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Arts and Entertainment

Dancer exhibits Devine footwork

By Denebola
Published: October 2008

By Julia Sklar

Clickity clack, clack clickity clack’€no, that’s not the sound of a typewriter, that’s the sound of a tap dancer, and not just any dancer, but the fastest dancer in the world. Holding the Guinness World Record for the faster dancer ever to live, 31 year-old James Devine is more than just a record breaker, he is a unique dancer known for his ingenious blend of classic Irish step and more modern rhythmic tap. His record holding, however, is not to be over looked; Devine clocks in at an outrageous 38 taps per second. Think about that’€in the time it takes a person to comprehend that fact he could have already done the taps.

Let’s rewind a bit. Before becoming the world’s fastest dancer, Devine was a modest schoolboy from County Clare, Ireland. His first introduction to dance was at the age of eight via his mother, a former Irish stepper who had lost the mobility of her legs due to a disease. His mother would tap the beats onto the back of his hand and Devine would simulate them with his feet. A passionate dancer, he quickly soared through the ranks when at the age of 14 he won the first of three consecutive “Grand Slam awards in the All-Ireland, British, American, and World categories.

Devine’s prowess with his feet was so renowned that “Lord of the Dance himself, Michael Flatley, sought him out, and Devine quickly found his spot with the touring show of Lord of the Dance. He soon realized, however, that despite his love and passion for Irish step dancing, he wanted to expand his repertoire.

On October 10 in Albany, New York, Devine’s own one-man show, Celtic Tap, opened. With only a percussionist, a violinist, and himself, Devine describes his show as a fusion of old world tradition and modern techniques with “no smoke and mirrors, essentially the exact opposite of Lord of the Dance.

The following week his show came to Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, only staying for three days but grabbing numerous laudatory reviews from The Newton Tab and The Boston Globe among others.

From the opening tap, Devine took the stage, and audience,by storm. There were constantly “battles between dancer and musician with each one trying to outshine the other in terms of speed and accuracy. Devine danced out an incredible rhythm with his feet and percussionist, Paul Jennings, beat out a similar, if not faster, version on his unique box-like drum. The two would go back and forth until a compromise could be made, joining forces only until multi-instrumentalist, 19 year old Duncan Wickel, entered the scene. Spending most of his time on electric violin and electric fiddle, Wickel tried to outdo both Jennings and Devine in a similar battle of the beats until all three of them reconciled to create an amazing collaboration of inhuman speed and rhythm.

In fact, Wickel played so quickly and so passionately on his violin that he completely stripped two of his bows during the performance.

The music reflected the fusion of dance styles as it shifted from eclectic beats to traditional Irish reels, and back to eclectic beats. The shifts were so seamless that it seemed as if the two types of dance were meant to be together.

Throughout the show it was clear that Devine’s background is in Irish step but not to the point where it seemed out of place. He wore boot-like tap shoes whose duality between hard shoe ghilles (Irish step shoes with hard bottoms) and contemporary tap shoes served the purpose of his self-created art perfectly. At times, Devine would move his feet so fast that it appeared as if they only hit the floor once, but the sound of ten or more taps resonanted throughout the auditorium.

A complex, but natural blend of innovative percussion, violin, fiddle, Irish step, and tap, Celtic Tap is anything but conventional. Devine is simply divine.

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