2019 Australian Tap Dance Festival and ‘Rhythm Empire’ Gala
Melbourne’s annual Australian Tap Dance Festival is always a favourite for tap dance enthusiasts. Founded in 2012 by Ella Lehaf and Winston Morrison, ATDF’s mission is to bring the art of tap into the wider dance community.
With seven days of workshops, masterclasses and residencies, the festival caters to all ages, from beginner level to advanced. Focussed on showcasing tap skills, attendees also enjoy tap trivia and battles, interactive performances and many other fun-filled events. The ATDF team certainly meets their goal of sharing their love of tap with everyone.
A stellar faculty of leading tap experts in Australia, and globally, take part in the festival. Home-grown talent includes Tap Dogs alumni, Opera Australia, television tappers, tap education specialists, plus international headline artist, ‘foot musician’ Omar Edwards. Trailblazers of the tap world, they are inspirational in their approach to tap as an art form, holding enthusiastic classes and sharing their years of dance experience by participating in each other’s sessions.
After a US television breakfast show publicly wronged Great Britain’s Prince George for taking ballet lessons as part of his educational curriculum, the social media campaign #boysdancetoo took the digital world by storm. It is clear that this news story has reverberated through the tap dance industry as the ATDF secures a majority of male instructors, offering inspiration to all males in the Australian dance scene.
For one-night-only, these tap stars celebrate their chosen dance style, performing technically skilful and highly entertaining routines in the Gala performance. This year’s show Rhythm Empire shuffles Armadale’s Irving Hall into a jazzy, groovy club mode.
Minimal but effective lighting, a stage miked for tap, a so-cool live music quartet of electric bass, drums, keys and trumpet set the scene for two hours of crazy-varied tap and musicality. Rhythm Empire delivers a fabulous program, beginning with a thunderous opening from ADTF faculty and friends. Rhythm Warriors is Darren Disney’s feel-good individual track, followed by his intermediate residency group displaying fresh colour and time in Vibrant Sounds. A particular highlight is Gary Stocks performing a balletic-tap movement that elicits gorgeous variation.
Guest appearances include a commercial style trio by Pickled Beats, Eden Read, a transformation to a funky house performance by slick tapper, Tania Chodasewicz, and Jack Egan’s huge multi-age intermediate residency Stop, Look & Listen.
The audience is immediately silenced and focussed when Thomas Wadelton centres the crowd with his tribute to Louis Armstrong, as he works with sound and the live quartet to deliver a delicate tap performance like no other.
ATDF team member, the lovely Jessie Cram, leads a sweet Cheek to Cheek, before Winston and his crew of band members, faculty & friends close with a catchy live delivery of Prince’s Cream.
Jack Egan and his fiercely improvised constant stream of multi-beats is paired with his elite youth group, The Forge Tap Project. Their dynamic display of sounds brings life and excitement to the enthralled audience.
White-suited Omar Edwards, the headline act, is charismatic and minimal as he exchanges timing and banter with the band. In a surprising move, Edwards kicks off his boots and takes the tap congregation on an aural and kinetic journey into his personal bloodline history; the story of his ancestors and a history of the footed movement of tap as danced by women working in the fields. He taps using only the soles of his well-travelled feet, leaving spectators with their jaws on the floor.
Rhythm Empire is a perfect culmination of the Australian Tap Dance Festival. With a Gala performance not to be missed, this entire event is truly engaging for all who love the sound and movement, additions and interplay that are so unique to the world of tap.