Dor­val tap teacher hon­oured for decades of danc­ing de­light

Montreal Gazette - - WEST ISLAND - KATHRYN GREEN­AWAY kgreen­[email protected]­media.com

Ethel Bruneau is Montreal’s maven of tap dance. For more than 60 decades, she has taught hun­dreds of stu­dents — for much of that time at her stu­dio in Dor­val.

She in­tro­duced her stu­dents to the in­tri­ca­cies of rhythm tap — aka hoof­ing. Think Savion Glover, Tap Dogs and the late Gre­gory Hines.

Bruneau, who turned 83 on New Year’s Day, is be­ing fêted with the trib­ute Ethel Bruneau: Cel­e­brat­ing a Life in Tap, at La Sala Rossa as part of the multi-dis­ci­plinary Lux Magna Fes­ti­val, Jan. 26.

Bruneau has five grand­chil­dren who all danced at one time or an­other. Three of them — Tisha Llewellyn, Ma­jiza Philip and Tesfa Llewellyn — will per­form at the trib­ute, along with stu­dent Krista Ri­ley and Bruneau pro­tégé Kyle Briggs. Bruneau will ap­pear at the top of the show, per­form­ing the song It Don’t Mean a Thing.

Lib­erté Big Band: MTL For­ma­tion ac­com­pa­nies the dancers with orig­i­nal mu­sic by band di­rec­tor Lib­erté-Anne Lym­be­riou, who is also the show’s co­or­di­na­tor.

It was Llewellyn who brought the show’s pro­ducer, Sonya Ste­fan, and his grand­mother to­gether. He works at La Sala Rossa restau­rant and when Ste­fan’s vi­sion for her next show was in its in­fancy, she heard he tap-danced.

“Sonya wanted to bring back those happy mem­o­ries she had tap-danc­ing as a child,” Lym­be­riou said. “But we didn’t want to do a ret­ro­spec­tive, a mu­seum piece. We wanted to show the in­flu­ence Ethel had on the con­tem­po­rary world of dance. We wanted to show that tap is mod­ern, still evolv­ing.”

Lym­be­riou said that many don’t know that jazz mu­sic was in­flu­enced by the com­plex rhythms of hoof­ing way back in the day.

“It wanted to bring back that con­ver­sa­tion be­tween dance and jazz,” she said. “Rhythm tap goes with jazz. It’s a pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence, be­cause it is real.”

Bruneau was born and raised in Har­lem. She came to Canada as a Cab Cal­loway dancer in 1953 for a three-week gig and ended up stay­ing. To make a liv­ing, she sang and danced and taught and taught some more.

The sec­ond part of the pro­gram fea­tures Bruneau’s orig­i­nal pro­tégé, Travis Knights, with wife Tanya. The cou­ple is ac­com­pa­nied by pi­anist An­drés Vial with mu­sic by Th­elo­nious Monk. The two dancers grew up danc­ing to­gether at Bruneau’s stu­dio. They fell in love, got mar­ried and now have two lit­tle girls.

One of Bruneau’s strengths is her abil­ity to sin­gle out and en­cour­age young boys with dance tal­ent. Over the decades, she has taken dancers such as Knights, Justin Jack­son and now Briggs un­der her wing — giv­ing them the skills to blos­som as strong, male dancers.

“I taught all my stu­dents that it’s not only about be­ing a dancer,” Bruneau said. “You have to get a good ed­u­ca­tion and you have to be a good cit­i­zen.”

The evening ends with Bruneau singing Bye Bye Black Bird, while the whole gang per­forms the shim sham. With roots that reach back to the 1920s, the shim sham is con­sid­ered tap dance’s “na­tional an­them.”

“I am so hon­oured,” Bruneau said. “I can’t be­lieve this is hap­pen­ing. I am thrilled and I am thank­ful.”

Bruneau was awarded the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award dur­ing the Black The­atre Work­shop’s an­nual Vi­sion Gala in 2009.

The trib­ute is co-pre­sented by West Is­land-based Over­ture With the Arts, an or­ga­ni­za­tion com­mit­ted to bring­ing per­form­ing arts projects with pos­i­tive mes­sages to schools.

There is stand­ing room and some seat­ing. It is rec­om­mended to ar­rive early if you want a seat.

Ethel Bruneau: Cel­e­brat­ing a Life in Tap is at La Sala Rossa, 4848 Blvd. St-Laurent, 2nd floor, at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Tick­ets cost $17 or $20. The per­for­mance space is not wheelchair ac­ces­si­ble, but there will be vol­un­teers on hand to help peo­ple with re­duced mo­bil­ity ac­cess the sec­ond floor. The Lux Magna fes­ti­val runs from Jan. 2427. For com­plete pro­gram de­tails, visit www.lux­magna.ca.

DAVE SIDAWAY

Ethel Bruneau, 83, at­tends a re­hearsal Mon­day for a trib­ute to her life in tap by for­mer stu­dents and lo­cal mu­si­cians at La Sala Rossa. The event is part of the Lux Magna Fes­ti­val on Jan. 26.

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