Top national tap dance artists joined local troupes at the Cowles Center for a high energy dose of footwork last weekend.
The performances on Friday and Saturday were part of the annual Twin Cities Tap Festival, directed by Brenna Brelie and Kaleena Miller and co-produced by Cowles and Northrop, bringing local tappers together with high level dancers from elsewhere for four days of performances, workshops and a final jam session.
Friday's concert boasted a range of styles and skill levels, from a group of teen dancers called Elite Tap Feet to an exceptional performance of "Supreme Love," choreographed by Chicago-born artist Jumaane Taylor, set to John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme."
"Supreme Love," presented after intermission, illustrated how tap dance is just as much a percussive musical instrument as it is a form of dance. The tappers demonstrated an intense communion with Coltrane's masterpiece.
Taylor incorporated a spiritual tone, utilizing a tree stump as a center of healing and spiritual reflection. The dancers channeled a kind of ecstasy in some moments, then at times prostrated themselves in exhaustion or perhaps humility. One transition that worked particularly well featured dancer Star Dixon moving in a slow, transfixing rhythm.
Max Pollak also elucidated the body as a musical instrument. Born in Austria, Pollak's set began with a vocal performance that incorporated singing as well as yodeling. His movement piece captivated, with its rhythmic body slapping and vocalization. The dance was drawn from Afro-Cuban traditions and tap. Pollak's connections to Cuba stem from the great deal of time he spent in the country, organizing its first tap festival and teaching and performing there.
His last piece attempted audience participation. The Minnesota crowd was reticent to engage in singing, although they offered enthusiastic applause.
Kaleena Miller Dance, which according to the program, is contemplating a name change, presented an excerpt of its 2015 hypnotic work, "Here Now." The dancers faced the wings of the stage rather than the front — creating a feeling of ocean waves. The company utilized the slipperiness of the stage floor well, sliding around with fluid magic.
"That Beat" choreographed by Ricci Milan and "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" choreographed by Davon Suttles, both added to the liveliness of the evening. Milan's choreography was upbeat, and it was performed with hops and swagger by the young dancers. Suttles' work was set to original gospel music and featured stunning moments of off-kilter balance.
Underscoring the evening, with the exception of Suttles' piece, was a jazz quartet led by musical director Cody McKinney, who showed its ability to shift into the tone of each piece, carrying the dancers throughout the evening.