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Dance and Music Reviews : Jazz Tap Ensemble at Morgan-Wixson Theatre

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, the Jazz Tap Ensemble is playing two weekends at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica, not far from its birthplace in Venice.

On Friday, the company boasted four dancers (including newcomer Mark Mendonca) and four musicians (counting guest Stacy Rowles) instead of its previous three-and-three configuration. But the expansion launched no new creative gambits, merely a curious enforcement of play-it-safe variety.

There were plenty of insular exhibitions of technique, but performing relationships that threatened to become inspired were quickly curtailed. In “Embraceable You,” for instance, Eric von Essen’s solo bass briefly formed a luscious complement to Lynn Dally’s moody, intimate tapping. But, like so many other exciting possibilities Friday, their magical collaboration was abandoned undeveloped. Bland showmanship ruled. This company has clearly been on the road too long.

A teen-age prodigy from Berkeley, Mendonca scarcely had an opportunity to showcase his startling, street-wise tap style. (At one point, he combined tap steps with a break-dance slide, coming up with what might be called moon-tapping.) Very frustrating.

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Dally still exploits a loose, slumpy character style. Terry Brock continues to add loads of Broadway pizazz to her routines. Sam Weber is now highly playful in his attacks (though the footwork has stayed spectacularly intricate). And, with Rowles supplying the mellowest brass playing imaginable, the resident musicians (pianist Jeff Colella, drummer Jerry Kalaf and Von Essen) sound more accomplished than ever.

But what challenges these people these days? Self-celebration is certainly appropriate after 10 years of their sophisticated professionalism--but no substitute for a sense of direction.


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