A tap dancer, a hand percussionist and a human beat box walk into a bar. The bar has no stools and the wall behind it is covered with cryptic graffiti in gratuitously bright colors. Oh, and it’s on a stage. Did I forget to mention that?
Welcome to the Insurgo Bastard Theater and a Molodi show, complete with unpredictability and a nod to the avant garde.
Molodi, a group of performers specializing in extreme body percussion, was started in 2000 by Jason Nious and is a diverse faction to begin with. However, the one-night performance on May 20 showcased more than their classic “Raw Footage” showcase. (Their signature show had been performed early that night.)
Also featured was the group’s experimental dive into the world of collaboration through a show called “Molodi Presents,” showcasing the work of other performers throughout Las Vegas.
Guest artists included Harmony Costa’s group Soul Steppers, specializing in house and featuring members with such credits as “Stomp,” “Stomp Out Loud,” and Cirque du Soleil’s “LOVE.”
Hand percussion, audible (and visual) tap, beatboxing, a vocal performance and a stint of acting games lent the show a vibrant and multi-faceted personality. Themes ranged from the chill grooves of house to the competitive edge between tap and percussion to the simple thrill of listening to a skilled beat-boxer jamming in the dark.
The program for “Molodi Presents” outlined a seemingly sparse three pieces, but the show itself was riddled with Easter eggs of an endearingly miscellaneous nature.
Antwan Davis’ fierce beatboxing segued into “The Footprints,” a piece performed by Chris Rutledge that made use of the mysterious blue tarp and sheets of white paper that had been situated in front of the stage since the top of the show.
Temporarily deepening the mystery, two paper plates were added to the strange set, acting as vessels for paint in Rutledge’s signature color scheme of green and black. Rutledge cleared up the confusion in short order, dipping his taps into the paint intermittently, then finger-painting tap-style on the sheets of paper.
Rutledge’s sharp personality and wicked grin sparkled for the audience seated not ten feet away as he illustrated the pleasant dissonance of sophisticated rhythm paired with a gritty upper body.
Can you do single wings on a square of paper in paint-covered tap shoes, doubled over at the waist with your hands nearly touching the floor? I can’t. Chris Rutledge can though, and he’ll make it look easy.
“Man vs. Machine,” the second piece in the showcase, armed three different instruments with rhythmic weapons and pitted them against one another, acting out the classic struggle between human nature and simulations of the same.
Davis appeared again, illustrating his body percussion chops against Cayce Andrew’s nonchalantly blitzing hand percussion. Rutledge, still in paint-spattered shoes, joined the fun midway through the piece, adding a higher pitch and quirky syncopations.
Contrary to the oppositional title, the number couldn’t help but demonstrate the complexity of rhythms, and performers, working together, and how truly stunning this can be when done well.
The Soul Steppers kicked off the last piece with an unassuming entrance from the back of the house, grooving through the audience and increasing the camaraderie felt between artist and observer.
Distinct house-style music pulsed through a piece of turn-taking, with each performer soul-stepping forward and showing the personalities that mingle in the group.
Members Harmony Costa, Ricky Barraza Jr., Tal Iozef, Louross Edralin, Lamont Thomas and Christine Delota emphasized the versatility of house-style dancing, often melding it with personal strengths like locking, b-boying and hip-hop.
Interspersed throughout “Molodi Presents” were vignettes of acting games, improvised on the spot, always humorous and often bordering on inappropriate.
Take “Stand, Bend and Sit,” for example, in which each of the three actors must be performing one of the movements in the title while improvising a real-life scene. The context for the game? The set of a porn film which, given, is probably a real life scene for somebody. Fair enough.
These are the kids that were staging shows in their backyards and tapping the grade-school cafeteria table in time with the music in their heads. Strangely, the same atmosphere still persists: the performance proves to be not only a collaboration between the artists onstage but a conduit of energy between the performers and the audience as well.
It helps that the first row of seats is about ten feet away from the edge of the stage, close enough to see nuances in a performer (and, unfortunately, to hear the slide and click of the rag-tag lights’ mechanisms, one of the very few flaws of the show.)
A slightly nervous vibe prevailed during some of the acting games as the audience was drawn into the “who will be next?” environment familiar to performers asked to improvise.
Overall, cardinal sins of dance concerts were avoided: “Molodi Presents” was under an hour and a half and the audience was very much included in the show, side-stepping the common phenomenon of “fish-tank” performances (where the audience merely watches.) A sense of candidness and experimentation prevailed, making the experience endearing and delightful.
My advice for any stomp-style show at the Insurgo Theater?
Watch your toes.