There seems to be a plethora of exclamation points associated with step dance. Like tap, it’s all about the sound — both use shoes that have metal cleats attached. But unlike tap, step dance doesn’t yet have the range of dynamics that would make it a more pertinent art form. It only operates at full throttle.
Yet Step Afrika!, in its second performance here in Pittsburgh, showed that it can engage an audience. Certainly the packed house at the Byham Theater thoroughly responded to the unbounded energy put forth by this Washington D.C. company of ten dancers.
Essentially it was the same program that this group offered in its local premiere in the August Wilson Center’s “First Voice,” its initial presentation of a black arts festival in 2007. (There will be a second festival this spring May 21-23 — click on August Wilson Center for details.) It took the format of a lecture-demo introducing the audience to the history and various angles of step dancing.
With the inspiration of a couple of movies (“Stomp the Yard,” “How She Move” and, of course,”StepUp”) and a current groundswell of interest, things at the Byham Theater Sunday nightcommenced with an onslaught demo of step dancing, downlit and dramatic. The troupe didn’t waste any time bringing on the rhythms in the hands and the feet. And the audience didn’t waste any time participating with rhythmic clapping.
This step dance show made the most of its engaging core rhythms. The first section took its cue from the streets, moving from unison patterns to a challenge dance between the guys and the ladies, where attitude was a must. One of the ladies clearly channeled Pam Grier, while the guys responded with a pose resembling Rodin’s “The Thinker.”
As might be anticipated, the challenge ended in a tie, setting the stage for a series of historical related styles, which included a re-enactment of a fraternity/sorority initiation, American takes on African rites of passage with dance and drumming, South African gumboot and my favorite, a tap solo of considerable skill (that employed the use of a variety of dynamics).
Some things for consideration: a romantic duet or a lyrical take on step dancing. At any rate, that would add an additional layer to what is undeniably an emerging and exciting art form.