Published in KPBS On Air Magazine November 1997
No top hats and tails for these tappers. More like hard-hats, tank-tops and workboots. Ever since their meteoric ascendance in Sydney in 1995, Tap Dogs have been taking the world by storm, and have helped to transform tap-dancing from its traditional staid and elegant grace to a pounding, hard-hitting, rock-beat, blue collar, sexy, sweaty, energetic obsession.
The six Tap Dogs look, act and dance like construction workers, and most of them are. Or were.
It all began in the steel and coal town of Newcastle, New South Wales, about 100 miles north of Sydney. Dein Perry, an industrial machinist, got cast in “42nd Street”. He’d studied tap dancing as a kid, and he wanted to share the fun with some friends. So he mounted a show that won an Olivier Award for best choreography, went on a smash-hit U.S. tour (including San Diego, last year), and now the Dogs are back (November 4-9), to tap their way into your pumping, thumping heart.
For 70 intermissionless minutes, they shuffle and stomp, in a performance that, according to one Australian critic, “bites the butt of contemporary dance.”
This is heavy-metal tap, feisty, funky and loud. The clackety work-boots are amplified, and the intricate, rhythmic dancing (backed by rock-video lighting) is often done atop steel girders and ladders; the Dogs construct the scaffolding set as they go, tapping energetically like mechanical hammers, rivets and drills. As Lewis Segal of the L.A. Times put it, this is “at once the ultimate bachelor party and a spectacular affirmation of the work ethic.” The British press fondly referred to the production as “testosterone tap.”
And it’s one helluva workout. Ben Read, who’s been with the show from its inception, says that eight performances a week is all the exercise anyone needs. Read started dancing at age five. “I just grew up tap dancing as a hobby,” he said recently during the five-week Los Angeles run of Tap Dogs. “Newcastle was a center for tap. I just walked into the studio one day and never wanted to leave.” He met Perry at age 14, and by 16, he had left home, joined the cast of “42nd Street”, then Tap Dogs, and he’s “been going pretty much flat-chat [busy] since then.”
After five years on the road, Read, 22, is starting to think of a life of his own. “I’d like to choreograph. I’d like to see tap become even more accessible. I’d like to go into bars and tap dance; you can tap dance to anything.”
As the Tap Dogs demonstrate with electrifying originality, you can tap dance on, with, in and around anything, too.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.