NC Rhythm Tap Festival: “The Greatest Tap Show Ever”
Saturday, June 11, 2016
The ArtsCenter, Carrboro
Fans of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Gregory Hines, Eleanor Powell, and other hoofers might disagree that last Saturday’s performances by the faculty artists of the 2016 NC Rhythm Tap Festival at The ArtsCenter deserved the title of “The Greatest Tap Show Ever,” but it was indisputably among the best presentations of state-of-the-art tap anyone is likely to see anywhere.
Sure, Savion Glover, America’s reigning king of tap, will appear later this month courtesy of Duke Performances and the American Dance Festival, and Michelle Dorrance, who was onstage Saturday, will return to the Triangle with her New York-based troupe for a Carolina Performing Arts gig in September. But four critical factors distinguish those performances from the event sponsored by the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble: the number of tap masters on stage, the variety of styles they exhibited, the makeup of the audience, and the kick-up-your-heels, kick-out-the-jams, sheer for-the-hell-of-it joyfulness of the atmosphere.
Dorrance, who has won international acclaim and a slew of honors, including a MacArthur “Genius” award, is one of the country’s most celebrated tap artists. Joining her were Charles Renato, whose intimate understanding of the sexiness of bossa nova is baked into his Brazilian soul; Sarah Reich, a spitfire in gold shoes with hourglass heels who skitters and slides across the stage as if on ice; Jason Janas, his shoulders hunched forward like a boxer in the ring, who attacks the floor with every precise toe-strike and heel dig; Derick K. Grant, master of the “glide,” whose powerful presence and bold expressiveness contrast startlingly with his fluid movements; and Elizabeth Burke, whose self-described “cerebral” style lends a storytelling quality to every beautiful, quick-time, expertly articulated figure she creates.
Th showcases by the faculty artists of the three-day festival—a chance for enthusiasts of all ages to take classes from tap masters at the Ballet School of Chapel Hill—have been a best-kept local entertainment secret since Gene Medler, Dorrance’s first tap teacher and the founder of NCYTE, organized the first one eighteen years ago.
As any attendee can testify, every one of them has been a blast. The professionals get to improvise (i.e., show off) in a cozy venue, accompanied by a savvy jazz trio, for their peers and an adoring audience consisting mostly of students who appreciate—based on their frequently frustrating experience—how much concentration, dexterity, dedication, musicianship, athletic ability, and plain old hard work is required to realize the gunfire-precise, on-the-beat sonic progressions produced by expert practitioners of rhythm tap.
The festival will return next year. If you’re too self-conscious to don tap shoes and challenge yourself on the hardwood, you’re welcome, for ten bucks, to sit on the sidelines of the instructional sessions. If the infectious, raucous exuberance of tap intrigues you—or if, like me, you’re simply thrilled to be in the presence of world-class artistic genius—then by all means, plan to attend.