Sunday 6 October 2019

Rhythm Empire - Dance Review

What: Rhythm Empire
When: 5 October 2019
Where: Irving Hall
Australian Tap Dance Festival Featuring Omar Edwards
2019 has seen the 8th Australian Tap Dance Festival come to Melbourne. A line up of top class Australian tap dancers and international guest artist Omar Edwards came together at the Ministry of Dance to deliver a week of master classes and workshops for all ages and competencies of tap dance. The Festival ended with a gala evening, Rhythm Empire, which celebrated everyone's work over the course of the festival.

You may recall in 2017 I reviewed the 6th Festival's gala night, Rhythm Kaleidoscope. The overall shape of Rhythm Empire is the same although there were distinct differences in style of direction for the dance form. Many of the same faculty were leading workshops and had their moment to shine at the gala concert as well as letting the students celebrate their work and skills through group choreography.

One of the big things I noticed this year was a de-gendering of tap which was exciting. Apart from the senior 'Riverdance' troupe, there was not a mary-jane tap shoe on the stage. Both the guys and the gals were tapping and stomping across the stage with equal power and flair.

There was a big emphasis on 'keeping it real' in this concert. Costuming was only lightly themed with the intention to show tap dance is for the everyday, not the exotic Broadway musical, and with dancers of all ages it was apparent just how democratic this art form is.

Perhaps what was lost was a sense Fred Astaire glamour, but his dance was for romance. The dance on stage in Rhythm Empire was for everybody living every life.

As with Rhythm Kaleidoscope, the montage of styles and applications was perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this gala event. Gary Stocks brought us shuffle tap whilst Thomas Waddleton brought us the jazz impro magic of Louis Armstrong, his voice bringing as much magic as his playfully unpredictable tapping feet.

Moving forward in time Shane Preston gave us the modern age favourite, hip hop tap dance before interval arrived. I should mention many of the dance numbers were backed by the live band which was a great touch.

Act 2 was sharper and more energetic as the stage was taken over by the more advanced tappers. Kicking us off for this session was the acapella number choreographed by Winston Morrison, 'Rhythmutation'. As soon as this dance started we knew tapping was getting serious now.

Well, sort of serious. Bill Simpson came out and played around with the audience in 'Dawn' and Eden Read showed us the funny side of tap burlesque in 'The Busker'.

Some performers brought energy to spare and Emma Wickham brought that and a sassy attitude in 'Little L'. In fact whenever Wickham was on stage she owned it almost as much as did the guest star Omar Edwards.

Americans are always great at teaching us how to own the moment and the spotlight and Edwards gave us all a master class. As soon as he stepped on stage he was a forceful presence in the room. On a stage full of tappers excellently miked up, Edwards puts his vocal mic on the stage and then taps in front of it, blowing all the rest away. Talk about dropping the mic! 

Speaking of Edwards, his choreography brought together tribal and ritual elements expressing the joy of celebration with power and pizzazz. It was his solo piece, 'Love On The Floor', which broke our hearts though. He spoke of his 13 year old mother whose job it was to be a living scarecrow and how slap tap dancing came from her soul. Edwards brought us back to dance as story telling in a post truth age.

Whilst I think this year's gala event didn't have quite the impact of the one in 2017 it is still a wonderful celebration of the flexibility and versatility of tap dance. The love and excitement for the tap dance from shone through the faces of all performers and just to see that creates a magic of it's own.

2 Stars

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