Pounding out a beat with ‘Tap Dogs’

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

I’m not a tap dancer.

I was not exposed to tap dance, except for the occasional televised performance of Sammy Davis, Jr. that I mostly ignored, until well into my adulthood.

These days, however, I have lots of friends who tap. I have seen them tap. I enjoy watching them tap. Subsequently, when old black and white movie musicals pop up on TCM, I’ll watch the old film stars like Fred and Ginger and Gene Kelly tap.

But “Tap Dogs,” which I saw at The Palace Theater in Waterbury on March 2, is nothing like anything I had seen performed by my friends or from cable television.

Instead of top hats and tails, instead of sequins and patent leather, “Tap Dogs” was red, white, and blue bandanas, cargo pants, and work boots.

Rather than polite and well-mannered tap-tap-tap of “42nd Street,” the taps of the eight Tap Dogs (Anthony Russo, Nathaniel Hancock, Richie Miller, Chaise Rossiello, Justin Myles, Reid Perry, Nathan Beech, and Sam Marks) were loud, brash, and insistent.

“Tap Dogs” isn’t the tap of cocktail parties and the upper-crust. “Tap Dogs” is six-packs and gas grills. For nearly 90 minutes (without an intermission), the “Dogs” showed all manners of different ways to work around a four-on-the-four beat. They danced on scaffolding. They danced being showered by sparks from a saw on metal. They danced on water. And they even danced upside down.

All the while, the dancers feet pounded out a percussive heartbeat that was worthy of the most inventive purveyors of musique concrète and industrial rock (with a little bit of ambient music tossed in). But the entertaining and amusing packaging helped the audience lovingly accept what in another environment would have made them cringe.

There were plenty of jaw dropping moments of the evening such as “Upside Down” where one of the “Dogs” did just that… danced upside down.

But favorite moments of the evening was “Triggers” For this number, the dancers tapped over percussion “triggers.” Each one was hooked up to a separate sound of a drum kit.

The audible translation of the tap to the more familiar sounds of the drum gave a clear picture of the complexity of the rhythms pounded out by the dancers with their feet.

The amount of dancing on stage was exhausting, but in a good way for the audience.

I, for instance, was amazed by the amount of energy dispersed and held in reserve by the team of “Tap Dogs.” Yes, there were moments where they caught their breath. But for the most part, the dancers stood their ground in front of the audience from curtain up to curtain down.

As I said, I’m not a tap dancer. But that said, as a spectator, I can appreciate the immense entertainment value and skill provided on stage by this team of hoofers.

And I loved how they repackaged the art form in a way that is more down to earth than pie-in-the-sky fantasy, even if their dancing was firmly planted in fantastic.

‘Tap Dogs’ was performed at The Palace Theater in Waterbury this weekend.

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