Friday, May 21, 2010

Friday Dance Party: A Brotherhood of Tap

I've been enjoying various clips, the past few weeks, of the late, great Lena Horne. While trolling through the available material online, I came upon this fantastic dance sequence from the film which provided her with her signature tune, Stormy Weather. Ms. Horne does not appear in this clip; our Dance Party stars this week are the incomparable Nicholas Brothers.

Fayard and Harold Nicholas were sons of entertainers, and were touring in vaudeville before they hit their teens. They appeared regularly at the Cotton Club, and were reportedly the only black entertainers allowed to mingle with the white patrons. They invented a signature style, which included leaping up and down stairs and leapfrogging each other, a technique which came to be called acrobatic dancing, or "flash dancing". (The technique bears no resemblance to the more modern "flash dance," in which a female factory worker is doused with water.) They influenced several generations of dancers, and included Debbie Allen and Janet and Michael Jackson among their students. Baryshnikov called them the greatest dancers he had ever seen, and Gregory Hines noted that their signature move (the "no-hands split," where they dropped into a full split, then returned to a standing position without use of their hands) would have to be duplicated by computer, if a biography of the duo were ever to be filmed.

If that Nicholas Brothers biopic ever happens, Gregory Hines's brother Maurice may have found the guys to star in it. (The Hines Brothers are in the picture at left.) Maurice is currently starring in Arena Stage's revival of Sophisticated Ladies, a musical revue which originally starred his brother Gregory. The current show is a smash, and Arena has just announced that it is now the biggest grossing production in the theatre's 60 year history. Apparently, another set of brothers provides the highlights of the production. Maurice Hines held extensive local auditions to cast his show, but used only two DC performers, John and Leo Manzari, a couple of high schoolers. They seem poised to become the newest tap-dancing brother-team, in the tradition of the Nicholas and the Hines brothers.

This week's Dance Party shows that the Manzaris have a lot to live up to. This clip from Stormy Weather, starring the Nicholas Brothers, displays a phenomenal feat of stylish athleticism; Fred Astaire called it the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen: