Today's post is about a person I still cannot believe I have the privilege to know. Tristan Bruns (pronounced BROONS) is a tap dancer, a choreographer and a musician with a degree in guitar from Columbia College, Chicago. Tristan is in high demand as a performer in the Chicago area, is the artistic director and founding member of The Tapmen Dance Co, and The Adventures of Tapman, his collaboration with modern dancer and choreographer Kate O'Hanlon, has been a critically acclaimed fixture at many Fringe Festivals across the counter. You can learn more about Tristan here, here, and here.
For many years, I have wanted to collaborate with a tap dancer. I had an idea for a dance with no other musical accompaniment aside from the rhythm and timbres one can get out of various steps, parts of the shoe, and possibly different surfaces. The latter intrigues me, but I have learned this is something that must be used with great caution. Tap dancing is very hard on the body, and I believe, the shins in particular. There are risks for my music I am willing to take, and some I will never be willing to take. Undue physical pain is NEVER on that list. So, Tristan and I are about to embark on finding some surfaces that work without him having to endure a sadistic obstacle course.
I met Tristan the way so many find each other these days, the gorgeous and terrifying Internet. About four years ago, I searched for Chicago area tap dancers. I happened upon a video on YouTube of Tristan dancing in a MUST SEE work called The Train, which debuted and was chosen "Best of Dance Chicago" at the Josh Weckesser Dance Spectacular in the Summer of 2010. The piece begins with Tristan as a solo dancer. Tristan’s Tapmen colleagues, Martin Bronson and Zada Cheeks, join in the fun a bit later. This nearly nine-minute unaccompanied piece completely floored me. Their stamina was impressive to say the least, but what really excited me was that they had proven what can be done with unaccompanied tap. I didn't need to compose stop-time piano, or use other percussion instruments to form an ensemble. A hard surface and a dancer in tap shoes were the instruments. Rhythm, timbre, choreography, dance, athleticism, all of these components were more than enough to create a stunning piece. If I wasn't before, I am most certainly now, hooked on hooves.
In December 2012, I managed to summon the courage to write to Tristan to see if he’d be willing to collaborate. Not only was he willing, he responded with a great long email in return filled to the brim with some help with notation, and his own desire to collaborate on this kind of project with a composer. A few months later, I saw one of his first Tapman shows, loved it, and we met for a long, enthusiastic discussion. Then, my academic world, the death of my mentor, delayed exams, and so many other things enveloped me. The concert I had in mind for Tristan was on. Then, it was off. Then, it was on again, then nope. Postponed again. I thought I was going to lose him, but he never lost his patience with me. I’m grateful for that, and even more so for his talent!
This Tuesday we start our first of many collaborative rehearsals before my recital on March 11. I’ve sent Tristan abstract concepts, outlines, video links that include steps that intrigue me, and several minutes of notated rhythms. The learning curve is steep, but the process is made far easier by the fact that Tristan is a musician as well as a dancer and choreographer. Choreography notation will be elusive to me for quite a while, even though I have been studying Kahnotations, a tap dance notation system developed by Stanley Kahn in 1951 made available to me by his former student, San Francisco Bay Area legendary tap dancer Sam Webber. Though I have a few ideas about steps, Tristan's choreography is where it’s at, baby, and he’ll be in my living room creating the best moves to speak for my ideas. When I see and hear a tap dancer in my own house, I’ll probably faint! Good thing there’s a couch nearby.
Our piece, Sand Dancer, Automaton and Proud Hoofer for solo tap dancer, fits into the narrative of the concert in several ways. Part toy, part struggle, and part catharsis meets bravado. I am overjoyed that this wild little idea is finally coming to fruition in a big way, thanks in every part to Tristan. See the final product on the watch page, or just listen on the listen page.
Tristan Bruns, thank you. I am lucky to know you.