Tap Dogs re-invent old sensation

By David Kolbusz
Although rivulets of sweat poured down the faces of the six young men in tap shoes on the National Arts Centre stage, their smiles were indelible.

Choreographed by Dein Perry, the Australian dance troupe Tap Dogs tapped into town earlier this month for a six-day engagement.

The 75-minute show combined elements of comedy, music, percussion and, most important, dance. This resulted in an explosion of energy and talent — unrivaled by many of today’s touring musicals — much to the delight of near-capacity audiences.

Tap Dogs follows in a growing trend of performance art, which is currently winning the hearts of audiences around the world. Shows such as Riverdance, Lord of the Dance, and Stomp have broken new ground with their innovative fusion of traditional dance, contemporary themes, and eye-catching sets.

Seanna Levine, marketing director for Bass Clef, which promoted both Tap Dogs and Stomp, claims the response has been overwhelming.

“The shows have done very well,” says Levine. “Stomp was sold out completely and though the storm affected the numbers for Tap Dogs, there was still a very good response. Although the largest turnout has been from women aged 18 to 35, the shows still have universal appeal. You see people from five to 80 years old.”

Set on a specially constructed stage within a stage, the tappers took turns performing solos, duets, and group numbers along with the occasional challenge dance, reminiscent of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire.

Although a riveting experience, the production was not without flaws. The musical accompaniment was a superfluous element drawing focus away from the foreground action. Orchestration consisted of a guitar and two synthesizers, causing sounds echoing the outdated style of progressive rock popularized in the 1970s.

Apart from this, the show’s only other flaw was its premature climax. The most spectacular routine was staged halfway through, rendering the remainder of the show a lengthy denouement. This did not seem to bother the crowds who appeared to enjoy the entire performance.

The effects of the dance phenomenon have also been felt at Ottawa-area dance schools.

Janet Reddies, assistant manager of Ottawa Dance Centre Schools, marvels at the renewed interest in dance lessons, but she says there are other factors involved.

“Along with the touring companies, the public’s interest in dance can also be attributed to recently released films such as Strictly Ballroom and Shall We Dance.”

Monica Adjeleian, artistic director for the Canadian School of Dance, also says the performances have boosted her business.

“Irish dancing has particularly taken off because of Riverdance and Lord of the Dance. Tap Dogs is helping tap too,” says Adjeleian. She says that although enrolment was on the decline during the federal government’s austerity period, it has since improved.

“When major government cuts started happening, people had to cut back on their spending, but now that the economy is doing well, the interest has returned.”

If interest in dance continues to grow as it did in 1997, Ottawa-area residents can be certain that future productions will go out of their way to stop in the nation’s capital.

At the same time, local dance studios can look forward to an increase in clientel eager to learn the steps that have captured hearts around the globe.