On March 15, just as the rains had started to subside and the Painted Lady butterflies were migrating through the city, Break the Floor Productions kicked off the spring season by hosting their very first Los Angeles–based dance festival at The Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood based on the winners of the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards. Composed of a three-day synthesis, I attended the first evening called FUZE, as coordinated by second runner up Nick Young, and his tap-dominant group, Rhythmatic.
It isn’t common to come across a modern, tap-led show that doesn’t scream Broadway, but Young’s group is diverse enough to revive the genre for contemporary audiences not necessarily keen on the hat-and-cane theater world. The only night that did not feature an evening-length performance, FUZE was instead interspersed with other types of dance that complemented Young’s style and created a brief, but enjoyable medley. This left me wishing I were able to see the festival’s other two nights as well.
Based in New York, Break the Floor is responsible for conventions such as JUMP and Dancerpalooza, the competitive Dance Awards, and has been dominating East Coast dance entertainment for years. Recently they have significantly extended their reach into the West Coast, predominantly into tinsel town where they hosted more and more of their conferences. Many of FUZE’s artists appeared on TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and World of Dance. Young, who founded Rhythmatic in 2017, competed with his group in the latter program’s premiere summer season that same year.
Appropriately enough, the first of the thirteen world premiere segments was a video clip of Young soloing to Sigur Ros’ “Samskeyti”. A tad overdramatic, the short film nevertheless provided a strong introduction to Young’s emotional approach to dance and raw talent as a bold tapper with a hip-hop attitude. Better yet was the next segment performed live by Rhythmatic to DeVotchKa’s “The Winner Is”, choreographed by Young. A fan of the song since I first heard it in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), I’ve never thought to associate it with tap dancing, but Rhythmatic’s interpretation made me enjoy it in a completely satisfying and unexpected way. Alternating fast and slow movements synchronized with some of the melody’s staccato notes, transforming a twinkling of tapping into a rainstorm of rhythm, which never eclipsed the music. Rather it flowed continuously through the song, adding another layer of depth to the instrumentals. Their on-stage formations for this piece weren’t particularly exciting, but I barely noticed thanks to the quality of the sound their feet created.
Even so, within Young’s group, each performer has a distinct style of performing. This became evident in how they swung their arms and the force with which they kicked and shuffled. Young was controlled until his forcefulness increased and his body language took on a sense of reckless abandon. Laura Faith Ksobiech and Vallerie Rockey stood out with their rapid-fire speed. They talents were showcased in a later number toward the middle of the show called “Good Time(s)”, choreographed by Jason Janas. Here, the group danced to their own A capella beats created solely by their tapping. The rhythm sounded very familiar and allowed them to show off their strength as a team, while highlighting their individual movements when they split off into a cypher and took turns freestyling to their sharp, hip-hop tempos.
The other two Rhythmatic performances were to “Afterall” by William Fitzsimmons and choreographed by both Young and Kirsten Russell as a solo for Young, and the group’s finale to “Tumbling Lights” by The Acid, with choreography by Emily Shoemaker. Without the dramatic cameras, Young was a joy to watch on stage as he combined his tapping with more contemporary movements. His lightweight graceful slides across the stage held a hint of Fred Astaire as he maneuvered noiselessly before his slight frame switched gears and slammed down onto the wood with all his might. Each tap was made with purpose and his arms swung with intention. During his quick bouts of rapid speed, he let loose like a spinning top. The number’s selling point came down to Young’s delivery and agility.
Rhythmatic’s concluding piece was performed with flashlight props. The music was reminiscent of a scary forest scene in a movie and the company’s use of lights to suddenly illuminate one another in the pitch darkness gave off the impression of being lost and haunted in the woods. The steps were slower and more intimidating, especially as the lights shifted, illuminating the dancers’ feet through their symphony of sound.
Rhythmatic’s sections acted as markers during different parts of the show. Although they were the clear headliners, there were quite a few standouts amongst the rest and contemporary dance appeared to be the favorite. Immediately following Young’s second piece, a work by Mandy Korpinen and Elizabeth Petrin went into a completely different direction. It was a duet to “Be Brave” by My Brightest Diamond that was performed by Andrew Alian and Aria Terango. The couple were involved in an obsessive romantic duet that saw them continuously looking lost when facing away from their partner. Their dancing was intimidating, clingy and full of anguish before they eventually and confrontationally removed their masks and stared holes into each other.
Not much later, Lucy Vallely revived this creepy vibe with her solo to Sinéad O’Connor’s “Just Like U Said It Would Be”. Her strange makeup and choreography to O’Connor’s song were a sight to be seen. Her style was unmatched by anyone else’s and easily stood out as the most intrinsic of the night. Vallely used the whole stage, curving throughout it to create interesting shapes by curling and stretching upward, then outward toward the audience. Her doll eyes and odd facial expressions perfectly matched her movements as well. I wanted her piece to be longer.
Ksobiech choreographed, but did not perform in, a separate piece to “Tongues” by Joywave ft. KOPPS. This techno song was paired with ’90s dance party moves, which a group of ethnically and bodily diverse women executed with spiciness and joy. The movements were bouncy, not unlike her tapping in Rhythmatic, and full of life and high energy. Appearing in pairs, their dancing eventually took on a more R&B style until they all appeared on stage at once toward the end, where they began bumping and huddling together like a sports team who just won a championship, creating good vibes all around. Following their lead was The Gentle Ladies’ performance to “Just a Little” by Lauren Faith. Slightly less memorable, it was still enthusiastically presented by a strong group of contemporary/hip-hop fusion dancers who celebrated girl power with their more modern, less retro routine.
Lukas McFarlane presented a snippet of the work he would be premiering during the festival’s third evening, which was choreographed to “Astoria” by Marianas Trench. The contemporary routine featured six performers including McFarlane who delivered his usual level of passion. He danced duets with the five different women on stage competing for his attention and the ability to control him. Full of his signature leaps and bounds, the number was quick-paced and very acrobatic. Royal Flux’s segment to “All Directions” by Son Lux was choreographed by Jaci Royal and incorporated intense lifts during which the dancers created doorways with their bodies and utilized lights without having them appear strange and gimmicky, pointing them in unexpected directions as they fed off of the music’s dark mood.
Near the end, two pieces that stood out as the most diverse from the rest of the evening’s performances—Emily Crouch, Koko Iwasaki, Vlad Kvartin and Kiki Nyemcheck created a ballroom salsa routine to Cardi B’s “I Like It”, and Russell choreographed another work to Giant Claw’s “Dark Space”. The salsa was hot, well-received and a nice break from the rest of the night, with the dancers—particularly Iwasaki and Nyemcheck—really bringing their spicy A-game to the party. “Dark Space” was also cheered heavily, but by far my least favorite of the night, with far too much repetition and not enough unique movement to steer me away from interpreting their all-white masked-and-gloved costume design to a rip-off of the Jabbawockeez Dance Crew.
Although the night flew by, a lot was shown in those 90 or so minutes of dance. Grateful I was able to go to the night with the greatest assortment of artists, FUZE was a nice, gaging look at what’s currently simmering within the dance scene.
Saturday night featured A.C.E. 2017 winner Entity Contemporary Dance and their evening-length work Transparent/See. Sunday featured first runner up Lukas McFarlane’s full presentation of Astoria.
For more information on Break the Floor Productions, click here.
For more information on Rhythmatic, click here.
Featured image: Entity Contemporary Dance – Photo by Mike Esperanza