This biographical information was written by Mr. Desio’s wife and associate, Loise Reichlin, for the 2007 March/April issue of the Dancezine, a bi-monthly publication of the Dance Resource Center of Greater Los Angeles.
Alfred Desio, the Electronic Tap Dancer, passed away February 14, 2007, of complications from cancer. He was 74. As recently as May 2006, Desio was performing with his students at the Colburn School of Performing Arts and being taped for the summer show “America’s Got Talent.” Since the diagnosis in June, Desio was in and out of Cedars/Sinai Medical Center six times with bladder cancer that moved to the menenges area of his brain. His fight with the disease ended in a peaceful exit at Olympia Medical Center with his wife of 39 years, Louise Reichlin, at his side.
Alfred Desio, Director of Zapped Taps/Alfred Desio Choreographer, and Composer, is the inventor of electronic tap, Tap-Tronics, a system that allows tap dancers to play electronic instruments using the sound of the taps as a source. A veteran of the original Broadway productions of West Side Story, Fiddler On the Roof, Man of la Mancha, Zorba, Kean, She Loves Me, and Donny Brook, he had the distinction of being Katherine Hepburn’s personal photographer for Life Magazine while a member of the cast of Coco. Early dance training and performance was with Jerome Robbins, Jack Cole, Peter Gennaro, Donald McKayle and Michael Bennett; and he also was assistant to Joseph Pilates, Pilates Technique. His innovative use of Tap and Electronics was featured in the Tri-Star film Tap starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr. Alfred was invited by the Smithsonian Institute to perform his Zapped Taps at the opening of their new Experimental Gallery.
After receiving a choreography fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1986 Alfred had his east coast debut of Zapped Taps/Alfred Desio at Dance Theater Workshop (New York) to critical acclaim. The next year, he returned to the Big Apple for Lincoln Center Out of Doors, where an audience of 6,000 attended the show.
Reviewed in Variety as “probably the most inventive tapper in the business,” Alfred Desio also used traditional jazz and acapello selections to create a program that had Lewis Segal at the Los Angeles Times writing “jazzy, complex unaccompanied routine that defined tap musicality…brilliant…absolutely dazzling.” Dan Sullivan of the same paper described him as “The thinking man’s tap dancer.” The New York Times (Jennifer Dunning) said “The delightful fascination that seems to drive the Los Angeles-based Mr. Desio to explore these high-tech extensions of traditional tap also informs his…dancing. His intricate, deft footwork and his ease are compelling. But in the end it is the cagey exuberance of this leprechaun tapster that makes the work so enjoyable.”
Alfred has been the subject of major television and radio programs concerned with innovative work with tap and electronics, including The Today Show, 2 On the Town, NBC News/National, Morning Edition/ and Performance Today/NPR, and ‘Tappin’, a documentary of the making of the film Tap. He performed and was featured in a film produced by Rusty Frank and Arthur Dong about the history and future of tap as well as being featured on Canada’s High Tech Culture. Alfred worked as a teacher/choreographer with Korean media star So Rhee Oak and was featured in a documentary on American Tap for the Korean Broadcasting System. As a member of the WESTAF touring roster, performances have included many western states. Selected for the International Programming Network, Desio also performed in Barcelona at the international festival Dies de Dansa. He also created one of the title roles in the German art movie Zwei im Frack (Two in Tails). The award winning short was seen in numerous film festivals all over the world.
Associate Director of LOS ANGELES CHOREOGRAPHERS AND DANCERS (LAC&D), the non-profit base of Zapped Taps/ Alfred Desio, Alfred was also a 30-year faculty member of the Colburn School of Performaing Arts. He has been on the faculty of many schools including the U. of So. California (USC) and has been a Choreographer-in-Residence at Loyola Marymount University. Alfred was the recipient of a Faculty Research and Innovation Fund (FRIF) grant for a collaborative project with his wife, Louise Reichlin. Alfred also introduced his Tap-Tronics as an enrichment lecturer on the Royal Viking Sea on a Hawaiian cruise.
Always concerned with his community, Alfred Desio was awarded a commendation from the Los Angeles City Council in January, 1998. Councilman Ridley-Thomas opened the ceremony at City Hall by “this is a resolution adopted today to commend Alfred Desio on an outstanding career as a dancer, a director, a choreographer, and a composer.” Besides being an accomplished teacher, Alfred has created and directed a special performance project called Colburn Kids Tap/LA. Under his umbrella, LAC&D, he received a Brody Arts Award from the California Community Foundation to have tap legend Fayard Nicholas, of the Nicholas Brothers, coach the young dancers. Alfred and the “Kids” performances have included the Kennedy Center in Washington , D.C., Dance Kaleidoscope at the Ford, the Greek Theatre and their home theater Zipper Hall.
Alfred Desio has worked often with jazz bands and symphony orchestras. In 2004 he performed with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, as well as directing Colburn Kids Tap/LA & Friends for the finale of the production, receiving a standing ovation. In 2003 he performed a new jazz arrangement to Bach with the Pasadena Pops Orchestra at Descanso Gardens for their program Kick Up Your Heels, and several years earlier co-choreographed (with Louise Reichlin) and performed a Gershwin Suite with the same orchestra. In 2000 he premiered a trio tap version to Morton Gould’s Tap Dance Concerto with the San Diego Symphony at Copley Hall conducted by Jung Ho Pak, receiving a standing ovation.
Unusual commissions include a collaboration with Pacific Symphony Orchestra in 1990 to premier Variations for Zapped Taps and Orchestra, whcih he performed with the orchestra at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on two occasions. Selected works include Audio Imp for the Jazz Dance World Congress in Arizona (1998), A Suite of Tap Dances (1996) at Dance Kaleidoscope, Brandenburg Boogie premiered with LAC&D at Bovard Auditorium, USC (1994), Birthday Dance, a TAp-Tronic duet for himself and Sam Weber, premiered at the LA County Museum (1992) with LAD&D. In 1999 he directed and choreographed the original show Caution: Men At Work TAP for Theatrical Arts International, which toured nationally in 2000 and 2001.
Alfred Desio was honored posthumously on May 6, 2007 at the Lester Horton Awards for “Excellence In Teaching” produced by the Dance Resource Center of Greater Los Angeles at the Alex Theater in Glendale, CA.
You can read more about Alfred Desio on the LAChoreographersAndDancers website.