James Devine has been dubbed the “tap tornado” for good reason. On the boards, his feet are a blur of movement. With his laces flying, he can hammer out 38 beats per second. His feet are so fleet that they have landed him in the Guinness Book of World Records.
His speed gave him an edge as a competitive Irish step dancer, too. At age 14, he won the Grand Slam of Celtic dance, securing the top title in the World, American, British, All-Ireland and Great Britain contests in the same year. He remains the only male to ever achieve that feat.
After several years of riding the Celtic craze, dancing in “Lord of the Dance” and other big shows, he realized that Irish step dancing wasn’t his singular calling. Rhythm tap was.
“I was meant to learn this,” said the 32-year-old Devine. “It was second nature to me. It was like it was in me the whole time. Rhythm tap was fundamental.”
Irish step and rhythm tap have since fused in his soles and onstage in his touring solo vehicle “Tapeire.” For the past year, he traveled with his high-end, urbane showcase of rhythm and Celtic dance and funk and hip-hop music.
WHERE: The Egg, Empire State Plaza, Albany
WHEN: 8 tonight
HOW MUCH: $24, $20 seniors and $12 children
MORE INFO: 473-1845 or www.theegg.org
Tonight at The Egg, however, the dancer will tone it down with a more intimate, concert-style event in which he continues to meld his dueling dance styles with all musical genres from Celtic to classical.
Devine will be joined by multi-percussionist Paul Jennings and fiddler Duncan Wickel, who will perform such pieces as Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” the Irish tune “Devil in the Kitchen” and “Dueling Banjos” from the movie “Deliverance.” Placed side-by-side, Devine expects the music to bridge ancient cadences with the contemporary world in “a pretty tight jam.”
Though he says the show is a percussive conversation between dancer and musicians, the eyes won’t be able to divert themselves from Devine. As The New York Times reported, he is commanding, a cross between “Fred Astaire elegance and Savion Glover hunker-down brilliance.”
Devine is grateful for the comparison. But he knows that the embracing of rhythm tap did wonders for his Irish step technique.
“With tap, there is a lot more flexibility,” he said. “But people are coming to see the world record holder. I have to entertain them. They have to get what they paid for.”
Devine attributes his success in Celtic dance to his mother, his first teacher. She was a step dance champ who was disabled by a brain tumor. She taught him anyway, from her wheelchair. When he was 8, she would tap out the Celtic rhythms on the back of his hand. He would then transfer them to his feet.
After he won the Grand Slam, Michael Flatley approached Devine to star in his “Lord of the Dance.”
“Irish dance was a phenomenon. It had a new identity. I happened to be right there. I was excited by that. At the time, the opportunities were immense.”
Those opportunities continued for a good while. In 1998, at the height of the craze, he was invited to Australia, where he choreographed, directed and starred in “GaelForce.” He then toured Eastern Europe with another Irish dance spectacle, “Ragus.”
His transformation into a rhythm tapper took place after he witnessed “Bring in ’Da Noise, Bring in ’Da Funk.” He was 21 and had a career epiphany — rhythm tap was what he wanted to do.
Learning new steps
But he didn’t have time to learn the technique. He waited four years before he could steal away for a few weeks from the Irish dance circuit. He traveled to New York City and enrolled in 40 hours of private lessons from Jimmy Tate, a member of the original Broadway cast of “Bring in ’Da Noise.”
“We traded rhythms,” said Devine. “He introduced me to funk style. It really opened up the world to me.”
Since then, Devine has established his own production company, “Devine Dance Company,” which incorporates both forms of dance. In 2006, he and his ensemble won a Total Sell Out Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland for “Tapeire.” He’s taking a break from the splashy show for his small, trio tour. However, the essence of what he does in “Tapeire,” fast footwork to funky tunes, is the hallmark of every thing he does.
“It’s cool stuff,” said Devine of his show. “And a great journey for me.”
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Categories: Life and Arts