Sunday, 8 October 2017

Rhythmic Kaleidoscope - Dance Review

What: Rhythmic Kaleidoscope
When: 6 October 2017
Where: Irving Hall

Imogen Moore and Joe Meldrum
This year is the 6th year for the Australian Tap Dance Festival (ATDF) and Melbourne has been immersed in a week of tap dancing and shoe shuffling workshops and residencies. All of the energy and achievements were highlighted this weekend at their gala event Rhythmic Kaleidoscope.

ATDF is the only festival of it's kind in Australasian so our most successful national and international dancers eagerly take up the opportunity to undertake residencies and run workshops under its umbrella. Local dancers get to indulge in experiences which broaden their skills and expand their understanding of the art form.

The great thing about tap dance is its incredible democracy. It is not a dance form which suffers gender definition. You do not have to be super slim, super supple, or super strong. It lives outside the strict pedagogies of most other dance forms - although it requires just as much rigour and technique! It is also a form which can be danced at 6 years of age as well as 60. And, as we saw in Rhythmic Kaleidoscope, it is a dance form which is inclusive and can mutate with times.

After all, what is tap? It is using the body (mostly the feet) to create aural percussion. Tap dance is about sound and rhythm foremost so it takes a keen ear as well as amazing muscle control and isolation.

Because Rhythmic Kaleidoscope was the festival showcase, the overall skill and talents of the performers was a bit patchy as workshop participants demonstrated skills they had been working on over the week, but when the visiting artists did their solo pieces it became clear that we were seeing some of the world's best on this tiny stage in Armadale.

The evening was cleverly curated with the first act focussing on the tradition and applications of tap in film and music videos, such as 'A Fine Romance' and 'Smooth Criminal'.  The second part of the evening - the most powerful section - was about where the artform is going and hints at the possibilities yet to be foreseen.

Shane Preston kicked off the soloists and he showed us the suave art of the Gene Kelly's days. It was a lovely laconic tilt to the greats of the golden days of Hollywood. Darren Disney was one of the original 'Tap Dogs' but as he danced it was actually 'Lord Of The Dance' which came to mind for me. That is perhaps not as odd as it sounds as Dein Perry and Michael Flatley were contemporaries.

Thomas Egan is a contemporary 'Tap Dog' and he totally blew my mind with his ability to control the tempo of his tapping. Speeding up and slowing down with perfect rhythm you could see he was listening to what he was creating as much as he was feeling and dancing it.

The second act was a celebration of improvisation and all the ways tap dance can be used to create art and we had some of the world's greatest tap artists here to demonstrate. Thomas Waddleton calls himself "music maker, tap dancer, and story teller" and tonight he showed us what he means. Coming out on stage with a banjo, he took a seat and sang an improvised song about confessions before getting up and exploring the rhythms and sounds he could make with his feet. Echo had been set on the tap mics and it was as if Waddleton was live sampling his tap and building rhythm upon rhythm.

Nathaniel Hancock and Ritchie Miller got the juices flowing with a exhilarating duet. Ah, those 'Tap Dogs'!

There is no denying, though, the performer of the evening was the exquisite and transcendent Roxane Butterfly. Her tapping is pure art. Opening with a contemporary performance including AV montage Butterfly showed us that tap dance can be slap dance if you take off your shoes and it is just as amazing and a holds a fascinating set of harmonics and resonances - not dissimilar to playing a hand drum. She then dances a more traditional and graceful duet with Ruben James on piano before heading into a durational duel with Newton Peres on the slap board.

Tap Dance has a lot in common with Hip Hop in that it is inclusive and it's strong jazz links give it the ability to be completely individual whilst also being part of a communal whole. In fact, the hybrid tap/hip hop 'Hit 'Em High' choreographed by Brianna Taylor showed just how modern tap dance is.

Experiencing tap dance is a unique experience because you feel the rhythms created by the dancer and travel a physical journey with them. If you think 'Anything Goes' is the height of the art form just wait until you see everything else it can be under the exploration of great artists such as Egan and Butterfly!

2.5 Stars

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