WATERTOWN — For the past week, tap maven Julia Boynton’s Beantown Tapfest has gathered dance enthusiasts far and wide, young and old for workshops, classes, and rhythm jams. On Friday night, all that rhythmic fervor exploded in “On Tap,” the festival’s faculty showcase, and it was a dazzling night of lively technical prowess as well as humor and a warm, supportive sense of community. As longtime tap fave Josh Hilberman reminded us between numbers, the New England tap tradition runs deep, strong, and true.
Emcee Hilberman introduced the diverse array of performers, including the show’s superb jazz trio, pianist Paul Arslanian, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Jon Fisher. It’s not easy meshing rhythms with artists who, to paraphrase Hilberman, do this weird stuff with their feet, and the trio was sensitive yet expressive.
The evening’s revelation was Sarah Reich. Who knew tap could be so sexy? It was clear from the world premiere of “New Change” why the young Los Angeles-based dancer is considered one of the art form’s new leaders. She lit up the stage, dancing with sassy sensuality and urban hipness, complementing crisp, inventive footwork with rolling shoulders, undulating torso, and sashaying hips, like tap meets salsa. Even the big moves, often taken to the edge of balance, maintained impeccable rhythmic precision.
Tap superstar Michelle Dorrance offered a dynamite blues number packed with rhythmic invention and musical color using virtually every part of the foot, from thunderous toe slaps to sweet arced slides, driving home the beat with an occasional clap. Hunched over, her lanky body rolled sinuously. The next moment, she twisted preposterously, long limbs jutting out in sharp angles, the accents in her feet playing with that sublime space between sound and silence. She dances like nobody else.
Khalid Hill re-created the way he got himself back into performing after he and his wife had four kids, sharing his 4:30 a.m. warm-up, then cutting loose in an impressive solo. He began ruminatively, face down as if channeling the muse, then escalated in intensity until his head popped up, a big smile creasing his face.
Hilberman performed the sweetest, most delicate, pixie-ish soft shoe as Rose Giovanetti sang “Nature Boy,” while Sean Fielder revved up the crowd in “Dirty Water.” Rocky Mendes’s routine paired low-weighted smoothness with breezy turns and hops, creating intriguing cross-bar triple rhythms. With fluid arms and sweeping turns, the elegant Barbara Duffy punctuated lyrical grace with bursts of flashy footwork. Aaron Tolson’s skitters, kicks, slides, and pulsating heel work sent him flying across the stage. Ryan P. Casey and Kelly Kaleta were adorable in a charmingly understated, waltz-time duet, while Ian Berg, Ayan Imai-Hall, and Demi Remick let cacophony reign, each grooving to a different beat.
Tolson’s youth troupe, Speaking in Taps, gave a polished and enthusiastic large ensemble performance to “On a Clear Day,” but it was the rollicking, hard-hitting “Sing, Sing, Sing” routine by Fielder’s young Boston Tap Company that practically stole the show. The evening’s shim sham finale pulled the entire cast on stage and brought the audience to its feet, sending them out the door with a spring in their steps.