In a full-page program note to “The Tell-Tale Tap: Stories of Edgar Allan Poe”—artistic director Mark Yonally admits to two obsessions: the macabre nineteenth-century author and a yearning to guide his company to produce “narrative dance theatre.” Since Poe’s output was more symbolic and allegorical than literal, and ultimately more concerned with creating mood, the idea of his prose and poetry as a source and as its theatrical interpreter experimental rhythm tap—capable of shading, various degrees of intensity and unexpected attacks—is inspired. But Yonally’s vision to change assumptions of what tap can do is only partially realized in two of the three pieces proffered: “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a chilling piece of murder and guilt where the incessant strike of metal to the floor conveys the same sense of ominous tension as in Poe’s writing; and a volatile reading of “The Raven,” featuring the ragged voice of poetry slam pioneer Marc Smith, where fear of the unknown is translated into a virtuoso solo for Yonally. In these pieces, tap becomes a language on a par with Poe’s writing: dramatic and distressing. But “The Masque of the Red Death”—the evening’s longest and final movement—is a misfire. With its repetitive theme of debauchery, concert lighting and eighties-inspired haircuts and costumes, the dance element—with awkward song buttons and clunky blackouts—smacks of the full-out presentational, hoofin’ and hittin’ and anything-but-illuminatin’ ubiquitous tap entertainments. Despite the inspired soundtrack (there is clever use of Leonard Cohen, Violent Femmes and Tears for Fears, among others) it is an unrealized finale to an otherwise unique piece of repertoire for this promising dance ensemble. (F.O. Almeida)
Athenaeum Theatre Studio 1, 2936 N. Southport, (312) 902-1500. Fri-Sat 8pm/Sun 3pm. $15-$25. Through July 17.