Like a bugle call scattering the haze of August, the Jersey Tap Fest’s “Tap ‘n Time” showcase brought this annual series of dance workshops to an energetic close at Bloomfield’s Westminster Arts Center on Saturday. Produced by founder and director Hillary-Marie Michael, the event featured top-of-the-line performances by the professional dancers on the Jersey Tap Fest faculty, and gave the students a chance to shine as well.
Those kids may turn out to be “the next generation of temps and waiters,” as the evening’s master-of-ceremonies, Ray Hesselink, jested, or — who knows? Stardom beckons.
The featured artists included three familiar faces from the Jersey tap scene — Jeff Foote, Kyle Wilder and Karen Callaway Williams — plus Anthony Morigerato, a veteran of Mike Minery’s Tapaholics company; two spunky hoofers from The JaM Project in Washington, D.C., Mark Osborn and Justin Myles; and internationally known Nuyorican hoofer Ayodele Casel. That’s not to mention Hillary-Marie herself, and her partners in rhythm: Corey Hutchins, Liberty Styles, Lisa LaTouche and Claudia Rahardjanoto. Joining the dancers onstage for the latter part of the evening were drummer Andrew Atkinson and the members of his trio, pianist Willerm Delisfort and bassist Nimrod Speaks.
This group served up a fascinating array of styles, grounded in diverse musical selections ranging from Béla Fleck’s “Sweet Pomegranates,” with its Middle Eastern overtones, to the classic elegance of David Raksin’s film score for “Laura.” Dancing alongside, the hoofers embellished the music, or dispensed with any accompaniment and performed a cappella.
In “The Get Down,” Hutchins laid down a steady, tramping beat that provided a through-line, continuing as Styles and Hillary-Marie embroidered on it and took off in solos. This beat drilled itself into our heads, where it seemed to echo even after it had disappeared.
“Do I Do,” performed by Foote, Wilder and Williams, was a light and playful number, with Williams at the center grooving, getting down and flirting with her companions, until Wilder pretended to lasso the others and reel them offstage. The same trio displayed a crisp sophistication tapping to “Laura,” a legacy dance choreographed by the late Buster Brown, here served straight-up and potent as a double martini.
On the moody side, the JaM Youth Project presented “If I Ruled the World” to an original composition by Jamie Cullum. Featuring raspy and expressive slides, this piece unfolded gently with breaks like open spaces that let the quiet seep in. Yet the dancing was powerful when it needed to be. Osborn and Myles, the directors of this group, returned in “Long Train Running,” a duet by turns teasing and explosive. The men engaged the audience, teaching us to clap out rhythms, and then dove into a raucous challenge number, with body percussion courtesy of Miles. At the opposite end of the spectrum came the “BS Chorus,” a dance performed by Morigerato, Hillary-Marie and Rahardjanoto that seemed to pride itself on its easy mastery, creating a delicate atmosphere that ended when the dancers quietly backed offstage.
Coming into sharp focus at the end, the program gave two performers a chance to solo. Morigerato took to the air in the speedy “Time Is Ticking,” seeming to hover over the stage, kicking up his heels and balancing on his toes in a display of virtuosity. In stark contrast, Casel’s “While I Have the Floor” was a meditative piece accompanied by a voice-over in which the dancer described her personal journey and paid tribute to her role models.
Casel recalled that she began in the living room where, as a child, she taught herself to imitate the moves of Astaire and Rogers. Then, pausing with her hand over her heart, Casel seemed to tear up reciting a list of (mostly unsung) women dancers who had inspired her, beginning with the late Jeni Le Gon.
Every time she mentioned one of these heroes, she tapped the memory, laying down her heels or pattering lightly, allowing her feet to tell the story. At the end, she seemed to make a point with widely spaced, individual taps, making us listen carefully to each one until she concluded with a resounding bang.
Though dancing solo, Casel was not alone.