WATERTOWN — The most reliably feel-good dance concert of the summer – if not the year – has to be the annual Beantown Tap Festival’s faculty showcase, “On Tap.” The capstone of a week of tap classes curated and produced by Julia Boynton, the sold-out showcase features local and nationally-known performers and highlights how delightfully diverse and lively the genre has become – and not just stylistically. “On Tap” includes performers of every size, shape, and color, from eager pre-teens to beloved veterans, and it’s not just a concert, but a lively community gathering, complete with audience shout-outs in both directions.
For Friday night’s ninth edition of the show, native son Josh Hilberman set the tone, embracing the emcee role with personable humor. He also offered a suave “throwback” solo with flashes of rhythmic flair – sideways skittles, delicate taps that dwindled to nothing, backward slides that crossed over the beat in chummy interactions with the musicians.
The jazz trio of pianist Paul Arslanian, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Peter Moutis also helped provide a connective thread, proving deft musical partners with the dancers. They even learned – on short notice — the complicated 16-beat Indian classical rhythmic cycle for the evening’s most ambitious work, Anjali Nath’s “Jugalbandi: Kathak Meets Tap.” Joined by tabla player Rajesh Pai and vocalist Pranali Dhole, they integrated jazz influences into a work highlighting commonalities and differences between the percussive aspects of Kathak dance and tap, with tapper Ian Berg gamely trading riffs with Nath. The exquisite Kathak dancer was captivating in brilliant turns, liquid expressive arms, and feet that quivered and patted the floor, the bell cuffs on her ankles creating tight internal beats. It was both exciting and a little messy.
Similarly adventurous, Subject:Matter (Berg, Benae Beamon, and April Nieves) spooled through a wild range of music in an inventive routine showing the transformative power of edgy context. Shaina Schwartz prefaced a piece by her young Touché Taps ensemble with a heartfelt confession of how tap helped her rekindle joy and create community.
Barbara Duffy’s elegant routine of impeccable footwork and slippery slides displayed why she’s become a virtual tap icon, and a pregnant Lisa La Touche was commanding yet remarkably light on her feet in “This One’s for Peanut.” Off Beat (Ryan P. Casey, Nicole Chaput, and Elana Harvey) offered a cute Broadway hoofing routine about three hapless detectives, and Christopher Broughton’s aggressive stomp style solo incorporating amazing leg/ankle swivels was dazzling.
The show was bookended by displays of spirited youthful energy and some impressive technical facility, with the festival’s advanced students opening the show and Sean C. Fielder’s effervescent Boston Tap Company the last act before the traditional shim sham finale, which sent the audience out into the night with a smile on their faces and a kick in their steps.