Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dance Theater Review: “Tap Dogs” — Just See It!

“Tap Dogs” at the Buell Theatre

Denver Center for the Performing Arts

Through September 26

An Australian steelyard comes to life in a muscularly beautiful cacophony of sound

By Carolyn Oakley

“Tap Dogs” opened Wednesday night at the Buell Theatre in Denver to a thrilled audience. The hoots and whistles began early as the packed house let the Dogs know "We're here for you, we recognize your talent." The Dogs responded with a knockout show.

Pre-concert house music blasting AC/DC and a program note mentioning the Blundstone Australian work boots worn by the dancers let the audience know immediately that this would not be your Golden Age of Hollywood tap-dancing show.

Fade to black.

An innovative set made of corrugated sheet metal, pipes, ropes, beams and pulleys plunges the audience into the industrial world of the Australian steel town where “Tap Dogs” was born. Strong backlighting that casts the dancers into silhouettes, rhythmic switching on and off of industrial flashlights and the flying sparks of steel grinding steel create a gritty mood of constant motion. Six male dancers in T-shirts, jeans, cutoffs and flannel shirts evoke a world when men work hard, play hard and dream passionately.

These men are strong. They dance on steel beams and ladders, and pulling on ropes while dancing on the moving set. One puts on climbing gear and tap dances upside down. These dancers are athletic and powerful.

These men have dreams. Breakout solos, and duets of grace and ease, suggest nights of introspection and moments of waking fantasy when a steelworker might dream of being on Broadway some day.

These men have passion. Nothing is done halfway. The pounding rhythms of a well-composed and well-paced, shifting score highlight the interplay between the tap rhythms, recorded sounds of deep basso sine waves, the bells and clangs of the steelyards, and a skillfully played array of live percussion. (The percussionist is clearly part of the ensemble here, playing rhythms with his hands while the dancers play rhythms with their feet.) Soft repetitive loops create a hypnotic background. Unaccompanied "a cappella" pieces are woven throughout the performance.

These men have humor. Oh, there is loads of that. Good-old-boy humor, musical-jokes humor, dance jokes, street humor, and that special brand of Aussie humor that’s quirky, goofy and heartfelt all at once.

These men are clearly individuals. Each has his own unique style, yet what is unusual about the Dogs, as opposed to, say, Radio City's Rockettes, is how that individuality is fostered and encouraged. My companions and I came away with nicknames for each dancer: "The Boss," The Kid," "Happy," "Cool Man," "Tough Guy (NOT)" and "Joe." You will come away with your own. Each "character" has his story, and the love and affection between them, in the rough, ribald way of men, is clear. The lead dancer "owns" the show with strength and charm, but without hubris (a feat “Riverdance” lead dancers struggle to accomplish). Yet the Dogs are a company, and their ensemble work is extraordinary. It’s precise and intuitive, with interlocking rhythms that are spot-on (one man using his left foot, the other his right in perfect counterpoint), and tempo changes accomplished with no music track except their own tap sounds interwoven with the rhythms of basketballs being bounced and tossed. Even the taping of microphones to a dancer's feet is accomplished in rhythm.

For this reviewer, one of the most powerful themes of “Tap Dogs” is the beauty of sound found in the ordinary world. As the dancers arrange and rearrange the Erector set-like staging, they drop beams and move pipes in rhythm to the music and to the interplay of their own taps. The clink-thump-tong-thwat of the steelyard comes to life as a beautiful and exciting cacophony of sound with a life of its own. One can imagine Dein Perry, the creator and choreographer of “Tap Dogs,” standing in the midst of the yards one day as the "noise" of the yards resolved itself into the soundtrack of his future international hit. I personally will never hear a metal saw or listen to the sounds of construction (ever present in Boulder, it seems) the same way again.

Do yourself a favor. Go see “Tap Dogs.” Bring people you love to see “Tap Dogs.” Bring people who need a reminder that everyday life is full of creativity, possibility and joy. And today, as you wait in traffic or queue up at the bank, stop for a moment, listen, find the rhythm and tap in.


Tuesday–Saturday, 8pm

Saturday & Sunday, 2pm

Sunday, 7:30pm


Single tickets for "Tap Dogs" start at just $20. To charge by phone, call Denver Center Ticket Services at 303-893-4100. TTY (for Deaf and hard-of-hearing patrons): 303-893-9582. Groups of 15 or more, please call 303-446-4829. Tickets may also be purchased at the Denver Center Ticket Office, located at the Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex Lobby, or at TicketsWest outlets, located in all King Soopers stores. Buy and print online at

For more information on "Tap Dogs," visit the Tap Dogs website.


A special “bravo” goes out to Denver’s own young Tap Pups, who joined the Dogs for an encore. Tap Pups was established by Dein Perry to ensure the continuation of the unique Tap Dogs style. More than 180 Tap Pups kids are currently enrolled in the program.

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