Celebrating its tenth anniversary on Saturday, August 18th, the Bay Area Tap Festival and Rhythm Exchange presented a wildly entertaining evening at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. The performance roster featured such incredible tap dance artists as Channing Cook Holmes (also Music Director and on drums), John Kloss (Founder and Director of Stepology), Mark Mendonca, Jason Rodgers, Terry Brock, and Sam Weber. The show also featured the ever-entertaining Barbary Coast Cloggers and the skilled musicianship of Maya Kronfeld on piano and Lamont Keller on bass.
During the program, each artist had an opportunity to demonstrate his or her own inimitable, crowd-pleasing style. The result was an eclectic display that revealed tap influences ranging from ballet, jazz and hiphop to ethnic styles such as African or Irish dance. While the individual style may have set each artist apart, the common factor throughout the evening was the exhibition of clear, rhythmic, syncopated sound. Most certainly, audience members were guaranteed to leave the theatre knowing that, without a doubt, tap dancers are musicians.
The majority of the pieces in the first act were solos. There was one duet, however, to Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine”, featuring Sam Weber and Terry Brock in an adaptation of the original choreography with Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell in the MGM film “Broadway Melody of 1940″. As a duo, Brock and Weber displayed a similar Astaire/Powell-like precision and shared a lively rapport. This classic piece culminates in a dizzying series of turns requiring rapid changes in direction and ends with the dancers stopping on a dime, facing straight out to the audience. Needless to say, Brock and Weber nailed the sequence of turns as well as the finish.
The largest ensemble piece on the program was a rousing presentation of a dance form that is a close relative to tap dancing. This piece by the San Francisco-based dance ensemble, the Barbary Coast Cloggers, was robust display of American step dancing that was clearly enjoyed by the enthusiastic crowd.
The second half of the show began with a film presentation featuring performance highlights from previous years of the Bay Area Tap Festival. These highlights included performances by such notable guests as tap legend Arthur Duncan. Following the film, there was an amusing homage to this year’s Olympic Games in a segment called “The Olympics of Tap”. This skit called for three volunteers from the audience to “compete” against one another onstage by doing their best rendition of three dance steps: 1) a tap shuffle, 2) a grapevine step, and 3) a turn. Ultimately, the winner was chosen by a show of hands from the audience and by the “panel of judges”. Each of the three contestants was presented with a medal that, upon closer inspection, was actually a shiny silver tap.
Later, before the finale, all of the artists were brought back onstage to display their skills in a thrilling, improvisational group jam. To round out the evening, it is tradition for the Rhythm Exchange Showcase to invite audience members onstage to join in the “Shim Sham Finale”. Here, it was a treat to see dancers of all ages and levels take the stage and have a hand at tap dancing. Whether you were onstage or out in the audience, there was a good time to be had by all!