PORT TOWNSEND — Home from engagements in Brazil, four U.S. states and two Canadian provinces — and getting over bronchitis — dancer Bill Evans is wearing an extra-wide smile.
Seems he can’t help it.
A Port Townsend resident since September, Evans settled in this week to teach the international language of dance: tap and modern, to many musics. He invited friends and colleagues from across North America to teach with him at Fort Worden State Park, where they will together present culminating shows this weekend.
Titled “Fascinatin’ Rhythms” — a nod to the Gershwin tune — the performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the JFK Building inside Fort Worden, 200 Battery Way.
Evans and company are keeping it simple, with admission at $20 cash or check at the door, which will open at 6:45 p.m.
Then comes the dancing, a curvy brick road with plenty of space for Evans’ inspirations. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly were among his heroes when he was growing up inside the movie theater in Lehi, Utah.
He became a tap dancer, then layered modern dance over that to build dual careers as a performer and educator.
Back in 1980, the Bill Evans Dance Co. began its long relationship with the Centrum foundation in Port Townsend, giving many performances in the JFK Building.
Since then, Evans has traveled the globe teaching, learning and dancing. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Victoria, Brazil, Geneva, N.Y., Santa Ana, Calif., Greensboro, N.C., and Lasqueti Island, B.C., are among the stops on his itinerary, and that’s just this spring into summer.
Circling back here last Saturday, he began the weeklong Bill Evans Dance Teachers Institute — plus an assemblage of dance classes open to the community. He and colleagues from around the country taught modern dance technique, beginning tap, improvisation and ballet.
“I think teaching re-energizes Bill,” Evans’ husband Don Halquist said over lunch at the Courtyard Cafe last Saturday.
Port Townsend does too: Evans and Halquist fell in love 34 years ago when both were dancing and teaching here.
Since then they have lived all over the United States. “We’ve gone where the jobs took us,” Evans said.
This place was always in the back of their minds. They decided it was time.
Now Evans is ready to perform. He’s gathered a variety of artists around him on the dance floor: Seattle tap dancer and jazz multi-instrumentalist Alex Dugdale, Tennessee-based dancer Courtney World and Wichita, Kan., pianist James “J.J.” Kaufmann, with whom Evans has co-created many projects.
Dugdale and Kauffmann will unfurl the live music for Evans’ and World’s dancing. And Dugdale, who also danced and played last month at Centrum’s Jazz Port Townsend festival, will switch back and forth between making music with his trumpet and saxophone to weaving rhythms with his tap shoes.
Saturday evening only, participants in Evans and Halquist’s institute this past week will perform a pair of modern dance works.
With its combination of performers, “This show is the perfect blend of tradition and innovation,” said Dugdale. The performers are graceful, the dancing is musical and the music is rhythmic, he added.
Evans, for his part, will share a few anecdotes from seven decades of dancing.
He was a young boy in the 1940s — “how is it possible that I’m going to be 80?” he asks — and has devoted himself to studying the African-American artists who pioneered rhythm tap.
This weekend he’ll dance a couple of standards, one by Buster Brown (1913-2002) and another by Bill Bojangles Robinson (1878-1949). He’ll also present a work of original Evans choreography fusing rhythm tap, modern and improvisation.
After teaching a beginning tap dance class at the Fort Worden Chapel last Sunday, Evans and Kaufmann slipped into a quick performance for a photographer who’d stopped by.
As the notes flowed from the keyboard, Evans’ long limbs flowed too, even as his heels and toes tapped out a short story.
This Saturday and Sunday night will be full of such stories — with spontaneity stirred in, Evans said. Both will definitely have his chosen finale.
“We’ll end with the Shim-Sham,” a work credited to several tap choreographers including Leonard Reed and Willie Bryant.
This, said Evans, is “the international anthem of tap dancers.”