CHICAGO — It seems a natural partnership – live music and tap dancing – and yet Chicago Tap Theatre (CTT) seems to have settled in a niche that no other dance company in Chicago has. I had my suspicions, but didn’t really know until last weekend’s annual Unleash the Beats at the Athenaeum Theatre that CTT has a hold on a plethora of live arts audiences. Couples, dancers, tweens, theatre goers, musicians… the house at the Athenaeum is not an easy one to fill, and CTT quite nearly pulled it off. As Artistic Director Mark Yonally came onstage for announcements and promos, the audience swooned. They’ve got fans. Like, legit fans.
It doesn’t hurt that the company is a group of really talented tappers, but sometimes their efforts to stylize and contextualize tap into something new and hip caused CTTs essence to fade. Unleash the Beats painted on narratives, added style and flourish and costumes; they will apparently try anything, and in one evening gave us a tap dance with bungee belts, a tap dance on pretend tightropes, a bad boy tap dance, a girl power tap duet… all to varying degrees of success. In the end, for CTT, it always comes back to the music, and CTT is at its best when they keep things simple. For me, the highlight of the evening was Strobe at the end of the first act. Pure and interesting movements, no gimmicks, perfectly in sync with Musical Director Kurt Schweitz (who, I’m pretty sure, is a genius), performed better, clearer, and more audibly than a previous showing at Spring to Dance in St. Louis. I get that the superfans of CTT want things like Daft Punk tap, Beck tap, Beyonce tap… but for this girl, the beauty of CTT lies in the subtleties, and in the feet of its dancers.