When I arrived at the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble studio rehearsal last Saturday, April 6, seniors Laura and Sarah and Assistant Director Rachel Team were finalizing costumes and plans for the upcoming show, Rhythm Evolved, coming to the Carolina Theatre on April 27th and 28th. Rachel told me that the seniors in the company are responsible for the planning — costuming, casting, and preparing dances and dancers for the stage. The company will debut the dance that lends its name to the program, Rhythm Evolved, which Laura and Sarah choreographed, as well.
Rehearsal started and artistic director Gene Medler informed me that I would find dancers “in every nook and cranny” of the studio. While the seniors and directors ran dances for the show in the tap studio, dancers were found on tap boards along the hallway and in the ballet studio, practicing dances they hoped to be cast in, working alone and helping others with steps.
Max and Elissa, above, practice on tap boards in one of the nooks.
Meanwhile, back in the tap studio, the younger dancers (pictured below) started the rehearsal with a familiar dance, a tap classic, the “Coles Stroll.” (Look at some Charles “Honi” Coles videos on youtube to see a bit of the history NCYTE honors!)
Michelle Dorrance, former NCYTE member, New York City teacher, choreographer, performer, and award winning superstar of the tap-dance world, will be performing at Rhythm Evolved, and several of the company’s dances were choreographed by her. Her dances are are highly physical, as interesting visually as they are rhythmically. Dancers pictured below are practicing Dorrance’s Extraordinary Machine, set to Fiona Apple’s song. The limb-slinging grace and rhythms you can see as well as hear make it fun to watch and very memorable. I can’t wait to see it again. It’s one of three dances the company acquired through residencies with Dorrance over the past three summers at the huge international tap event Rhythm World in Chicago. The last of these, The Waltz, from the 2012 residency, will debut at Rhythm Evolved.
Veteran NCYTE members practice Extraordinary Machine.
The percussion isn’t limited to the feet. Song for my Father, for instance, choreographed by Margaret Morrison, features an accelerating rhythm when the music has faded, and the dancers take to drums and shakers. I just love a good juxtaposition, and this dance is one, with the mildly funky and mellow song by Horace Silver beside a tribal rhythm with a drum circle feel. It’s the sort of dance that when it ends you think back to how it started, like you might think back to the beginning of a journey that took you someplace unexpected.
Another multi-percussive experience that will make its debut in this year’s show was conceived by Gene Medler based on Taiko drumming the company learned in Chicago last summer — Taiko Drumming Dance. Drummers are positioned around the stage and move gracefully to beat the large drums slowly and ritualistically in the beginning. They are joined by energetic tappers who tap upon and then jump off of a wooden platform. This dance has a rich and multi-dimensional sound and picture.
Dancers Sarah and Adriana play/dance the last sound in Song for my Father.
Treva beats the drum in the new Taiko Drumming Dance.
They aren’t only diverse in the way they produce sounds, but also in the variety in styles of percussive dance they study and perform. One of the first dances they rehearsed was a clogging or flat-footing type dance to bluegrass music. I couldn’t help but smile while the floor shook under the dancers’ synchronized steps.
Younger members Gloria, Dara, Anaclaire, Sarah, and Asher (left to right above) easily switched movement styles from the loose and open style of rhythm tap, to the upright, arms down Irish step-dance style.
I know these kids are hard-working professionals from seeing them on stage over the years, but I have to admit that I was a little surprised at the level of professionalism in the 3-hour rehearsal. After one dance, Gene asked the dancers, “how do you think that dance went?” A boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old, answered thoughtfully that it needed to be tightened up at a particular part. They all returned to that part and practiced it until they felt satisfied with its look and sound. What looks so easy and natural on the stage has been gained through hours of focused study and practice.
The multi-talented dancers provide vocal and instrumental accompaniment for several of the numbers. Below, NCYTE members Jared and Taegan play for the dancers.
I’m so excited about Rhythm Evolved that I plan to see the Saturday and Sunday performances! Put it on your calendar for April 27th at 7:30 or April 28th at 2:00 at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. Visit NCYTE online for ticket information.
Here are a few more pictures from the rehearsal. Visit Artsview NC for more still!
They always seem to be having fun!
Austin shows some graceful athleticism in a solo.
Luke and Adriana doing some fancy steps.
Senior and 10-year member Laura instructs some younger members.
Kyle, Jared and Asher have some fun in the playful beginning of a dance.