While the modern dance community was settling in for the American Dance Festival over in Durham, a small but dedicated group of tap dancers were assembling in Chapel Hill. The occasion was the North Carolina Rhythm Tap Festival; three days of classes with an all-star lineup of tap professionals, all of whom performed in The Best Tap Show Ever on June 14th at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro.
Hosted by the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble (under the inspired direction of Gene Medler) for the past 17 years, the 2014 festival welcomed home NCYTE alumna Michelle Dorrance, who was joined by Derick K. Grant, Nico Rubio, Melinda Sullivan, and Joseph Wiggan, with special guest Yvette Glover. Triangle musicians Jim Crew, John Hanks, and Robbie Link provided accompaniment for the dancers and Ms. Glover.
Michelle Dorrance is the recipient of a 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Award, among others, and will return to the Triangle in the fall with her company, Dorrance Dance, which will be appearing in Chapel Hill on Sept. 25th and 26th as part of the Carolina Performing Arts series. Grant was an original company member and dance captain for Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk and has also choreographed for Fox Television’s “So You Think You Can Dance” series.
Nico Rubio, considered one of the leading tap dancers of his generation, directed the show “Beat-Niks,” at the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s “Rhythm World” Tap Festival to rave reviews. Melinda Sullivan, best known for being a top 10 finalist on “So You Think You Can Dance,” was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” for 2013. Joseph Wiggan appeared in Imagine Tap!, a tap dance musical choreographed by Derick K. Grant; he also toured with Cirque du Soleil for two years.
Yvette Glover is not only Savion Glover’s mother, but she’s also become a surrogate mother to the tap community over the years. Serving as emcee for the very informal show, Ms. Glover also lent her considerable vocal skills to the evening, singing “Trees,” based on the poem of the same name by Joyce Kilmer, and gospel standard “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” Her banter with the performers was familiar and teasing (she has known a couple of them since they were kids), and it was fun to watch her watch the dancers, murmuring approval and encouragement when they did something particularly skilled or playful or flashy. (Mmmhmm. Go on now, child!)
The five dancers shared the stage at the opening and closing of the 90-minute show, with each dancer taking a turn in-between. Melinda Sullivan mixed singing and tapping, showing off a sassy voice perfect for jazz and musical theater. Joseph Wiggan, whose slides and glides were as smooth as a knife slicing through hot butter, did a little singing as well. Nico Rubio’s style was smooth, too, but with an edgier vibe that was a bit more grounded. Whereas Wiggan floated, Rubio dug in.
Michelle Dorrance performed to an easy waltz sung by John Hanks, her long limbs held aloft by invisible strings while she played the floor with delicate, breathy rhythms. Derick Grant was equally as light on his feet as the other four, but his tapping had a raw power behind it, even when he ventured into more subtle territory.
As different as they were stylistically, the five dancers all displayed virtuosic tap skills that had the audience members expressing their approval throughout the show with gasps and wows and uh-huhs. Feet were flying, the tapping so fast at times that your ears could hardly keep up. Just as exciting were the breaths in-between, the silences that framed the rhythms and made them sharper, clearer.
Anyone who has been to a performance at The ArtsCenter knows the space isn’t large. With some shows, the limited space (both onstage and off) is a problem, but not with this one. Instead, the intimacy of the space gave the whole evening the feeling of being in a downtown jazz club where a bunch of tappers had just wandered in and started jamming with the band. The vibe was loose and warm and fun, and Jim Crew, John Hanks, and Robbie Link were clearly having as much fun as the dancers. (A little bird told me they look forward to this gig all year.)
The evening was also marked by an atmosphere of deep appreciation and respect. The audience — which was, of course, packed with tappers of all ages — gave the performers a lot of love, and the performers gave it right back. Derrick Grant took a moment to say that having Michelle Dorrance in his life had been “a blessing and an inspiration” and that he was glad to be able to come to her hometown and meet the people she came from.
Finally, much love was directed at Gene Medler, who started NCYTE 30 years ago and has mentored hundreds of young tappers over the years, bringing in the best of the best to teach them and set pieces on them, teaching them what it means to be a professional and be part of a legacy, even as they’re having the time of their lives. Getting to see their teachers lay it down in The Best Tap Show Ever is only one small part of their education, but boy, is it a good one.
SECOND OPINION: June 15th Durham, NC Five Points Star review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2014/06/15/so-darn-hot-tapping-at-the-carrboro-artscenter/.
THE BEST TAP SHOW EVER (North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble, June 14 at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro).
PRESENTER: http://www.ncyte.org/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/North-Carolina-Youth-Tap-Ensemble/116669908359408, https://twitter.com/NCYTEyouknow, and http://www.youtube.com/user/NCYouthTapEnsemble.
VENUE: http://www.artscenterlive.org/, https://www.facebook.com/artscenterlive, and https://twitter.com/ArtsCenterlive.
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Viki Atkinson danced professionally in musical theater for a number of years and later shifted her focus to choreographing for theater. Locally, she danced in the North Carolina Theatre productions of Cabaret, My Fair Lady, Man of La Mancha, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Additional performance credits include Kathy in Company, Peggy in Godspell, and the title role in Gypsy. Later, Atkinson lent her dance expertise to Spectator Magazine, serving as chief dance critic from 1987 to 1999. She also holds a degree in Dance Education from UNC-Greensboro; and she has taught extensively in a variety of settings, including Meredith College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Appomattox Regional Governor’s School (Petersburg, VA), and the School of Richmond Ballet. She was also on the faculty of the Raleigh School of Ballet for 10 years and directed the dance program at Martin Middle School for four years. Viki Atkinson recently returned to Raleigh after living in Richmond for six years, and is thrilled to be back in North Carolina! To read more of Viki Atkinson’s Triangle Review reviews, click here. To read more of her CVNC reviews, click here.