The world-travelling North Caroline Youth Tap Ensemble (NCYTE) performed Feat of Feet, a full-length rhythm tap concert, this weekend at the Carolina Theater in Durham. To say that it was a tap concert is incomplete. In addition to the shoes on their feet, the dancers used hands, bodies, voices, bare feet, various percussion instruments and visual elements to build rhythms.
From the youngest members in the third grade to the graduating seniors, the performers are polished and skillful as dancers, and sophisticated and authentic as performers.
They performed from a repertoire that spans over more than 20 years. The variety in programming included classic dances by greats like Charles “Honi” Coles and Leonard Reed, Irish step dances, lyrical, modern and abstract, and hip-hop styled dances.
Some timeless favorites from the show were Feet, Just Do It, choreographed by Savion Glover; Song for My Father, by Margaret Morrison; and Last Chance to Dance Trance, by Josh Hilberman.
The Stair Dance, choreographed by Neil Hafta and arranged by Jerry Kalaf, had two dancers skillfully tapping up and down on stairs. The dancers seemed completely at ease as they jumped backwards from the top step, dragging one tap along the steps as they went.
Concerto for Two Violins and Cello in D Minor, choreographed by Derick Grant, was a smooth pairing of percussion with classical music that dispelled any preconceived ideas about the musical limitations of tap dancing.
And they sing, too! In one piece, a young member danced with a senior to Me and My Shadow, beautifully accompanied with vocals by three NCYTE dancers.
Even dancing fast in large groups there was never a stray sound. They maintained tempo and rhythm in unison as easily for a cappella pieces as for those set to music. Improvised solos gave the dancers the opportunity to show their individuality and show off some “tricks.”
There is a warmth and familiarity between the performers and the audience that is unique to tap in the world of choreographed dance. Guest artist Jason Janas exemplified this when he stopped dancing to say “Hi Mom.” His solo with the live jazz band was exciting and suspenseful – his feet were flying, and he told the audience to “wait for it,” then continued to accelerate. He also talked to the band on stage while dancing, creating a sense of community between the musicians and audience.
The NCYTE dancers were also welcoming and expressive; the smiles grew throughout a dance so you knew they weren’t put on just for the performance. The dancers connect with each other and with the audience in a way not often seen in young performers. The genuine enthusiasm said that the audience was a welcome, but not necessary element.
NCYTE is consistent in its polished precision, yet graceful and natural in movement, as satisfying visually as it is rhythmically. You should watch for the next concert and go.
NCYTE is directed by Gene Medler. Rachel Teem is the assistant director. Visit www.ncyte.org to learn about future performances and for information about the upcoming North Carolina Rhythm Tap Festival.