This weekend’s City Rhythms Festival was a study in the many nuanced ways that a dancer can interact with music. Each troupe had its way of working the beat, whether it was riding it like a wave, daring it to get faster, filling its sonic holes or pulverizing it with steps of blistering speed.
The Saturday night production, put on by Dance Place at the Atlas Theater, kicked off with Coyaba Dance Theater’s “Harmony,” a three-part West African drumming frenzy. The beats started out simple and crisp, but they gradually and climactically swelled into something equally clear but light years more complicated.
Footworks Percussive Dance Ensemble danced several short works that married percussive dance with Appalachian fiddle music. The dancers’ costumes were a distraction from their mostly pleasant performance. The baggy red-and-black tops and wide-leg capri pants weren’t flattering, and, more important, they didn’t seem to fit with the sense of place so beautifully created by fiddler Jon Glik.
Hip-hop group Culture Shock’s performance of “We Could Fly” called to mind a Gap commercial. It was an impeccably styled group romp that was just the right amount of cool — accessible for newcomers to the genre but fun to watch for aficionados.
Given that most of the artists chose to present ensemble works, the solos in “Nitty Grittys — The Tap Show” made for a nice change of pace. Tappers Joseph Webb, Chris Scott and Baakari Wilder — veterans of the Broadway musical “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk” — brought the evening’s heaviest dose of virtuosity. Their toe-heel digs and slaps seemed to fire as fast as an automatic weapon, yet every sequence was thoroughly controlled and deeply musical. Each of these dancers demonstrated how vast the possibilities are in this art form.
Step Afrika! is consistently a polished troupe, but its closing numbers made for the tightest, most electric performance that the troupe has put on in recent memory. Artistic Director Jakari Sherman said at the end of the show that his company has added some new dancers. Perhaps they are the source of this fresh, exciting energy.