Dallas — Last year, Dallas presented its first foray into the tap festival world with Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF). Founded and directed by Malana Murphy, RIFF is on the scene to stay, this year at the Wyly Theatre. Nestled among a packed schedule of classes, lectures, showcases, and competitions was Infusion, a concert to allow the faculty members to shine alongside local ensembles.
Saturday’s show differed quite a bit from the previous year’s performance, which dazzled audiences with a diverse offering of world percussive dance and variations on American tap dance. This year’s more homogenous lineup produced mixed results.
Live music returned with the RIFF Jazz Band (Scott Bucklin, Jonathan Fisher, and Andrew Griffith). Matthew Shields and Emily Mikolitch directed the production, with Shields emceeing beside Justin Lewis. Their choice to use no script generated quite a few laughs, but also made the show drag on longer than needed.
Dallas’ own professional tap company Rhythmic Souls brought two works, including “Consequence of Sound,” and Chloe Arnold and Sarah Reich heated things up with a burlesque-style tap duet.
The five youth ensembles delivered admirable performances, with a couple of remarkable moments and a distinct trend towards a lyrical contemporary style. Shields’ Hyperfeet Youth Ensemble opened their work with fluid, complex arm movements before launching into the tap choreography. Sliding footwork accentuated the smooth quality of the upper body, and the dancers delivered impressive synchronicity.
Next Step Dance Youth Ensemble from Frisco continued the contemporary theme with a nice juxtaposition of release and percussion, while the artists of JAM Youth Tap Project displayed incredible showmanship as they get down to the Doobie Brothers.
Many of the faculty members this year gravitated toward a quieter, subtler quality for their solo improvisations. Reich’s flurried feet from last year tapered down to a delicate flutter as she glided across the stage to a leisurely “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Shields began his solo with wind chimes, using the tones and rhythms produced as the basis for his improvisation. It was the ultimate method of utilizing the element of chance in tap.
Acia Gray, founder of Austin’s Tapestry Dance Company, demonstrated a captivating introspection, proving that tap does not have to be loud or fast to move the soul, although she handled those qualities beautifully, as well. Nicholas Young, from the tour of STOMP, lent body percussion with tap, and Arnold spiced things up with a Latin-inspired improv.
Two dances brought a classic feel to the evening. Emily Mikolitch’s kept Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s memory alive with his solo from King For a Day, complete with fantastic vaudevillian facial expressions. The mature ladies from the Dallas Tap Dazzlers in pink and black with silver character tap shoes presented an impressive chorus line-style number to “Let Me Entertain You.”
The best moment of the evening came from Lewis. Danced to James Bay’s “Hold Back the River,” it was a soulful explosion of sensitivity and passion, with some incredible tapping, of course.
While the individual works and improvisations were enjoyable and contained excellent moments in and of themselves, the concert overall fell flat. It lacked the range of last year’s show, and the monotonous energy among the dances mades the two-and-a-half hour performance crawl along.
It’s like putting together a puzzle with pieces from different pictures that don’t match up. Alone, the parts are powerful, lovely, and entertaining, but the end result is a bit of a mess.
Still, this doesn’t diminish the overall impact of the festival itself. With tap continuing its rise in popularity, especially with the multitude of professionals shows out there, gatherings like this create invaluable opportunities for young dancers and their teachers to network, see, and be seen. Check them out next year.