Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble gives traditional ‘Nutcracker’ a toe-tapping revamp

Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble
‘The Tapcracker’ hits the stage at Suzanne Roberts Theatre this weekend.
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If you have had your fill of Christmas ballet and its traditional rendition of ‘The Nutcracker,’ then The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble of Philadelphia’s ‘The Tapcracker’ is for you.

The Lady Hoofers group and its all-tap Christmas spectacular will feature music from Duke Ellington at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre this weekend. Celebrating its 10th anniversary of making ‘tap’ modern while acknowledging showbiz tradition is what makes Lady Hoofers founder-artistic director Kat Echevarria Richter, managing director Katie Budris and post-production manager Meg Sarachan – dancers all – tic. Or tap.

“Tap is going through a resurgence,” says Budris.

Not only has it been updated through the talents of internationally-renowned hoofers such as Savion Glover and Deborah Mitchell, but during the pandemic break, the adaptability of tap made it easy to continue while other dance forms went into hibernation.

“We were able to perform in alternative spaces. You can tap on a wooden board, a subway station or outside,” adds Budris

Echevarria Richter goes on to state that she founded Lady Hoofers to merge the sophisticated steps of both rhythm tap and Broadway tap, with “a mission to commission new works, all while maintaining a footing in improvisation… It should not just sound good. It should also look good. Use your entire body. That is what I like to put on stage.”

Sarachan, a one-time classical violist, adds that the glory of taking to tap, now, comes from “being both a musician and a dancer, combining the visual elements of aesthetic movement with the audio element. Many tap dancers think of themselves as percussionists first, and dancers second… As a percussionist you can fulfill many different roles, in the forefront or in the background.”

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Considering that Duke Ellington’s elegantly composed, cosmopolitan jazz will be as much a part of ‘The Tapcracker’ as Tchaikovsky, what is the difference in the flow of the dance?

“A lot of Western European music lacks syncopation,” explains Sarachan. “Ellington fills that role, the role of something that swings, something more contemporary, and allowing us to riff on that style. And yet, we also have the classical tradition and that flow to tap through. You will be able to hear how our rhythms play to both of those styles of music.”

The conception of ‘The Tapcracker’ originated from one-time ballet dancer Echevarria Richter, and how she, “frankly was not that good at ballet,” the Lady Hoofer CEO states with a laugh. “But I always wanted to do ‘The Nutcracker.’ So, we work-shopped the idea for tap, and as an all-female troupe, did not want to do anything that had been done before.”

A news story about a rat infestation of the Eifel Tower became the tap catalyst that Echevarria Richter needed for her new Christmas dance routine: “That gave me the idea, so our ‘Tapcracker’ is set in Paris, and the story begins with the mouse take-over of the Eifel Tower. We knew what characters we were going to have for the all-women dancers – wrote it while I was pregnant – and went from there.”

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Budris, who choreographs several pieces within the new dance, adds that a pregnant Echevarria Richter wrote ‘The Tapcracker’ after the troupe’s long, vigorous variety show performance, and in perfect rhyming iambic verse. The Lady Hoofer leader also wrote an entire character for Sarachan, a dancer without a long hamstring who can’t high kick.

“I’m a can-can dancer who is not good at being a can-can-dancer, and Kat and Katie have allowed me to make the character my own and improvise much of my stage business,” says Sarachan. “Getting to riff and make people laugh has been the best feeling. There’s Spanish guitar music, acapella vocals, some hip hop, and several traditional Tchaikovsky numbers, too, but Ellington’s syncopation really makes ‘The Tapcracker’ swing.”

‘The Tapcracker’ will be on stage at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, on Dec. 10 and 11. For information and tickets, visit ladyhoofers.org

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