a choreographer and to try and relate that to others is one of the biggest challenges.” 

Gray said she was extremely proud of Shields for stepping in and taking responsibility during her absence. 

This show both celebrates the legacy of Tapestry Dance Company and looks forward to the future. 

“What’s wonderful about it is that Matt is part of a legacy of Tapestry and what Tapestry really means, and he started with me when he was 19 years old and has grown into a beautiful artist,” Gray said. “So the legacy of Tapestry and his growth really emend to the 25th anniversary.”

Dance students rehearse at Tapestry Dance Company and Academy monday evening.

Photo Credit: Andrew Edmonson | Daily Texan Staff

Three dancers move to the center of the room into their positions. Their tap shoes click-clack against the wooden floors. Swing music plays over loudspeakers, and the dancers’ feet begin to flutter in a symphony of rhythm. The room quickly becomes a seamless cycle of tapping, at least one pair of feet always in musical motion

Tonight marks the beginning of the Tapestry Dance Company’s 11th annual Soul to Sole festival. The event celebrates the classic American art of tap dancing through a weekend of performances, over 75 master dance classes, film screenings and a panel discussion in which faculty and company dancers will take questions and discuss contemporary issues in their field.

Tapestry Dance Company, a nonprofit dance organization and home to a full-time professional tap dance company in South Austin, was founded by Executive Artistic Director Acia Gray and Education Director Deirdre Strand in 1989. They started the company as a way to provide dance education to the community and develop a strong foundation for multi-form dance performance. The studio is also home to the International Tap Association, making it the central portal for everything going on in the tap dancing world, Gray said.

Previously, the company would hold an International Tap Dance Day celebration with just a few classes and small performances.

“Then we thought, ‘You know, we need to make this a festival,’” Gray said.

Over the course of 11 years, the festival has grown from three faculty artists to 10 from around the world, Gray said. The featured artists are specifically chosen by Gray based on their professionalism and attitude.

“I honestly only invite people that I respect artistically but that I also like,” Gray said. “It’s funny to say it that way, but there are some people who are really gifted but difficult, and I don’t tolerate that at all.”

The professional artists will show off their tapping talent Saturday night in the faculty showcase, which will consist primarily of jazz tap improvised to live music.

 

Friday night will feature a participant showcase. Students from Tapestry’s classes will be interspersed with performances by the professional dance company. Dancers will participate in a tap jam, accompanied by music from a jazz trio led by Michael Stevens.

“A tap jam is like an open mic that stays in rhythm,” Gray said. “Usually it’s two dancers musically talking to each other, challenging each other — but in a playful way.”

Through the festival, Tapestry hopes to keep a legacy and connection to the traditions and importance of tap dance. Gray said she hopes the festival imparts a sense of appreciation for the art form on those who attend.

“My wish would be to have everybody who walks in the door see and feel tap dance in a new and unique way and want to share it with somebody — that would be a very special thing,” Gray said.

While tap dancing is challenging, Gray said it is up to each individual what type of experience they want to have. Tapestry’s studio is a safe place to learn, but Gray said it can still be challenging if you want to push yourself.

“It’s not about which person is better than the other; it’s about being supportive,” Gray said.

For Gray, in comparison to other festivals, Soul to Sole is special because it encompasses Austin’s acceptance of eclectic artistry.

“Just like Austin, [the festival] has an Austin feel with its unique, eclectic and challenging personality,” she said.

 

Originally printed on 6/9/2011 as: Soulful dancers tap into performance