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Review: The Tap Dancer Dormeshia Finds Her Groove, and Then Some

Dance relies on technique, but if that’s all there is, a performance loses its dimension; its energy fizzles out. There are many points to be made about an excellent show like “And Still You Must Swing,” led by Dormeshia, a tap dancer of exceptional elegance, dazzling speed and, yes, an abundance of technique. But above all, at its foundation, there is heart and conviction. And, mission accomplished: It swings.

Dormeshia, who no longer uses a last name — she’s tap dance royalty, she doesn’t need one — has a delightfully lively projection, yet never more than the moment requires. Her reason to dance extends way beyond footwork. She’s nurturing, both to the tap form, whose jazz roots she celebrates here, and to her fellow dancers. In “Swing,” she shares the stage with two exceptional tap dancers, Jason Samuels Smith and Derick K. Grant, and another radiant performer, Camille A. Brown. Headliners, all.

At the Joyce Theater through Sunday, the program mixes robust unison trios for the tap dancers with nuanced, personal solos titled “Swings.” In “Jason Swings,” Mr. Smith is a virtuosic wonder, shifting seamlessly from power to quiet sensitivity. His fearless dancing even involved a shoe mishap — he slipped out of his heel, but deftly fixed the problem mid-step and continued on. And no one dances quite like Mr. Grant, who glides across the stage with a voluptuous, bearlike grace as his feet spark into impossibly intricate rhythms.

Dormeshia is simply transfixing. For a dancer so grounded and connected to the floor — in ways that you not only see but hear — she moves as if buoyed by the air: When she swings, she floats. She has always had a magic quality about her, but with “And Still You Must Swing,” which runs a swift 75 minutes and features a jazz quartet performing original music by Allison Miller and Dormeshia, she attains an even greater level of expressiveness. And as the show’s leader, it’s fitting: This is a celebration of her articulate body and all the information that it contains.

It makes sense that the tap dancers perform with Ms. Brown, a contemporary choreographer who explores African-American identity in her work; here, she wears sneakers and lights up the stage with her own footwork — as always, she’s electric — and swinging rhythms. She is a container, too, in solos that hint at how tap emerged out of slavery and struggle.

But throughout the production, which had its premiere at Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival in 2016, the connective theme comes from the title, which itself comes from a quotation by the tap dancer Jimmy Slyde: “There’s balance involved. There’s movement involved. And still you must swing.”

It’s an invisible line: Does Dormeshia find the groove or does the groove find her? Her eloquent dancing is utterly natural, full of strength, femininity and a worldly maturity that evokes a bygone glamour as movement melts from her shoulders. Throughout the show, she and the other tap dancers wear gold shoes — halfway, she changes flats for heels — and her glimmering feet are reflected on the base of two round platforms behind her. It’s as if her dancing is giving off actual sparks.

There’s a swing dance section, too, in which the tap dancers wear sneakers, and Dormeshia shows, yet again, that her understanding of rhythm has a way of enveloping the music like serious play: Just as she makes us pay attention to the moments between the notes, she lets us feel how a step can be as soft as taking a breath.

The opening and closing numbers, trios for the tap dancers, end in the same way: Dormeshia high-fives each of the guys, who then cross their arms and stand sideways while she, arms out, poses in the center. It’s a jaunty hello and goodbye — even if it comes too soon. Dormeshia knows what she’s doing: She leaves you wanting more of her brand of deeply felt tap, in which dancers — good friends — alive in the skill of their bodies, let us watch their conversations unfold in real time.

And Still You Must Swing

Through Sunday at the Joyce Theater, Manhattan; joyce.org

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