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: Reverence by Salto Dance Company

It’s not too often that you see dancers en pointe, wearing Hawaiian shirts with sunglasses and holding up a beach towel.

But that’s exactly what Salto Dance Company did in their winter show, Reverence. And though unexpected, it was a move that cemented Salto’s identity as one of the most unique, innovative dance groups on campus.

Reverence is a French word meaning “a feeling of great respect.” At the end of performances, dancers perform a gesture called a reverence to show respect to the audience, and the audience applauds to return that respect to the dancers. After Salto’s opening number, the club presidents came onstage to teach the audience how to perform a reverence. Then they continued the show and put the crowd under their spell.

Salto is known for its blend of many different styles of dance; they are the only student dance group on campus that performs en pointe, but they also perform contemporary and lyrical pieces. Many of their dances transcend genre entirely. And indeed, Reverence provided a perfect blend of tempo, genre and mood.

Say My Name was the first piece that really stuck out to me.  A contemporary piece, the choreography pulled me in from the beginning and the leaps and turn sequences were technically impressive.

Several dances evoked nature with their movement. Revolution, a contemporary pointe piece, flowed like water, and San Francisco, the second act finale, made me envision birds. The technique and choreography were beautiful and captivating.

The solos — mostly classical variations — also impressed. The audience oohed and ahed over the difficulty and quality of movement. However, where Salto really shined was when it went outside its comfort zone.

Sunshine was the first example. Set to the song by Kyle and Miguel, it featured dancers en pointe wearing beach clothes. In the middle of the number, they held up a towel with the words “Salto brings the sunshine.” The dance was full of personality and evoked an almost Broadway feel. It was unexpected from a ballet and contemporary company, but it worked.

And when Salto came on for the second act, their opening number was entitled simply Broadway. Set to a medley of songs from Chicago and A Chorus Line, the musical theatre number was different from anything else in the show. It showcased a completely different side of the dancers and brought out a performance quality that was sometimes lacking in other pieces, especially in the first act.

Another unique piece was Focus, which featured three dancers using contemporary technique and three dancers en pointe. The choreography blended the two styles seamlessly and highlighted the strengths of each individual dancer.

When the show ended and the dancers came out for a curtain call, they did their reverence. And while the gesture was meant to show respect to us to thank us for coming, all I could feel was respect for them for blending so many styles, for displaying a full range of emotion, for pulling me in and never looking back.

PREVIEW: Reverence by Salto Dance Company

My lasting impression of Salto Dance Company was this: as their first act finale in their winter show, their dancers came out wearing pointe shoes and Chance the Rapper’s signature “3” baseball cap. They danced ballet to Summer Friends. And it was captivating.

In my first year writing for ArtSeen, I’ve learned that Michigan has a lot of dance groups, and it especially has a lot of contemporary dance groups. But what Salto — a self-choreographed contemporary ballet company — brings to the stage is completely different from all the others.

In their fall show, they mixed the technical mastery of classical ballet with the artistry of contemporary. They performed both variations of well-known ballets and original pieces — many en pointe — both solo and in groups.

After the first impression, I’m ready for more. That’s why I’m going to Reverence, Salto’s spring showcase. Of all the dance shows I’ve seen in my first year here — and the number is close to 10 — Salto’s winter performance was one of my favorites.

I’m supposed to write what to expect in these previews, but the truth is I don’t know. I thought I knew what to expect the first time, and I was wrong. This isn’t your traditional ballet company. Instead, I’ll say this: expect to see something you’ve never seen before, something you’ve never even thought about seeing before. Something like ballet to Chance the Rapper.

Reverence by Salto Dance Company runs Saturday, April 21 at 7 PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are $8 for students, $10 for adults and free for children under 12 or with a Passport to the Arts.

REVIEW: Mo Lowda and the Humble

I sat down to write this review and realized I didn’t even know how to begin.

I pulled out my notebook, normally filled to the brim with detailed notes about each song. But this time, my notes were sparse, the specifics absent.

That’s the effect this show had on me.

The Quiet Hollers and Mo Lowda and the Humble — two little-known and criminally underrated indie bands — served as dual headliners. Both played for about an hour, and unlike some other groups I’ve seen at The Ark, they didn’t do a lot of talking in between songs in their set. Instead, they let the music speak for itself.

“This is a song you can dance to,” the lead singer of The Quiet Hollers said while introducing his song Medicine. “It’s about panic disorder.”

That sentence was a good summation of their set. The band’s lyrics referenced social issues ­— toxic masculinity, the prison-industrial complex — and mental illness. But their sound was loud and full. Their instruments were typical of those used in a rock band, except for one thing: they had a violinist.

The violin added depth to many of their numbers, and its parts were often the highlight of their numbers for me. The unique acoustics of The Ark only added to the experience.

Watching Mo Lowda and the Humble was like watching a jam session. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a band get more physically into their music. So it’s no surprise that their instrumental breaks were the highlight of their set. They also varied the vibe of their songs — playing something louder and harder one minute, and a more mellow, acoustic piece the next. The variation added depth to their show. Not all bands can make both loud and soft stuff work; Mo Lowda and the Humble could.

Normally, this is the place where I’d describe my favorite songs from both sets or where I’d do in-depth analysis on their structure or lyricism. But that’s the thing. I enjoyed the show so much that the idea that I had to write down the details slipped my mind. By the time I realized, it was too late. I can’t tell you why I enjoyed each part of the set, only that I did. That I enjoyed it so much, I neglected my duties as a reviewer.

The thing about music is that it’s easy to get lost in it. Sometimes I sit down fully intending to do homework, but I make the mistake of putting on a good song first. I get wrapped up in the harmonies and carried away by the melodies. And when it’s live, that effect is only magnified. I was sitting there for two and a half hours, my sole job to watch this concert and review it. Take some notes. Remember which songs I liked. But I forgot what music does, and I got lost.

And that’s the best compliment I could give.