FORT WORTH - With some forms of dance, which is to say most of them, and especially tap dance, it's difficult to find an angle that sets you apart and still draws in audiences large enough to get booked in performance halls on the touring circuit. Pretty much the only other ones in recent years to reach such a level have been singular talent Savion Glover and the Australian tap spectacle Tap Dogs.
The Minnesota-based outfit known as Rhythmic Circus is well on its way to being the next big thing in tap, as it played to an enthusiastic crowd at Bass Hall on Friday night.
The group has been touring its show Feet Don't Fail Me Now for a while now, first stopping in North Texas a few years ago at the much smaller Uptown Theater in Grand Prairie. Their reputation must be growing; it looked like they filled more than half of the 2,200 seats at Bass.
The core group of hoofers is Ricci Milan, Nick Bowman, Kaleena Miller and Galen Higgins, and their twist is that tap -- the sound of tap shoes hitting a floor -- is another component of a larger musical concept that's one giant rhythm section. An excellent seven-member band plays jazz, R&B, salsa and other styles, led by soulful vocalist Alex Rossi. Sometimes the tappers serve as the percussion, each of them exhibiting machine-gun footwork and expressive individuality. Slides and every kind of time-step are effortless, and the dance occasionally gets aggressive. Higgins, who also has amazing nontap dance skills, is a standout, one of those rare talents that recalls greats like Gene Kelly. He spins, moonwalks, stands en pointe. Impressive.
Or they perform without the band, with other interesting percussive elements, such as astoundingly talented beat-boxer Aaron "Heatbox" Heaton, who uses a pedal loop station to become a one-man sound machine in one number. Mad scat skills, too.
And then there's the "con-chair-to," in which three performers sit in metal folding chairs and use its legs and their feet and hands as percussion. Like step dancing but with six legs per performer.
Anytime the musicians or dancers are performing, the energy level is through the roof. Now if they can figure out a better way to frame the loose narrative that sets up their story. The detective bit, with Heaton trying to unravel the secret of the Rhythmic Circus, is dumb; and the smug hubris of artistic director Milan, who explains how the band came together and why they rock, borders on annoying.
Guys, just let the talent -- the rhythm, the tap -- speak for itself.