Review: Baird, her dancers honor legends of tap
SARATOGA SPRINGS Everything was copasetic on Sunday afternoon when Tina Baird and her Saratoga Jazz Tap rose tall with upbeat rhythms at Universal Preservation Hall. The performance, led by the enthusiastic tapper extraordinaire Baird, was part of the annual SaratogaArts Fest — a celebration of all art, everywhere throughout the Spa City.
Baird’s program, “Everything Will Be Copasetic,” zeroed in on the pioneers of tap — the legend of old who made American tap what it is today. Through narrative and dancing, Baird and 13 of her students testified to their reverence for the art form and its artists who endured through good times and bad. And if her students are any indication of tap’s current health, it is certain that the dance will continue to thrive. These students are lucky, however, as there is no greater tap spokeswoman/teacher in this area for tap than Baird. A student of Brenda Bufalino who was a student of Charles “Honi” Coles, Baird has a stellar pedigree. Her knowledge has obviously seeped into her bones and soul, making itself known through the light raps of her toes and the hard knocks of her heels.
In this short program, she tried to offer the audience a glimpse of all of her knowledge, which she backed up with video of the masters, mainly The Copasetics — the wonderful collection of tappers that toured theaters throughout the world. While all have died, they made unforgettable area appearances at both the Spa Little Theatre and Jacob’s Pillow in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
While the background was interesting, much of the video, with the exception of Mabel Lee, was fuzzy and hard to see. It would have been better for Baird to just get up there and dance. Happily, she and her ensemble did, which made for the better part of the afternoon showcase.
Baird started off with a solo created by Buster Brown. Titled “Laura,” the dance showed Baird at her best, smiling while she laid down some easy-going and fluid rhythms. She punctuated her steps with a few light hops and twirls that surprised and added to the joy. As the speed and difficulty of the rhythms increased, she wound “Laura” down with rhythmic repeats that caught the attention of both the eyes and ears.
That’s the thing about tap — it’s as much music as it is dance. Yet Baird loves the theatricality of early tap. She demonstrated Coles’ elegance in “Coles’ Stroll.” Bringing up 10 from her ensemble, the dancers casually tapped in a stylish looking S-formation around the stage to Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the A Train.” Like Cole, the dancers displayed dignity with their arm-swaying simplicity.
Baird also proved the connection between tap and vernacular dance in a jazzy quintet that incorporated everything from the Suzy Q to the Charleston.
Most notable were Baird’s revivals of two Copasetics’ standards — “The Chair Dance,” in which the ensemble tapped while seated in chairs, and the singing of the group’s theme song “Everything Will be Copasetic.” In both instances, Baird and her ensemble clearly established their admiration for and willingness to emulate these captains of tap, ensuring that everything, indeed, was, and will be copasetic.