The members of local percussive dance troupe Rhythmic Circus may seem like they're hanging loose, but this crew has a come a long way since cofounder Nick Bowman maxed out his credit card to produce its first show at the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis.
That was just four years ago. This year, by contrast, the Sage award-winners have already performed in 15 U.S. cities and will be a featured act at the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Then they hope to conquer New York, with an off-Broadway run in the 2012-13 season.
But before hitting the road again, Rhythmic Circus will give two performances of "Feet Don't Fail Me Now!" at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. A spirit-lifting experience is guaranteed from the troupe's mix of tap-based movement, smooth funk music, beat-boxing and slapstick humor. Dancers Bowman, Galen Higgins, Ricci Milan and Kaleena Miller dazzle, while backed by a tight band of musicians and vocalists (Alex Rossi, Aaron "Heatbox" Heaton, Cornell Blanchard, Patrick Nelson, Dan Ristrom, Peter Vircks and Aaron Wiener).
"Life is better when we jam," to quote one of their tunes. This show is proof.
"We're always excited to perform in our hometown," said Bowman. "We've been building our project in front of them for the last four years. The love and energy of these shows is something we all look forward to."
Although Bowman and Milan formed Rhythmic Circus in 2007 (Miller and Rossi were also involved early on), many of the artists have known one another for years. Connections extend to such other local companies as Ten Foot Five or Buckets and Tap Shoes as well as childhood dance competitions and high-school friendships. Such deep roots explain why Rhythmic Circus is like one big, raucous, hyper-talented family.
During a recent rehearsal in south Minneapolis, the studio reverberated with the sounds of guitar, bass, piano, drums and horns working out a deep groove. The dancers generated a flurry of footwork. Between pieces they helped alternate performer Michael Keefe work out steps. Milan set the brisk pace, calling out directions for each new number.
They honed sections of "Feet" and worked on what Milan calls "upgrades" -- variations to keep the show fresh by focusing on each performer's onstage personality. "It's just finding those little things to tweak and keep that flow speedy for the audience, so they're never bored," he said. Rossi added they are working out "holes" in songs that need to match up with movement.
At a break, everyone shared stories about touring. (They've performed from Texas and Louisiana to California, and it turns out fans everywhere really like to give them food). Miller joked about being the troupe's sole woman, saying, "I sort of feel like I'm in the locker room hearing things I shouldn't hear."
But mostly they talked with excitement about the future. The Edinburgh Fringe is the world's largest arts festival, and throughout August Rhythmic Circus will perform approximately 100 times both on the street and at the Assembly Square George Theatre ("One of the nicest venues," said Bowman). Last year they busked outside its doors.
No matter the stage, though, Rhythmic Circus aims to entertain. "When we started we wanted to do things that tap dancers would think is cool," said Milan. "The more we grow as a project the more we take on the mindset of serious professional entertainers. We want people to have an awesome experience. It's no longer about us and what we like."
Still, between the performers and the audience, it's hard to tell who's having more fun.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.