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Talk about humiliating. At my first tap class 10 years ago, I thought I was doing more or less the same steps as the teacher. Then she asked us to do the movement phrase one at a time. When I touched my feet to the floor, no sound came out! Turns out it takes skill to get any sound at all out of a pair of tap shoes. And to make that sound clean and resonant, and look good while you’re doing it … that’s the mark of an artist. There’s tremendous, exhilarating artistry on display from the 11 tappers in the California Rhythm Project in their show at the San Diego International Fringe Festival, running through next Sunday.

LeapThe show, “On the Corner of Rhythm & Rhyme,” isn’t just a display of virtuoso tapping. Company director Nancy Boskin-Mullen and artistic director Pam Thompson-Spinner have put together San Diego’s answer to “Stomp.” It’s a fun, fast-moving collection of numbers with a theme of street corner culture and an inventive array of percussion instruments from garbage cans to plastic cups to basketballs, as well as happy feet. There’s a scene of people lined up at a coffee cart, kids playing hopscotch, and a sweet courting couple–the elegant Katie Amarillas and Sidney Franklin, who makes tap look utterly cool.

Poet Ernie McCray comes in several times with his jazz-inflected odes to dance and life, as tappers create a rhythm behind him. He sends us off with the wish that we be “refined, sublime, and kind,” and, walking out of the Spreckels Theatre Raw Space after the uplifting show, that seems possible.

Shoes_thumb[php snippet=1] The gritty Raw space is in many ways a terrific venue for this show. It even has a decent floor, with wood underneath the tile. The acoustics in the cavernous space leave a lot to be desired, though, and recorded music was often nearly impossible to hear. For that reason–and because it’s tap at its most fundamental–one of the highlights of the show is the “Busker” number, a solo choreographed and performed by Summer Briggs with no sound except her taps. Briggs’ dancing is richly varied in steps and pacing; there’s a great move where she jumps both legs out, touches on her toes, and jumps back in (way beyond my level of study, so I don’t know what it’s called). What’s the sound of one girl tapping? Pure joy.

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg

Award-winning dance journalist Janice Steinberg has published more than 400 articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She was a 2004 New York Times-National Endowment for the Arts fellow at the Institute for Dance Criticism and has taught dance criticism at San Diego State University. She is also a novelist, author of The Tin Horse (Random House, 2013). For why she's passionate about dance, see this article on her web site, The Tin Horse

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