By Ashley Larsen
There is no shortage of performing arts in NOLA, but one group is merging genres to create something new. “Neutral Ground” is a live, seven-piece jazz ensemble where tap and jazz “collide”. The performance will be an homage to not only tap dancing but jazz and the city in which it was born, New Orleans.
“We’re just adding another layer to fabulous music that is already there, to take on a new life,” said Heidi Malnar, Artistic Director of Gulf Coast Theatre on Tap. A merger of these two art forms has rarely been seen, especially in a city where tap is usually limited to dancers in the Quarter or schools.
The production will explore the “energetic exchange” between the two art forms. A jazz band will be up on stage with the dancers. “We are telling the history of New Orleans’ music, and presenting a wide variety of New Orleans’ songs, and tap dance is the vehicle used to express it to the audience,” said Malnar.
Opening the second act will be a tribute to famed jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain performed by his granddaughter, Danielle Harrell Scheib. “Danielle and I have choreographed together before, when she found out that we were doing this show, she approached me about doing the dedication,” the tap dancing queen said. “We thought it was just such a perfect match with what we are doing, blending jazz and tap together. And we thought it was so coincidental that a tap dancer is related to such a famous jazz artist.”
Harrell Scheib will perform to “When the Saints Go Marching In” in front of a picture montage of Fountain’s life.The tribute will be the only portion that is pre-recorded so that the local legend’s essence is properly captured.
The production will also feature an a cappella tap rendition of a Mardi-Gras style drumline. “I’m not a New Orleans native,” Malnar said. “And for me, one of the most exciting things about Mardi Gras was hearing the drumline coming down the street. We’re trying to recreate that using tapping, with lots of rhythms playing against each other that is going to resemble a marching drum line. One of the most important things to remember is that there will not be a band accompanying this portion, just ten dancers who have to listen and feed off each other’s energy.”
The Gulf Theatre on Tap usually recreates a tune a cappella in each of their shows. The segments are popular act but a drumline is a first.
“Netural Ground” will have performances by accomplished dancers in three different performing companies. They are all under the direction of Malnar and include professional touring dancers, pre-professional (ages 14-17), and junior-level (ages 10-13)
Feature dancers Laura Sicignano, Associate Artistic Director; Tara Brewer, Sarah Broekhoven, Jesse Alan Fourcha, Jalessa Jett, Susan Grady, Elizabeth Shortall Pulsinelli, and Rachel Vierk. Tammy Strahan Mansfield is the musical director.
The hour and a half long production will take place Oct. 9-11 at 7:30p.m. and Oct. 12 at 2p.m. at Lupin Hall at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA), on the 2800 block Chartres St. Tickets are $15-$30 and are available at theatreontap.com.