Dance fusion group The StepCrew opens the Armstrong International Cultural Foundation’s 2016–2017 performing arts season tonight after spending three days rehearsing and recording at Armstrong Auditorium. The troupe’s two Ottawa Valley step dancers, two tap dancers, one Irish step dancer, one vocalist and six band members will have prepared, practiced, choreographed and recorded for at least 20 hours from September 13–15 before the curtain rises for the concert. Ottawa Valley step dancer and fiddler Jon Pilatzke said StepCrew will use the footage to produce a DVD “with the precise shot angles and vision that we have been planning over the years.”
StepCrew production assistants worked all morning September 13 unloading instruments and costumes, setting up risers and lights onstage, programming lighting effects, and coordinating sound checks. Most of the musicians and dancers rehearsed the concert program all afternoon and evening.
The Armstrong Auditorium theater was dark and quiet yesterday afternoon, the first day of recording, save for the occasional click-clack of a dancer drilling steps at half speed in an empty theater and the twang of violin strings backstage. A couple of the performers arrived from the airport around 3 p.m. and were greeted with cheers and hugs. At 4 p.m., the band took the stage and shook the theater with thunderous, foot-stomping tunes.
After breaking for dinner, the group hit the stage again at 6 p.m. Returning to my upholstered crimson balcony chair at 9 p.m., I was overwhelmed by the pulsating music, passionate dancing and colorful lights. As five resilient Armstrong Foundation cameramen and photographers captured StepCrew’s moves with tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of tripods, remote control video cameras, jibs, sliders and still cameras, the energetic musicians and dancers performed as if the theater was already packed with a full house of 823 enthralled concertgoers, rather than the 10 or so scattered staff members and one distant reporter. Every note, twirl, pivot, stomp and wave seemed to encourage a nonexistent audience to clap along and nod to the beat.
“The one word that I can promise is energy,” Pilatzke told Armstrong Foundation concert manager Ryan Malone during the September 12 Music for Life radio program recorded before StepCrew arrived in Edmond. “The show just exudes energy from the minute the curtain goes up to the minute it comes down. And whether it be a slow air or a rocking fast tune, that same energy is there, the same musicianship, integrity.”
As the recorded rehearsal stretched late into the night, I expected smiles to fade and moods to sour. Instead, the StepCrew members joked and encouraged each other in between sets and also expressed gratitude to their managers and the Armstrong Foundation staff.
“We feel like Edmond is a little bit of a second home for us,” Pilatzke said in the Music for Life interview. “There’s not too many venues in the world that we’ve come back and done three shows in. The crew at Armstrong Auditorium is absolutely top-notch. They are the nicest people we have ever met in our lives and so accommodating to our group. We’re excited to see them, and we’re excited to see the Edmond audience again, just because they’re one of the best audiences we’ve ever performed for.”
A few minutes past 11 p.m., the StepCrew finally wrapped up a rehearsal that had lasted nearly 10 hours and yielded nearly as much video footage. Before the grand finale had even stopped reverberating in my ears, drummer Angelo Miceli joked that it was time to run through the entire show again, to which his fellow artists responded with exasperated laughter.
“It is amazing how close they all are,” said assistant artist liaison Joshua Sloan, who doubled as a cameraman during the marathon run through. “They are like one big happy family. They always say how Edmond and Oklahoma and Armstrong Auditorium are like a second home to them.”
“I think it speaks to the quality of the facility and the accommodating staff that they would choose this venue for such a special production,” Mr. Malone said.
I left the auditorium feeling electrified and anticipating tonight’s performance, which will also be recorded for the video. The release date and other production details about the video have not yet been revealed.
“The production elements are going to be out of this world,” Pilatzke said. “My whole existence right now is focused on getting this video shoot together and organized, making that show from 7:30 to 9:30 or 10 o’clock, even, the most exciting show we have ever done in our lives. … We want everyone to come out and be ready to be loud and be ready to have fun.”