REVIEW: Youth Tap Ensemble showcase energy, creativity

May. 05, 2014 @ 04:52 PM

To say the NC Youth Tap Ensemble’s got rhythm would be an understatement. In its recent show,” Listen In,” its members ARE rhythm. Their energy crackles like lightning and connects with the audience, judging from the response Sunday in the Carolina Theatre. 
Further proof may be found by the fact that when I got home, their energy made it all the way to my feet and some tapping on the kitchen linoleum floor – steps that in no way resembled my rudimentary delivery during childhood dance recitals. I mean my feet moved with a flurry and out to the sides; I lunged forward with one hand and extended one foot backward. Nothing like they did, of course, but still. … Such was the influence of this talented group of dancers led by artistic director Gene Medler and assistant director Rachel Teem.
Anyone fortunate enough to be in this ensemble not only has the technique but also, thanks to Medler’s encouragement, the confidence to – as one number in this show puts it – “Do Your ‘Ting.” In their performance of this work choreographed by Jason Janas, ensemble members Luke Hickey, Adriana Ogle and Breanna Polascik embrace this idea expressed in the movements and in the song of the same name by Joe Webb.
The appearance of this show’s guest artists (former ensemble members) Michelle Dorrance and Jaaon Janas proves this combination of technique and individual expression works. In their improvised solos, they demonstrate their mastery of this American art form and the innovations that have made them stars in today’s tap world.  Their every movement seems to naturally flow from their bodies and souls. In a telephone interview prior to this show, Janas said that the audience could tell how he was feeling by how he was dancing. Judging from his performance on Sunday, he felt good. 
In her introduction to the show Sunday, Dorrance noted that the uniqueness of the ensemble stems both from its members “exceptional” dancing and also from their varied repertoire. As well as including choreography by current and past ensemble members, the program also features work by such legendary hoofers as Charles “Honi” Coles and The Condos Brothers.  The legendary Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s “Stair Dance” influenced Steve Zee’s 2002 “Stair Dance,” performed on Sunday by ensemble members Jared Kirkpatrick and Taegan Mullane. These two dancers make this challenging work look easy as they perform with panache on separate structures with steps on both sides. They even take some giant steps backward over several steps.
Ensemble members’ talents are not limited to tap. The richness of this show stems, in part, from these additional talents. Julianne Vance’s beautiful, expressive voice, is featured in her rendition of Stevie Nick’s “Landslide” as well as in jazz tunes, performed live by local, world class musicians Robbie Link, bass; Jim Crew, piano; and John Hanks, drums, for two dance numbers in the show. And, Taegan Mullane plays fiddle in “St. Patrick’s Day in the Morning” for an Irish step dance-inspired number.
The ensemble’s rhythm-making is not limited to their feet. They also play a variety of percussion instruments. In Nicholas Young’s 2013 “Trash Talk,” they play upturned, plastic trash cans as well as bells and shakers. In the Japanese-inspired “Taiko Drumming Dance” (concept by Medler), their drum-playing movements also suggest the casting out and hauling in of fishing nets.
Ensemble members Jabu Graybeal and Jared Kirkpatrick created and perform in “White Table Act,” another innovative percussive work. In it, they sit, facing each other, at a white table, and use hands, fingers, different parts of pencils and even writing paper on the table to produce rhythmic sounds. In a program note, they credit their friend, Africa, with creating “pencil beating” when she was bored one day in science class. The result is anything but boring.  The same could be said for this creative, exuberant show.