REVIEW: It’s TAPpening

RhythM Tap Ensemble and Groove perform together Friday night

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.

A snippet from RhythM’s program, which showcased all its members’ personalities before they even took the stage.

PREVIEW: Callisto presented by Pure Dance

At a school with a plethora of contemporary and jazz dance groups, Pure Dance sets itself apart in a completely different way: its inclusivity.

“We recognize that the world of dance is often extremely demanding, both mentally and physically, and we strive to provide a safe environment where our members can express themselves without the pressure of conforming to the ‘ideal dancer’ archetype,” its Maize Pages description reads.

Rather than focusing strictly on its dancing as most dance-related student orgs do, Pure’s writeup highlights its commitment to a close-knit community, non-discrimination policy and the fact that it doesn’t charge dues to allow students of all socio-economic backgrounds to join.

Of course, like all other student dance groups, Pure works hard throughout the semester and choreographs its own pieces, culminating in a winter show, this year called Callisto.

According to the event’s Facebook page, Callisto will feature nine jazz and contemporary pieces from Pure as well as several guest performances.

While I’ve seen several other student dance groups on campus, I’ve never seen Pure. But I’m a huge fan of contemporary dance and I like what I’ve seen from other groups, so I’m excited to see what this one has to offer.

“Pure Dance Presents: Callisto” will be on Sunday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Mendelssohn Theatre of the Michigan League. Tickets are free with a Passport to the Arts.

PREVIEW: It’s TAPpening

The last time I saw It’s TAPpening, the winter showcase from the RhythM Tap Ensemble, my review included quite possibly the worst lede I have ever written. Included here for posterity:

“That tappened. And it was, well, fanTAPstic.”

And though my puns were terrible, I enjoyed the 2018 show and it stuck with me. RhythM is the only group of its kind on campus; a dance company that focuses specifically on tap. While there are several contemporary, jazz and hip-hop troupes, RhythM is one of a kind.

So when I saw that RhythM was having its winter show this week, there was no question that I wanted to go.

If you’ve never seen a tap show, it’s a rhythmic, energetic and highly technical style of dance. While other types of dance emphasize primarily aesthetics, tap combines that with the sound of the taps on the shoes and how those sounds fit with the music. Though tap dancing is typically associated with Broadway musicals and old-time jazz standards, the last time I saw RhythM, they performed most of their numbers to current pop songs, with a few twists. You can watch videos of RhythM’s previous performances on their YouTube channel.

If you’re looking for a high-energy dance performance that showcases impressive musicality, rhythm and style — and a show you won’t see anywhere else — It’s TAPpening is for you.

It’s TAPpening is on Friday, January 24 at 7 p.m. at the Mendelssohn Theatre at the Michigan League. Tickets can be purchased online at $5 for students and $10 for nonstudents. The event is free with a Passport to the Arts. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

REVIEW: Greenie Night Live

This last Saturday, 58 Greene’s diverse ensemble delivered Greenie Night Live, an amateur yet earnest a cappella performance with a unique set list that ranged from R&B to Alternative Indie. To start off the night, University of Michigan dance group Encore performed a dynamic set of choreographed dances to some tastefully layered tracks. Seeing as how this event was held in a lecture room of East Hall, having the space of a larger stage would have perhaps served the quality of this dance performance well.

The MC’s of this event tried to fill in the show’s gaps with repartee that most certainly had potential to be funny, yet often fell flat from a seeming unpreparedness or lack of chemistry.

I go to all my events with hopes of being blown away. All things considered, while 58 Greene has some great sound and even greater potential, the unfortunate acoustics of the lecture hall accompanied by a muddled sound-mixing often made the lead vocals feel rather lost amidst the remaining back-up members. Alongside this, a number of arrangements often felt rather imbalanced. I was really excited to learn that Joji’s Slow Dancing in the Dark was being performed, and while there was a commendable presence of supporting voices in the ensemble, the leading soloist’s  painful belting and flat delivery made it rather difficult to sit through.

On an extremely positive note, however, I found myself blown away by the smooth and sultry timbre of leading vocalist Teddi Reynolds in an arrangement of Jazmine Sullivan’s 2008 hit, Bust Your Windows. This was undoubtably the highpoint of the event as a whole, due not only to the killer vocalist, but also the well-synchronized supporting ensemble. This piece demonstrated the absolute potential that 58 Greene has when a strong vocalist is leading, which many of the other pieces lacked.

Ultimately, my conclusion is that a great number of the talented female ensemble members were often let down by a lackluster male foundation, often noticeable in the bass parts, and most certainly self-evident in the outperformance of the male soloists by the quality female soloists. I’m willing to reason that Greenie Night Live may simply have been an off-night for certain members of 58 Greene; however, since this was a ticketed event, I can only afford so much generosity in my evaluation of this amateur ensemble’s quality. Considering the strengths and the definite potential of 58 Greene, raising the expected standard for greater vocal talent and proficiency in leading vocalists could really carry this ensemble far.

REVIEW: Loch na hEala (Swan Lake)

Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Loch na hEala opens with the spectacle of a nearly-nude man roped to a cinder block at the stage’s center. The man bleats like goat as he circles his anchorage. From this moment, the audience finds itself gripped with a foreboding curiosity as we are introduced to a small ensemble who guides us through a layered and winding three-pronged retelling of Swan Lake.

