Dallas — A pre-show glance at the show order for TapN2Tap, the annual concert performed in conjunction with the Rhythm in Fusion Festival (now RIFF Dallas), reveals a similar structure from the previous two years. Youth tap ensembles share the stage with RIFF faculty, some of the leading artists in the industry. But a closer look at the bios of those performing at The Black Academy of Arts and Letters uncovers a remarkable revelation.
Dallas is no longer a hidden gem in the tap industry. Our city is making its mark in the percussive dance world.
Much of that credit goes to Malana Murphy, the founder and producer of RIFF, who this year snagged living legend Savion Glover for a special workshop for the festival. Her commitment and dedication to growing the festival and continuing to connect young artists with the best in the business has garnered the interest and attention of those around the nation.
The youth ensemble lineup is a great example. Of the seven groups, only two come from North Texas, while the others travel from out of state. Murphy’s RIFF Ensemble demonstrates a sharp sensitivity to timing dynamics as they move to “California Dreamin’,” while Keira Leverton’s Choreo Records delivers the usually strong execution of Leverton’s unique style.
The Washington, D.C. area shares some of its talent with Big D. The JaM Youth Project has been making waves with its YouTube presence, and their street-inspired Recess featuring electronic music and bucket drumming keeps the energy alive early on in the show. Metropolitan Youth Tap Ensemble goes the classical route with the best performance of Act I, donning smart red jackets over black tops and pants as they dance to Vivaldi’s “Winter”. Another East Coast group, Mary No & Co from New Jersey, flaunts a laid-back yet confident vibe with a captivating sense of rhythm.
The West Coast joins the party with the L.A./Orange County-based ReVerb Tap Company, who brought down the house with last year’s ode to Hamilton. Led by Leah Silva, the Junior ensemble subtly grooves to Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” while the Youth dancers keep the Broadway theme going with Rent’s “Seasons of Love” featuring a very nostalgic flair to their eclectic 90s-style costumes.
So much young talent abounds in Act I, but if there’s a single face of the next generation of tap, Sydney Burtis is it. As this year’s featured youth soloist, she delivers a clever mesh of her classical dance training with tap. The combo isn’t surprising, as she’s been on the national tour of Billy Elliott, but her execution and melding of seemingly disparate dance forms proves mesmerizing.
The list of professionals for Act II showcases a wide range of younger and established talent. A short awards presentation honors Acia Gray and Dianne Walker, and the inclusion of Dallas’ own Bandan Koro African Drum and Dance Ensemble pays a nice homage to tap’s roots.
Chloe Arnold and Sarah Reich (who have been an integral part of RIFF since its 2015 debut) return with some dazzling new material. The former performs a work that features her narration alongside the taps, while Reich teams up with Melinda Sullivan (who first found the spotlight with So You Think You Can Dance) for a set of duets displaying plenty of strength, sass, and synchronicity.
Nicholas Van Young spent his early years with Austin’s Tapestry Dance company before appearing in STOMP and most recently with the critically-acclaimed Dorrance Dance. He lights up the stage with an improvised rhythmic conversation with RIFF band members Scott Bucklin, Jonathan Fisher, and Andrew Griffith, including some body percussion.
Brazilian hoofer Charles Renato carries some impressive teaching, choreography, and performance gigs on his resume, and his approachable charm makes for an easy-going performance amidst a fiery intensity worthy of his home country. Dallas native Maddie Murphy whisks around the stage with lightning-fast feet, and longtime industry leader Derick Grant slides and glides through space in brilliant shoes with a mischievous smile.
Evan Ruggerio proves that rhythm has no limits with his singing and dancing to “Rhythm is My Business.” He lost the lower part of his right leg to cancer several years ago, but that hasn’t stopped him from continuing his tap studies, becoming a YouTube sensation, and appearing on Ellen, among many other things.
Ted Louis Levy hilariously interacts with the audience and the band during his set, and while he illustrates a satisfying classical style, his inclusion of some younger dancers at the end of his time on stage provides a nice bridge from one generation of tappers to the next.
The only downside to the show, again, is the length. This one ran two hours and forty-five minutes, so for the viewer not associated with the festival, it might drag on too long.
But with a lineup like this, the only question remaining is where does it go from here? I can’t wait to find out.