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TV Reviews : ‘Dance in America’ Has Gregory Hines on Tap

The “Dance in America” series discovers the world of tap tonight, and it’s about time.

The hourlong PBS telecast (11:10 p.m. on KCET Channel 28) also gives Gregory Hines a new opportunity to prove that he is one of the great dancers of our era.

Shot during rehearsal and performance at what used to be Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe in New York, “Gregory Hines’ Tap Dance in America” reunites cast members of previous Hines vehicles, including “Sophisticated Ladies” (the musical) and “Tap” (the movie).

The emphasis is on the variety of expression in contemporary tap--so, for once, there are no vintage film clips of the dear departed.

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Instead, we see something like a cavalcade touching on Broadway tap (Hinton Battle and Gregg Burge), Symphonic tap (Fred Strickler dancing to Benjamin Britten), Harlem tap (veterans Bunny Briggs, Buster Brown, Jimmy Slyde and Sandman Sims), Jazz tap (Camden Richman’s solo and a group piece by Manhattan Tap), plus other variants. Much of this is terrific and some of it as flat-out awesome as television dancing ever gets. Set your VCR timers, my friends: This is one for the vaults.

In a sample of what might be called Classic (or at least Classy) tap, Hines and Tommy Tune re-create a sleek Honi Coles-Cholly Atkins number under Coles’ supervision--and it’s not the only time on the program when Hines abandons his innovative, superbly muscular, assaultive and asymmetrical style for new challenges. He even gets to dance with a split-screen image of himself a la Fred Astaire.

Nevertheless, there’s room for improvement. Isn’t the subject of tap choreography neglected here? Aren’t women in tap treated like a sideshow? Doesn’t director Don Mischer sometimes lose the flow of the dancing with flamboyant camerawork? And can’t we do without Sandman Sims in the same role of curmudgeon that he overplayed in “Tap”? Sure. But the main thing wrong with the show is lack of ambition: It settles for being a one-shot special when it should be the pilot for a series.


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