Call it a childhood spent watching far too many MGM musicals, but the sound of tap dancing does something strange to me inside. No, not that kind of strange (get your minds out the gutter, people!), but there’s just something somehow stirring about the pitter-patter of tap shoes that I just can’t get enough of.
Well, there are pitter-patters in abundance at Tap Dogs, the award-winning show by Australian choreographer Dein Perry, which has been going strong for 20 years and has now arrived at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts. Except forget “pitter-patters” and think more “bloody massive stomps”, because this is tap dancing with the testosterone factor.
Featuring six male dancers wearing clompy old boots on a construction site set, Fred Astaire gliding gracefully in top hat and tails this certainly ain’t. Instead, these macho men kick their way around stage with gusto, tapping away on any surface they can get their feet on – metal ladders, wooden steps, troughs of water… even the ceiling. It’s exciting, exhilarating and oddly effortless, even coming from these big blokey bruisers.
Tap Dogs features no dialogue and no plot… just a hell of a lot of dancing. Unsurprisingly, this means that it doesn’t remain totally captivating throughout; even at 90 minutes, not quite all the fat has been trimmed off this tap dancing machine (is it mean of me to say somewhat literally, given a couple of the middle-aged paunches peeking out on some of the cast – although that does make those full-on displays of tap ferocity even more impressive!).
There is not a weak link amongst the central sextet, and they’re all the more thrilling in unison (it’s generally the solo sections that drag). The highlights are the more innovative segments – a perfectly timed sequence with basketballs, a visually stunning backlit section, a frenetic zig-zag up and down crazily angled steel girders. I also enjoyed the playful homage to the famous scene in Big, with each dancer jumping on different sound pads to create a high-voltage tap concerto.
However, I didn’t much care for the two female percussionists, who don’t add much to the production other than extra noise (frankly, they seem to have been added purely to satisfy some Equal Opportunities quota brought on by the otherwise all male team). But generally, the show sweeps you along on a wave of energy, exuberance, cheeky good humour and sheer bristling tap talent. And when everyone taps together, the feeling in the auditorium is just electric – at one point, sparks literally do fly!
Whilst it’s not exactly the most nuanced piece of dance you’ll ever see, Tap Dogs provides a solid night’s entertainment for anyone with a little bit of rhythm in their heart. You’ll never quite see a shuffle ball change in the same light ever again.
Tap Dogs by Lunchbox Productionsplays at the Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, from 20-25 May 2014. Tickets cost $350-850, available from www.hkticketing.com.
The show then transfers to Singapore from 27 May-1 June 2014; see the website for more details.
Note: I received complimentary tickets to the opening night performance of Tap Dogs in Hong Kong.