Tap Ensemble ‘evolve’ through talent, hard work

Apr. 26, 2013 @ 05:23 PM

WHAT: North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble presents “Rhythm Evolved.”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: The Carolina Theatre, 309 W. Morgan St., Durham
TICKETS: Carolina Theatre Box Office, 919-560-3030

When the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble performs this weekend, expect an evolution. They call their program “Rhythm Evolved” for good reason.
“The seniors named it and put the program together,” ensemble artistic director Gene Medler said.
“It’s an interesting way to represent the way rhythms evolved but also the way dancers have evolved in their careers,” ensemble senior Sarah Linden said.
In their exploration of rhythms, they will be accompanied by a jazz trio featuring Robbie Link on bass; Jim Crew on keyboards; and John Hanks on drums.
Both Linden and senior Laura Matrazzo credit Medler with teaching them tap basics that have enabled them to progress. “Gene has been such a good teacher. He is extremely patient and very, very calm. So, you try things that are out of your comfort zone,” Matrazzo said. “When you get something and he sees you and says, ‘That’s beautiful,’ that makes you feel good.”
“We learn stage presence, how to project to an audience,” Matrazzo said.
And, they learn how to put on a show. “The ensemble is an incubator for the ins and outs, nuts and bolts and mechanics of putting on a big show,” Medler said. “I tell my dancers, I’ll teach you everything I know, open every door I can and just get out of your way.”
These seniors also say Medler is responsible for the longevity of the ensemble currently celebrating its 30th anniversary. “It’s all Gene – his dedication and his teaching style,” Matrazzo said. “He works so hard and puts so much time into it,” Linden added.
Following his example, students learn to work hard, often practicing for hours on their own in addition to rehearsals every Saturday. They learn to be mentors, too, by teaching routines to the youngest dancers. Ensemble members learn about the wide world of tap by attending such festivals as the Chicago Human Rhythm Project in the summer. “You meet tap dancers from around the word,” Matrazzo said.
Ensemble alumni, such as Michelle Dorrance, also return both to perform in shows and teach their own choreography to ensemble members. “Michelle is one of the most cutting edge tap choreographers in the world,” Medler said. And, her creativity was evident even at age 8 when she joined the ensemble, he added.
She’s performing in the “Rhythm Evolved” show, which includes her three-part work, “Petite Suite.”
Linden named “The Machine” from “Petite Suite” as her favorite number in the program. “It’s intentionally awkward with lots of falling, upper body movements and changes in direction. The rhythms are very unique – hard to hit. She’s always looking for something new … That’s what makes her choreography so interesting,” Linden said.
“It’s more like an adrenaline shot than a challenge,” Medler said of the ensemble getting to know choreographers like Dorrance and their work. “I think the sky’s the limit. They get excited and they want to be creative themselves.”
Linden and Matrazzo have done just that by creating the dance “Best Hip Hop Violin Beat in the World,” which opens “Rhythm Evolved.”
Another guest artist, Matthew Shields, will demonstrate a particular tap style. “He’s a slider. He slides,” Medler said. Instead of propelling himself with non-stop tapping, he uses his taps to glide. “It’s one of the few ways tap dancers can sustain a note,” Medler adds.
This program also acknowledges tap’s roots with choreography by Charles “Honi” Coles and “The Condos Brothers’ Indian Routine,” the dance Matrazzo named as her favorite in the program. Ensemble members Luke Hickey and Max Vigotov perform it Saturday and Hickey and Austin Shank take the stage on Sunday.   “It’s so technically challenging. It’s very innovative, so athletic, fast and extremely intricate,” Matrazzo said.