The dance community in Rochester is more vibrant and diverse than most probably realize. But if you went to the Day of Dance at RAPA during the final day of the Fringe Fest, you certainly left knowing that. From swing and Lindy Hop to contemporary, step dance, and hip-hop, to tap and even Bhangra, the performances really ran the gamut in terms of style.
Members of Groove Juice Swing started things off with a fast-paced fun Lindy Hop piece. Watching these young folks twist, twirl, flip, and triple-step around their partners with ease is, in a word, fun. They were all grinning from ear to ear the whole time. Their passion for the art of this dance form oozed out of every move. And it’s not just enthusiasm for the dance; they’ve got the technique, too. Blink and you’ll miss every little triple-step in between the spins, kicksk and flips. How they didn’t pass out by the end of their set is beyond me. The group (in various combinations) performed more than a dozen routines, including a graceful tribute to Fred Astaire (tap shoes, tux with tails and all), classic Charleston-inspired flapper routines, and more Lindy Hop routines than I could keep track. Their were also a couple of numbers by the organization’s all-girl jazz and Charleston group, Flower City Follies, which were part dance, part Lucille Ball-esque antics, and 100 percent entertaining.
After their first few numbers, Groove Juice traded off sets with different groups from the University of Rochester’s Diversity of Dance program. The first few pieces were contemporary, with about a dozen or so dancers taking over the stage. The intense pounding music of the first number seemed to move the dancers naturally, each going off in rounds of arabesques and contortions. Two of the dancers appeared to fight or perhaps just struggle against one another, but the intention of the dance wasn’t necessarily crystal clear. Although it was danced well, the numbers were, unfortunately, not particularly memorable.
The next few numbers from the UR dancers flew by: a belly dance routine (stellar hip control and smooth and slinky arm motions, which matched the emo music perfectly), a fast-paced, passionate, and raw bachata (these dancers were really feeling it), and a hip-hop/step dance (the most in-sync routine of the day. The dancers were fierce and knew how to work the crowd.
After a brief intermission, Rhythm Tap Rochester took the stage again. I had seen their show earlier in the week and was pleasantly surprised that William “Bill” Evans and Cheryl Johnson opted to show different routines this time than they did in their other show. Unlike their previous performance, this focused on some more popular and well-known (at least in the tap world) types of performances. They started with a routine made famous by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson set to “Bye Bye Blackbird,” sung by Sammy Davis, Jr. Classic combination. It was jazzy and full of intricate rhythms the pair hit hard and right in sync. Next, Johnson attempted a Nicholas Brothers duet…by herself. And she pulled it off (don’t ask me how, I’m still trying to work that out). Her feet move so fast, but with such accuracy and flow, it’s mesmerizing to watch. The pair ended with an a cappella piece that really cooked. I wish they had included at least one of these routines in their other performance at Fringe Fest -- they’re crowd pleasers that were danced brilliantly.
Members of Rochester Dance Project took the stage next. Their performances were not only wonderfully choreographed and danced, but perfectly paced. The first few routines flowed one right into the next. The extension these dancers have is incredible -- it’s clear from their flawless arabesques and perfect pique turns they’ve had years of training. Most of their numbers were slow, smooth, and beautiful, but some had more of an edge. The fourth piece featured four girls, clearly ready to kick some ass. The style was a mix between contemporary and a kickboxing class, and made for a fun and fascinating watch. My other favorite was Kelly Johnson’s solo, set to “Be the Best You,” a monologue set to music encouraging you not to be a cookie cutter, or a follower, but to be an individual, a tailor-made you, the best you can be. Johnson embodied this speech without so much as uttering a word. It was one of the most unique performances of the afternoon, and one of my favorites to watch. The group closed out with “Falling into Palpable Wonder,” the same piece that was performed at Present Tense Dance’s show at Eastman earlier in the week. Sitting at much closer range, I was able to notice some of the beautiful subtleties of the routine than I saw the first time around in the bigger venue.
The final group, GeneseoBhangra, had the most energy of all and closed out the show with a bang. The first part of the piece included the use of props -- three spears and three accordion-like wooden tools, which the dancers clapped and slapped in perfect unison to one another. The dancers squatted and bent and shook to the music with such excitement and joy, it was impossible not to smile. They even added a bit of a hip-hop edge in parts of it, which, surprisingly, jived remarkably well with the beats of this traditional Punjabi dance.
My biggest beef with Day of Dance in general was how it was organized, or rather not. The groups were chunked off by time segments, some went on longer than perhaps was necessary, others felt like they barely had any time on stage and the whole thing felt disjointed. On top of it, while RAPA is a wonderfully intimate space, it wasn’t particularly conducive for this kind of show. People were coming in and out all the time (I think that was the idea -- I was one of the few who was there for all three hours), but the only way to enter was to cross the front of the stage. Most people were polite enough to wait until between dance numbers to sneak in or out -- but on the whole, audience etiquette has really gone to shit. It’s not only disrespectful to the performers, who no doubt worked their asses off to put on a brilliant performance, but it’s distracting to fellow audience members. A bigger space where people could come and go as they pleased, from the back of an auditorium, would have worked better here.
That aside, the Day of Dance was a wonderful afternoon that gave the audience a small taste of what Rochester has to offer in terms of dance.