Before the 2007 Bay Area Rhythm Exchange — the big performance component of this year’s Bay Area Tap Festival — began Saturday night at San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre, it wasn’t necessarily easy to generalize about the kind of people in the audience.
But after the terrific “shim sham finale,” it became clear that the folks at the show were tap dancers themselves, and mighty fine ones.
At least a few dozen dancers of all ages, shapes and sizes from the crowd joined the professionals onstage for several group routines. A bunch pulled off some nifty solos, too.
It was the perfect ending to a freewheeling evening of rhythmic demonstration. The lineup featured smooth Deborah Mitchell, sassy Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, swift Sam Weber and solid John Kloss accompanied by a top-notch jazz band at the side of the stage: Kito Gamble on piano, Marcus Shelby on bass and drummer/music director/master of ceremonies Channing Cook-Holmes.
There weren’t any huge production numbers à la Busby Berkeley — just extraordinary tapping in various styles. Mitchell showed off her light-on-her-feet technique as she told a story about one of her mentors, the great Leslie “Bubba” Gaines.
Kloss had a more urban style; in one segment he was joined by beat boxer Infinite for a cool voice-vs.-body faceoff.
The graceful Weber most resembled the romance of Fred Astaire, while Sumbry-Edwards showed serious spunk and attitude.
There was more than music and dance in the form of Unique Derique, a longtime Bay Area clownish figure who performed “Hambone” body percussion set to recorded sound effects. Though appropriately themed, the act was curious.
In a cute solo in the show’s second half, Cook-Holmes showcased his own moves and did some funny, spot-on imitations of his co-headliners on the bill. In another novelty number, the performers danced on the darkened stage while wearing glow-in-the-dark accessories and shoes, resulting in an amusing image.
Still, the most satisfying part of the evening came at the end, when the spirited amateur dancers joined their heroes onstage for a huge, deeply satisfying, community tapfest.