Friday May 11, 2012

PITTSFIELD - Tap dance exhibition, live concert, theatrical revue - the Minnesota- based touring ensemble Rhythmic Circus aims to be all of this and perhaps a bit more.

Incorporating a seven-piece band, four tap dancers, and a seemingly indefatigable wellspring of energy, the troupe brings its road- honed show "Feet Don't Fail Me Now!" to the Colonial Theatre on Saturday. The mainstage show is followed by a dance party featuring the beats of DJ BFG and projections by Drew Suto.

The ensemble came together in 2007 when tap dancing friends Ricci Milan, Nick Bowman, Eddie Strachan and Kaleena Miller were looking to create for themselves a project that could be exciting and more artistically fulfilling than some of the other jobs available to young dancers. (It was also an outgrowth of their previous company Ten Foot Five, which was more of a side project in- between other jobs.) " We started putting it together for no reason other than to put it together. We didn't know why. We were like the Blues Brothers: we were on a mission from God," recalled Milan, also the artistic director of Rhythmic Circus, on the phone from the lobby of a New Jersey theater a few hours before that night's performance. " We didn't have a gig, we didn't have anything lined up, we just knew we needed to work on something."

Milan had been friends for years with musician Alex Rossi, guitarist and vocalist for a Twin Cities band called Root City. The dancers and the musicians mixed and the idea was born to do something all together.

"We were dancing all the time," Milan explained of the project's origin, " and they were playing music all the time. That's what we did, that's what they did. So should we do something together?"

Rhythmic Circus was more an outgrowth of the natural artistic tendencies of this group of friends than a careful feat of alchemy, Milan said.

" It was never conceptually designed. It was just brought to us by our gifts and our ability and our approach to life. That's where we got super lucky, and it's the magic behind Rhythmic Circus."

"Feet Don't Fail Me Now!" premiered in 2008, and since then has toured nationally and even ventured to Europe for dates including the prestigious Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It features original songs, costume changes, a bit of comedy, a narrative element and a seamless blend of the percussive possibilities of tap dance with a band including guitar, keyboards, drums, bass, saxophone, trumpet and even a beatboxer.

Milan said Rhythmic Circus has secured investors interested in launching an Off-Broadway run next season, and the organization is investigating potential locations.

This innovative project was just what Milan was looking for when he returned from a job tap dancing in a show at Tokyo Disney. He was a veteran of similar hi-glitz gigs, like dancing during halftime at Minnesota Vikings games or at NCAA tournament basketball games. These were good professional opportunities, he said, but not the sort of longterm artistic project he was looking for.

"'I was playing the role of 'the tap dancer,' with the bow tie and the whole bit. It was awesome to be able to do tap dancing for a living and learn about entertainment and working with professionals at that level. It was really fascinating and interesting, but at the same time not artistically fulfilling. I felt like we just gave them a piece of candy, it was nothing that could sustain you, or the audience either."

His path toward this sort of career was lain early. As a young child he was fond of dancing on the front steps to the tunes from Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall" album, imitating MJ's moves. The idea came up to send the six-year old to a dance class, and he immediately felt at home there.

"As soon as I saw a mirror in front of me and they turned on music I thought this was the coolest thing ever. My first class, of course, I wanted to teach the teacher my Michael Jackson moves. It took me a year as a little kid to understand the concept that there's a lot of different approaches."

He stuck for years with classes focused on jazz dance, ballet, and other movement-based forms, and only at age 17 did he fall in love with tap dancing. Later, after seeing percussiveoriented shows like "Stomp," he realized that tap dancing could be adapted to other theatrical forms and absorb contemporary influences.

"(I realized) you can be edgy and hip and do tap," Milan said. "You can have more of a percussive edge, a street edge." The route toward Rhythmic Circus was paved.

To reach Jeremy D. Goodwin: jeremy@jeremydgoodwin.com On Twitter:@JeremyDGoodwin