Shoestrings | Athenaeum Theatre | Dance | Chicago Reader
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Shoestrings 

When: Sept. 5-7 2014
Price: $35
chicagotaptheatre.com
This concert from Chicago Tap Theatre has a vaudeville-ish conceit. Throughout, upbeat tap numbers trade off with quippy, coquettish vignettes. What's stringing them together is just that—strings, and a proliferation of puns about them.

The concept struck choreographer Rich Ashworth like a broken chord. He wanted live music, so he roped together an unconventional string band: guitar, violin, ukulele, and berimbau, a single-stringed Brazilian instrument used in capoeira that resembles an archer's bow with a coppery globule on the bottom.

Then it dawned on him that strings, musical and metaphorical, could serve as an impetus for dance. He quickly imagined a quintet for marionettes that captures something of the dolls' imperfect articulation, with twitching tops of feet and kneecaps and elbows and hands. To play on heartstrings, a trio simulates three backward glimpses into the life of an old dying woman while wearing red forget-me-not pinky ribbons. Depicting the frustrations of playing second string to a jock, a small-town nerd upstages his hunky nemesis by wrangling his way into the affections of a sophisticated popular girl. Even artistic director Mark Yonally started tap dancing with a yo-yo.

Now, completely strung out on strings, Ashworth went crazy. String cheese, Silly String, paddleball, cat's cradle—these became the material for the campy skits he's laced between dances. In one, a poet reads a poem about string theory.

But Ashworth has more than one string on his fiddle. His work ties in hip-hop, and I spotted some ballet port de bras. He avoids a common pitfall among rhythm tappers—namely, the bad habit of staring down at their feet—by making jaunty head movements mandatory. He choreographs for the upper body more than many rhythm tappers care to. Visually, this makes for a happier and more expansive experience. But too many of these numbers are a little too perky and blithe, bordering on vacuous. It's not long before one gets to feeling strung along. Jena Cutie

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