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Electric boogaloo: Ten Foot Five.

Street Smarts

By Mae G. Banner

Ten Foot Five

The Egg, Oct. 21

‘We’re from Minne-sota, don’t cha know,” the gangly blond guy shouted out about halfway through Ten Foot Five’s show Buckets and Tap Shoes last Saturday at the Egg.

By that time, Rick Ausland and his rosy-cheeked homies had the audience in their hip pockets. OK, so, they’re no Savions, in terms of intricacy, polyrhythms and jazz sense, but they made up for all that with their untiring energy and precision and beaucoup charm, batting out variations of a four-square unison tap rhythm that wouldn’t quit.

The four hoofers—Ausland, his intense brother Andy, the flyaway stylist Ricci Milan, and the sleek Kaleena Miller—laid down a non-stop set of heel-and-toe riffs, peppered with slides, spins, and even the occasional somersault. They worked almost entirely in unison, with a few brief solo turns, and mostly a capella, though a huge bank of instruments stood as a backdrop, and piles of up-ended white plastic buckets rimmed the stage of the small Swyer Theater.

It was all friendly fun. They would dance crisp and hard, and then, to give themselves a little rest, they’d suddenly sit down cross-legged in lotus position and do a unison “oohm,” only to spring right up again.

When the musicians (electric bass, drums, soprano and alto sax) came out, Milan did a soulful solo to the trio’s easy swing. Milan took some serious risks with near-break-dance moves, while Miller was more cautious. She seemed to be always measuring how close she was to the edge of the stage, trying not to fall off.

Andy Ausland, focused deeply inward, did a serious solo with multi-pirouettes and flips. Later, he joined the backup band on the keyboard and the guitar.

New to the Capital District, Ten Foot Five are straight-ahead street performers with lots of practice in holding an audience’s eyes. Founded in 1997 by the Auslands, the group debuted at a local dance competition and then made it big at the 2004 Minnesota Fringe Festival, earning the “Best of the Fringe” award from among 200 acts.

They had plenty of tricks to keep us engaged, including lots of quick costume changes from one grungy shirt or cap to another. The most elaborate number was a flashlight dance in which the house went dark and the dancers shone flashlights down at their moving feet. Like homemade strobe lights, the shifting flashes created a woozy feeling as the dancers circled and bobbed. The immediacy of street invention became a tour de force of skill.

In another imaginative leap, Rick Ausland danced off the stage and up to the top row of the house, performing a dangerous tap sequence in the narrow aisle, still lit only by his flashlight. He proceeded to dance down the steps, his taps sounding nicely muffled on the carpet, detouring into empty rows, hitting his light on the wooden arms of seats for an extra rhythm, and generally making good use of the entire theater space.

There were some tricks with a magician’s cane, a fine bluesy solo by Milan, who seemed bemused at what his feet could do, and a best-of-friends duo between Milan and Miller, who came out in high-heeled tap shoes and a body-hugging gray jersey top.

Then came the piece de resistance—buckets and more buckets, plus metal pans and a battery of drumsticks. The dancers came forward and started to beat in a giant drum circle, adding more and more buckets and sailing into the audience to hand out drumsticks for everyone.

Kids and grownups swarmed onstage and added their beats to the celebration. The rhythm grew faster and faster and the crowd onstage bigger and bigger, like a rousing half-time show with shouting and rhythmic flourishes. The stage rocked.

This was the final number and encore, combined, and it proved everyone has the soul of a performer. The lights went on, but the kids wouldn’t stop. They could have danced and drummed all night.

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