Dien Perry’s Tap Dogs has been doing the rounds in one form or another since 1995, and now returns to London and The Peacock Theatre for an extended stop on an international tour. This high octane dance show is more rock concert than dance production, with pounding music and banging feet it’s as far away from traditional tap as you can imagine.
From early on Tap Dogs tries to convince us that these are not ‘dancers’ but rough and tumble construction workers, in plaid shirts and workers boots. But the audience are not so easily fooled, because the quality of the performances demonstrates the pure talent on stage. Accompanied by live music from Catarina Percinio and Noriko Terada, the dancers often make their own music with just their feet and a few well-chosen props.
Behind the fervent dance moves lies the story of a team of construction workers, all with their own distinct personalities and role within the group. The best scenes work where the ‘Kid’ is interacting with his older workmates, the apprentice like character is teased, mentored and supported by the more experienced of the group, and Reid Perry is perfect in this role.
It’s heart-warming to see the competitive nature of the construction workers, develop in to teamwork as the entire set is constructed around the dancers as the show progresses. Metal and concrete combining to create a structure that takes the performance to new heights, one dancer even taps upside down, while a scene with basket balls defies belief.
Alongside the modern tap are moments of humour, mostly sight gags, it means that the audiences gasps of admiration are intercut with unrestrained laughter, and it feels like the cast feed off of this audience appreciation. The lighting by Gavin Norris ensures that the key moments are picked up, in what is initially a vast empty stage. Combined with Craig Wilkinson’s innovative video design, which sees the corrugated iron backdrop come to life in dynamic bursts of colour, the overall look is very alluring.
The combination of thundering music and ferocious tap makes it feel like every blood cell is vibrating within your veins, all while you are overwhelmed by the visual appeal of the show. The true magic ingredient of Tap Dogs can be seen off-stage rather than on it, a quick look around the auditorium and you see a diverse and enthusiastic audience who are being enticed by the contemporary twist on a classic art form.