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Review: Tap Dogs dance in every way imaginable
This review of the Tap Dogs show Wednesday night at the Lied Center comes from Dean Bevan, a retired English professor at Baker University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Tap Dogs held the stage at a near-capacity Lied Center for 90 minutes Wednesday evening, rocking the audience into frequent applause.
Dressed in boots, jeans, shorts, T-shirts, flannel shirts and ball caps, the group tapped in every way known to humankind. Led by creator/choreographer Dein Perry’s brother Sheldon, and directed by Nigel Triffitt, the Tap Dogs danced upside down, on ladders, in a water-filled trough, on a 45-degree angled ramp, even at times en pointe. You name it, they did it.
The evening opened with a darkened stage and the sound of taps. As the lights came up, the audience was treated to a lead dancer/dance director Sheldon Perry solo on a miked wooden platform. The man is unbelievably fluid, a difficult effect to achieve in the energetic staccato style of the group. Then the sheet was raised just enough to reveal five pairs of dancing feet, with accompanying sight gags (think of a stream of water descending between one pair of feet). All six then danced together across the stage, followed by a solo from each.
Throughout the evening, numbers varied from intricate six-man ensembles to lightning-fast solos to challenge-and-response duets. As in all tap, precise synchronization among the dancers was requisite, and that was achieved with seeming ease. Choreography was clever, with tap moonwalks, dueling taps, tap conversations, crashing accents, mimed mocking of one another’s performance, and pretend fights. The introductory 15 minutes was danced without accompaniment, giving the audience a vivid impression of the level of skill shown by the ensemble. Thereafter, music and percussion from Stephen Ferradino and composer Andrew Wilkie accompanied their steps throughout the evening. Dance platforms varied from wood to metal, from level to raked and jaggedly split, to ramps raised up to 45 degrees. This troupe danced on them all.
All tap dancing is vigorous, but not all is as athletic as the Tap Dogs’ show. The audience was particularly wowed by the group’s barrel rolls, with the performers tapping while spinning like Olympic figure skaters. One number featured basketballs, with each dancer providing his own percussion accompaniment by dribbling while dancing. This was followed up by passing the balls — overhead lobs the width of the Lied stage, bounce passes — while tapping.
Continual changes in the routine mostly kept the performance from seeming repetitive: dancing while seated; dancing upside-down, suspended in a harness; dancing a soft-shoe routine while the audience maintained a finger-snapping beat; dancing while showered in contrapuntal sparks from metal grinders on a darkened stage; dancing with microphones duct-taped to ankles; dancing with heavy reverb in the sound system; dancing in a water trough while wearing Wellingtons (and sloshing plenty of water on the first three rows). Prolonged applause followed the finale, performed on a six-level platform, and the performers took their bows after a slow-paced shuffle-step number on the watery stage. Sheldon Perry did a rapid coda. Still the audience, in a standing ovation, wanted more, and the Tap Dogs obliged with an encore, still energetic after an hour and a half.