Included in the bulletin is a piece written by Keegan-Dolan himself as he reflects on the nature of change, “No matter how unwelcome, [change] is an inevitable part of life: nature’s forces are constantly moving, seeking balance so that life can continue to endlessly unfold.” The spirit of this excerpt was something I observed to be an underlying current in this narrative of moving parts; ultimately, a commentary on the sickness of depression that brings imbalance to life.

The formlessness of this performance keeps one on the edge of their seat, for the troupe distracts and enchants through technical proficiency and the dissonance of chaos that rings consistently. We are told that the darkness in any story is there to teach us something, and that lesson from Swan Lake is that the inability to will change and a failure to know one’s deeper hungers can ultimately lead to the corruption of your spirit. The dark tone of this show left a poor taste in my mouth, but I still felt uplifted by the music and choreography that could be found amidst a show that ultimately seems to appeal to more depraved inclinations.

The choreographed numbers weaved throughout this piece proved to be crafted and technically stunning. I found myself drawn in by these sweeping movements up against a backdrop of potential demise held at bay. Another great highlight was the musical score provided by Slow Moving Clouds, a Dublin-based folk band that combines Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences. Often their music was a prominent influence of a scene yet remained well-hidden, otherwise providing tension or joviality to a dynamic.

The evening ended in a standing ovation, and as I rose to join them mid-clap, I paused and asked myself, exactly what are we celebrating here tonight? While Teaċ Daṁsa pours itself out to express the reality of depression and a life’s potential for tragedy, is praising a work that frames dread as the true reality something that deserves to be called beautiful? While it is true that stories that focus simply on the light often do not fully express what it means to be human, it is not enough to celebrate the darkness without conceding that light does outshine it. A praise-worthy work of art should be something that not only acknowledges darkness and pain, but shows us its true value, to point us to the light.

It was a privilege to attend Teaċ Daṁsa’s crafted work, for few performances have truly invited me to enter into such deep reflection of art and form such as Loch na hEala, an experience that I will not soon forget.

REVIEW: Teaċ Daṁsa Loch na hEala (Swan Lake)

This weekend I saw the most interesting interpretation of Swan Lake I could have imagined. It was put on by a traveling group of performers, why have been touring with this show since 2016, and have won several awards, both for their production and choreography. The music is described as “Nordic and Irish traditional music with minimalist and experimental influences”. So, I expected maybe a little bit of deviation from the normal storyline of Swan Lake. However, when I walked into the theater, there was a man on stage, wearing a cloth diaper, attached to a cinder block by a rope around his neck, bleating like a goat. Immediately I knew this was not going to be anything like what I had expected, and I was certainly correct. Although there was a lot of symbolism and parts of the performance I did not understand, I definitely enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

The story is narrated by an older man, who acted as both characters in the show, as well as sound effects for different elements of scenes. This man was incredibly talented, playing two people with completely unique voices in one conversation, voicing a radio that was changing channels, and being the sounds of a police vehicle, to name a few of the noises he imitated. His talent almost made you forget you had seen him practically naked and making animal noises at the beginning of the performance. Throughout the show, he tells the story of a younger man and his struggles of depression while living on a moor in Ireland.

The story was sometimes beautiful, and sometimes quite unnerving, which certainly made for a lasting impression. One of these scenes was a birthday party which was held for the depressed young man, and the people who showed up clearly were meant to be disturbed or off-putting in some way. They danced around in a halting jumble of bodies and noises while the young man’s caretaker, his grandmother, cackled into a microphone. She was also holding a cake, which several of the party attendees attacked and grabbed chunks of with their hands, shoving it into their mouths with reckless abandonment. By the end of the scene, they had all preyed upon or overwhelmed each other, and the dance ended with them all motionless, lying on the stage. The emotion of the scene was interestingly unreachable; as an audience member, I was unsure of whether I was supposed to feel pity for this party of strange beings, or whether they were enjoying themselves, and had given into carnal desires by the end. I couldn’t tell if it was actually the party that seemed to be unenjoyable, or it was the young man’s depressed interpretation of the scene. It was entirely disconcerting to be unsure of how to react to what was happening in front of me, and these conflicting emotions stayed with me until the end of the show, where I was still wondering what to make of this haunting scene.

In contrast to some of the more interesting sequences, there were some beautiful dances that mesmerized me. When the young man goes to commit suicide, he is stopped by a young woman in white with angel wings, and they are joined by others in the same outfit. They danced together, in a mix of lyrical and fluid styles. The way the women in white whirled around the young man, almost touching him but not quite, was a display of the immense work they had put into the dance as it was impossible to look away from their ducking and weaving around each other, so close but not quite touching. The ending of the show was definitely the most impressive part, as the different dancers helped to spread small white feathers all over the stage. There must have been pounds of feathers drifting all over, as they threw them up into the air, swirled them around themselves, and even brushed them into the audience. It was amazing how much it looked like it was snowing, and it was even cooler how the dancers’ individual movements were all it took to push the feathers into the sky.

Although the dancing was the focus of the show, the music was by far my favorite part. A small group at the back of the stage played mostly string instruments, sang, and certainly set the mood of each dance. The music was haunting, and soothing, and graceful, all with an undertone of Irish melody. It certainly was a key ingredient in making this show spectacular.

At the end, I wasn’t sure what exactly I had just experienced, but I knew I enjoyed it. I spent the rest of the evening thinking about the show, and what different dances or parts might have meant. I think that is the mark of a good performance- one that makes you think about it long after exiting the theater.