Tap dancer/percussionist Claudia Gomez Vorce is a familiar face on San Diego’s jazz scene, often seen with her trio Besos de Coco and the band Cajeta, with Gilbert and Lorraine Castellanos. She’s a fixture at Croce’s Park West. She brought her vintage styled Cherries Jubilee, a Live Jazz & Cabaret Show to the White Box last weekend, during a record-breaking heatwave. The program of hot jazz, tap dancing, and wonky burlesque matched the sweltering venue.
Jubilee featured Trio Gadjo (Aaron Mahn, guitar; Jason Durbin, guitar; and Jeremy Eikam, bass) trumpeter Curtis Taylor, and songstress Erika Davies, along with Vorce as percussionist using only her feet.
There were elements of a speakeasy, except the White Box is on the second floor, not in a basement. Dreamy sounds of Django Reinhardt, red table cloths, and bottles of wine, suggested a French café. Trio Gadjo switched gears with Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing…” a jazz standard. Taylor, a Grammy-award-winning artist jumped in and out with astonishing restraint. You couldn’t miss Eikam with his beatnik moustache and nimble bass fingering.
The group “traded fours” to introduce themselves, which was easier to understand than the fast-talking emcee. He invited people to swing dance, but it was too hot for the melting crowd, and there was a fine show to watch. Curtis was extra smooth in ripples up and down for “There’ll never be Another You.” Guitarists Mahn and Durbin laughed and swayed in buttery conversation.
Ms. Davies is infatuated with vintage music and clothing, and she won Best Jazz Album in San Diego Music Awards, so she’s not kidding around. Her interpretation of “Funny Valentine” sparkled like her glittering skirt. Though deeply touched by days gone by, she coiled her palms and made old works seem new.
Vorce is a serious dancer and educator. She studies with hoofer Bunny Briggs in Las Vegas and others in New York and New Orleans. It’s astonishing how many sounds she can pull from her customized shoes. The balls of the shoes are built up with platforms to give her a unique sound. She has an amazing ear for syncopation, and she’s a fluid dancer. But she prefers to stay in one spot. At the White Box she had room to move on a gorgeous wooden floor, but never traveled.
She impressed most with her mastery of intricate improvisations with the men of Trio Gadjo and trumpeter Curtis. She danced the part of the drummer with shuffles out front, clicks of her toes together, and complex heel rolls. She played with over-the-tops and quick spins. (An over-the-top is a kick and leap over the airborne leg).
A lean and muscular woman, on Saturday (9/13), Vorce was captivating in her signature red halter dress and flower in her sleek dark hair. She’s a tireless dancer and marketer, and she’s developed a fruitful relationship with musicians in Cherries Jubilee. Like many musicians, she slips into that groove where the audience disappears. There were moments when she danced with her eyes closed, trance-like. After a second or two, that internal experience didn’t translate well to the audience.
Vorce and her colleagues have developed a well-deserved cult following. Her many fans area ready to see her expand her choreography. They want to hear the syncopation flying from her feet, and want to see her fly and zigzag over the floor.
In line with the speakeasy café format, a chorus line of bubbly young women performed suggestive kicks and hoochie coochie girations. The big spin with all eight lined up and rotating like a windmill was classic. A section where the women tried to swing one leg up onto the shoulder of another was a near calamity and needs work. One could imagine a similar disaster in a smoky backroom during Prohibition due to too much gin. For history buffs, the Volstead Act ran from Jan. 1920 to Dec. 1933.
A lot has changed since then, and change is a good thing. Drinks are okay and taste a whole lot better, but smoking is taboo. Women can dance burlesque without being called a floozy. They’re exotic dancers, right? Still, in a concert setting, we expect more dance training and sophisticated costumes, beyond corsets. Let’s keep the fish nets and lose feathered tails. The second romp of dancing lacked finesse and bordered on comedy, yet people were too polite to laugh.