Students dressed as construction workers banged on trash cans. Then, the dancing began.
A lot of student org shows I’ve seen have invited Groove to do a guest performance. Groove, a high-energy music group that uses non-traditional percussion instruments, is popular for a reason. But I’ve never seen a guest performer incorporated into the headliner’s act the way RhythM Tap Ensemble performed to a soundtrack of Groove percussion in their showcase, “It’s TAPpening,” on Friday.
In a piece choreographed by Jack Randel and Katie Reid, RhythM seamlessly incorporated Groove’s funky percussion with the syncopation of tap dancing. At one point, each of the dancers laid on the ground, legs in the air, as Groove members used their tap shoes as an instrument.
The number, which was the second-half opener of “It’s TAPpening,” was a showstopper. I came into the show expecting something unique, and it still provided me with the unexpected.
RhythM, which choreographs all its own dances, showcased a variety of different styles even within the tap genre. Before I saw a RhythM show, I thought of tap dancing as something very specific: done to jazz standards, theatrical but without much substance. However, in this show, as with the show I saw of theirs two years ago, RhythM broke through that misconception. Dancing to pop, R&B, electronic, jazz, disco and gospel music, RhythM also incorporated elements of jazz and musical theatre for a well-rounded and highly entertaining performance.
In the adorable “Season 2 Episode 3,” choreographed by Liberty Woodside, RhythM proved that just like ballet and contemporary, tap dancing can tell a story. The piece transported me back to childhood, playing clapping games with my sister (the choreography incorporated an actual clapping game, which was clever) and living a somewhat carefree lifestyle.
A few songs later, RhythM tackled “Hot Honey Rag” from the musical Chicago and gave it their best Broadway flair. Choreographed by Erica Pinto, the dance had brilliant staging, beginning with the curtain partway up so only the feet were visible. It was, in a way, exactly what you’d expect from a tap number set to music from Chicago, but that’s what made it the perfect Act I finale. Act II brought a music selection much more heavily skewed towards pop, highlighted by “Nostalgia,” complete with retro bomber jackets.
Every piece was well rehearsed and I was impressed by the technique and, well, rhythm the dancers brought, and I enjoyed the diverse styles and music selections the company used. Still, the number with Groove, “Metal Workin’ Foot Workers” was the highlight for me and displayed the group’s creativity in all the right ways.
“It’s TAPpening” also featured four guest performances — from contemporary ballet company Salto, a cappella group Amazin’ Blue, jazz and contemporary company Impact Dance and hip-hop troupe FunKtion. While I enjoyed all the performances, I thought there were a few too many of them, and their placing within the program — Salto’s performance was the second number of the entire show — sometimes detracted from the overall effect.
I came into the show Friday night with high expectations. I saw RhythM two years ago and loved them. They were just as enjoyable the second time around and still brought something new to the table.
As Groove pattered their drumsticks effortlessly on the bottom of RhythM’s tap shoes, Michigan’s only tap group proved once again that in tap, if you’re only thinking about it one way, you’re doing it wrong.