Choreographer / Director: Dein Perry
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Classical forms of dance have been given a new lease of life in the twenty-first century and while choreographers like William Forsythe have changed the rules and forms of ballet, Dein Perry has done the same for tap dancing. Shaking off the image of silver-heeled chorus girls in Broadway reviews, for the best part of 20-years Tap Dogs has combined precision and speed with an almost aggressive power to create something urban and very noisy.
Dein Perry’s Tap Dogs is the latest iteration of this long-running show to arrive at the Peacock Theatre for a limited season. A construction crew becomes the basis for their characterisation as the dancers play a team of workers who in each segment rearrange and deconstruct the building site-like set. It is full of wooden boards, scaffold and rope that reflects the show’s heritage in the steelworks around Sydney, and over the course of 80-minutes including an encore, six dancers perform twelve set-pieces.
If tap makes you think of jaunty musical numbers by Gene Kelly or Bruce Forsyth then this show couldn’t be more different, with a hammering energy that runs through the entire piece. It is a specifically masculine environment – the only women, two superb drummers, Catarina Percinio and Noriko Terada – which creates moments of teamwork, competition, support and silliness as each performer takes his individual place in the spotlight as well as contributing to the overall variety of tones and rhythms that Tap Dogs explores.
Dancers Anthony Russo, Nathaniel Hancock, Richard Miller, Chaise Rossiello, Justin Myles, Reid Perry, Nathan Beech and Sam Marks have extraordinary skill and speed, balancing the different stomps and clicks in unison to create a changing pace throughout, as well as picking up on the rhythm and dance influences from South America, China and Spain, while consistently maintaining the distinctly urban, slightly looser forms of street dance. They are all very talented and they know it.
There are some really impressive sequences, particularly a scene using circular saws against scaffold poles to create showers of sparks timed to the stomp of their boots, with a single dancer in the middle of what looks like mini-fireworks. A very simple opening section revealing just the dancers’ feet is nicely done scoring an early laugh with an unexpected joke about a nervous wee, while another sequence on a hastily-formed multi-level platform has them splashing about in water like 5-year olds in Wellies. And not forgetting that someone uses a pulley belt to tap upside down on a metal roof.
It doesn’t all work and a sequence in the dark that uses torches seems to miss the feet altogether, so the audience only sees the backs of trouser, while a section pulling on criss-crossed ropes is a little underwhelming, even awkward. A half-hearted attempt at story is there with character names and a couple of dancers adding an extra bit of personality including a joker and a novice learning the ropes, but that aspect of the show never develops and really there is little to distinguish the individuals.
For theatre’s anticipating the arrival of this touring show, it must be a health and safety nightmare, real saws that spark, lots of water sloshing about the stage, wobbly self-assembly scaffolds and iron girders half-lifted into the air in jagged positions – one slip or misstep could be very painful. There is no disputing the accomplishment of the performers, but, crowd-pleasing tricks aside, lacking a strong narrative to hold it all togetherTap Dogs becomes just a series of impressively performed but loosely held together tap numbers that doesn’t have a huge amount to say except look how good we are. For nearly 20-years Dein Perry’s work has changed the image of tap dancing, the question is, what should the next 20-years look like?
Runs Until: 10 November 2018 | Image: Contributed