Rhythmic Circus brings amazing feet and feats to Columbia Festival

If performers generally need to be quick on their feet, that's especially the case for Rhythmic Circus. Its energetic show "Feet Don't Fail Me Now!" — part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts that runs through June 29 — is likely to get the audience's feet tapping, too, when it literally hits the stage Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m., at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School.

This eclectic ensemble includes four tap dancers, a six-piece band, vocalists and even some a cappella vocalizing by a beat-boxing performer. Any group that brings together genres as traditional as tap dance and as contemporary as beat-boxing qualifies as unconventional.

What exactly prompted these eager performers to throw everything into the same show?

"The way it blended has been organic. Things started out as individual ideas. When they (were combined), it seemed odd to us, too, because what happened was not exactly deliberate," explains Rhythmic Circus Executive Director Nick Bowman from his home in Blaine, Minn.

When this group was founded in Minneapolis in 2008, its members brought their individual talents to the mix.

"We already were friends going back 10 or 15 years and had solo success. When we started as a group, we asked: What if we did these things together in a random mix that blended things like tap dancing and beat-boxing? When we did our first show, we knew we had lightning in a bottle here.

"As we put these unlikely genres together and fused them closer together, we remarked about what a circus that would be, and that's where our name came from," Bowman says.

Although Rhythmic Circus has been touring the same show ever since, it's not exactly the same show. Some routines are tweaked, others are added, and the result is that "Feet Don't Fail Me Now!" remains, er, fast on its feet.

"It's an evolution of one ongoing show," Bowman notes, built around "core ideas" in the music and dance.

Some of those core ideas tap into show business traditions dating back to the vaudeville era, while other ideas are percussive manifestations of more recent trends in music and dance.

"I do think we are part of a long tradition, though it doesn't seem traditional," Bowman acknowledges with a laugh. "There's not an easy box to put us in, which presents challenges" in marketing to the demographically varied audiences to which the widely touring ensemble plays.

Another challenge has to do with the format of a program that easily could lack structure and just be a madcap variety show. In order to thematically link the performance segments together, the show has a character who functions as an audience surrogate wondering what in the world is happening on this stage.

"We created an investigative character as a reflection of the audience response in general. He's mocking us and wondering what kind of show he paid to see," Bowman says. "He's mirroring the audience."

This irreverent investigator breaks the so-called theatrical fourth wall by periodically freezing the stage action and commenting upon it in a mocking fashion. He walks down the aisle, talks to the audience, and even gets audience members directly involved in the show.

Audiences around America have been pulled into this crazy circus. Internationally, Rhythmic Circus has performed at events including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. Within a few days of the Columbia gig, the group embarks on a 20-city tour of China. This ensemble's good-natured blend of music, dance and comedy should do wonders for international relations.

Rhythmic Circus performs Friday, June 21, at 8 p.m., at the Jim Rouse Theatre at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, in Columbia. Tickets are $30-$45. For tickets, call 1-800-955-5566 or go to http://www.tickets.com; for Columbia Festival of the Arts information, call 410-715-3044 or go to http://www.columbiafestival.com.

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