Monday, August 22, 2011

"The Bay Area Rhythm Exchange"

Photo of John Kloss by Andy Mogg.
Stepology presents
"The Bay Area Rhythm Exchange"
Herbst Theatre, San Francisco, CA
August 19, 2011

The true test of an annual show is in its ability to preserve tradition while at the same time being able to produce something distinct, especially when many of the performers are the same each year.  Stepology's 2011 presentation of "The Bay Area Rhythm Exchange" celebrated the talent, diversity and energy of percussive dance with a plethora of style, interpretation and approach.  Though this event happens yearly in the Bay Area, the 2011 edition was unique and fabulous.

The headliners gave fantastic solo performances: John Kloss' taps were incredibly clear and his toe-heel combinations were super-human; Mark Mendonca is not only an amazing dancer, but also has the most easy, laid-back rapport with his audience.  For me, the stand-out performer was Sam Weber.  His upright, balletic style (almost like Merce Cunningham in tap shoes) differentiated him from the rest of the group, with tap sounds that had a much wider variance and dynamic spectrum.  Everyone else favored and tended toward the harsher, louder 'down' into the floor choreography and so, most of their solo work seemed very much the same.  Weber's approach allows him more freedom and increased versatility and as a result, his solos had intricacies that no one else could top.  

Compared to last year's production, the floor mikes were hugely improved this time around; they picked up all the highs and lows of the choreography and movement, which for tap, is imperative.  Having said that, I still find it strange that Stepology chooses this particular venue for its annual showcase.  The Herbst Theatre is beautiful but the pitch of the seats does not provide a good viewing angle of the dancer's feet.  Rhythm tap is just as much of a visual artform as it is audio and if you cannot see the feet, much of the performance is lost.  The audience size was certainly a disappointment on Friday night.  At the 2010 "Bay Area Rhythm Exchange", the house was completely packed and full of anticipation, excitement and awe.  This year, the Herbst Theatre was less than half full - quite a let down for such an exhilarating performance.


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