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Tap Dogs’ turns tap dance on its head

Tessa DeMers | Thursday, December 6, 2012

This past weekend at the Morris Performing Arts Center, “Tap Dogs” grabbed hold of the stage and refused to let go.
“Tap Dogs” is a tap dance show – unfortunately not featuring literal dogs – created by Australian dancer and choreographer, Dein Perry. The original cast first performed the show in 1995 at the Sydney Festival in Australia. Different variations of the show, each with a cast of eight male dancers, are now performed in major cities around the world. The company even performed at the 2000 Sydney Olympic ceremonies in an enormous group.
Due to the show’s unique staging ideas, the Tap Dogs are often recognized within the dance community as having revolutionized the way tap dance is presented to a modern-day audience. Elements such as set design, sound effects, lighting effects and unique uses of these elements – in addition to unique uses of props, all combine to create a fast-paced, otherworldy show.
Part movement and part percussion instrument, and 100 percent American in its original form, traditional tap was probably made most famous by a series of classical movie musicals in the 1940’s starring Gene Kelly, most notably “Singin‘ in the Rain” and “An American in Paris.” Kelly was known for his energetic and athletic tap style, yet even this Hollywood legend’s moves were not as crazy and athletic as those of the Tap Dogs.
Like Riverdance, which took the formal, stiff traditions of Irish dance and added so much theatricality – such as more dramatic music, interesting sets, creative lighting and exciting plots; the Tap Dogs take traditional tap dancing and turns it on its head.
The show’s set at the Morris was absolutely magnificent, on par with the dancing itself as an important part of its total impact. The dancers maneuvered and manipulated the set, which resembled a construction site, between almost every number. Performers used the set in unexpected ways, such as breaking the stage into two jagged pieces and jumping back and forth across them, climbing railings and creating various angles and levels to dance upon.
However, the most amazing part of “Tap Dogs,” was the ridiculous creativity the dancers brought to the world of tap. Every time I thought I had seen the most unique and cool thing that could be done while wearing tap shoes, they would top it with the next dance. They dribbled basketballs to create a rhythm to dance to – while they were dancing!
They placed eight kind of music synthesizers on the stage, each dancing on a different one, to make a wild array of different musical instrument sounds. They used lighting and smoke to achieve cool effects and flashlights to highlight different dancers, effectively filling the stage with a flashing strobe. Other times, they opted for moments of total darkness to force the audience to focus on their sound.
At another point in the performance, these “Tap Dogs” poured water into a long tray and danced through the water wearing rain boots, even splashing the audience a few times. It was audience participation with a side order of Sea World. They even hoisted one of the guys upside down, letting him tap on the ceiling.
The chemistry among the performers in “Tap Dogs” was great. They were funny, full of personality and it was obvious the entire performance that they were having the time of their lives. Each of the eight dancers brought a different personality and style to the stage. The show had a laid back feel to it, with all of the dancers wearing normal clothing – mostly jeans and T-shirts.
The cast worked well with together, always feeding off each other’s energies and trying to top each other in their epic dance moves. They each had little quirks, including one dancer who frequently integrated random disco moves into his pieces. The audience easily felt the cast’s playfulness, which brought a light-hearted and fun atmosphere to the show.
“Tap Dogs” has been around for quite some time, and, after catching it at our own Morris, I’m fairly certain it won’t be disappearing from the world’s stages anytime soon.
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