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- Tap Dogs at Hamilton Place
VIEW Magazine - March 2006
by Kerry Corrigan
Billed as “tap for the new millennium”, Tap Dogs was created by Australian Dein Perry as a way of reconciling his upbringing in the industrial city of Newcastle, a steel town north of Sydney, Australia, with his and his mates’ love of tap dance, and their need for a job.
Now the tenth anniversary edition of the show hits Hamilton Place for two shows this weekend, featuring Dein’s brother Sheldon, an award-winning dancer in his own right who was one of the original cast members.
It also features one Canadian, Josh Cyr.
Making your living as a tap dancer might be the kind of profession that would keep a mother lying awake at night. But Cyr is pretty set right now.
“I think this is the best job for a tap dancer,” he enthuses, in a laconic, sleepy kind of way, over the phone from Bloomington, Indiana.
The native of Abbotsford, British Columbia sounded a little raspy when we spoke in the early afternoon, and Cyr’s laid-back manner and dry sense of humour sounded nothing like the high-energy dancers that you see in the promo videos on the website, suggesting that he needs his rest on the grueling schedule - just recently they did 17 shows in 13 days, with a lot of traveling in between.
How ironic that a mix-up lead to his chance to work in Tap Dogs.
“I was in Europe and I was supposed to catch a flight home to Vancouver, which was cancelled,” he explained.
Instead he managed to get on a flight to Buffalo.
“I got in at about one o’clock in the morning and the next day there was an audition there for Tap Dogs.”
For the 10th Anniversary tour, there will be a mix of veterans and newer members on stage at Hamilton Place. Josh and another dancer Evan have been with the show for eight years.
Does it help to have long-standing members in the cast?
“We do need that camaraderie on stage and with a no-dialogue show, we need to establish our characters quickly and entertain with our body as well as our feet, so it is really important to have people up there that you trust and you know are your friends.”
“I’m working with three of my best friends right now and it just makes the show so much easier, and so much funner for us as well, and I think the audience can see that, and they feed off that, and give us back that energy.”
Perry plays the Foreman on a construction worksite, “he’s the boss, he’s the head guy,” and the others play various characters on the site.
Is there a plot?
“It’s more like a day at work. The set starts folded in on itself and then the first twenty minutes is all ‘a capella’ and then the live musician kicks in and then we start building the set.
“That’s the whole point - the six guys building the set as well as tap dancing all over it. So that’s your storyline, sweating like a dog and by the end of the day getting the job done.”
Was it hard to learn to tap dance on a construction site?
“It does have its own style. It looks very natural, but it doesn’t come very natural, if you know what I mean, especially when you’re trained. I was mainly classically trained.
“All you gotta do when you learn this show, is just like any other style, you’ve just got to drop what you’ve learned before, drop whatever kind of style you’ve got and pick up this one. And then you can start adding things, your own style, to this style.
“So then when you’re on stage, you can look exactly like the five other people on stage but you look completely different. As much sense as that doesn’t make, that’s what we’re going for!”
Like Stomp, that roared into town a few months ago, Tap Dogs also uses props, non-musical instruments, to embellish the sound of the dance. Is this a new advancement in dance?
“Yeah, I’d like to think so. Absolutely. We have metal grinders (that we use) with our body while our feet are tapping. We’ve added to the basketball number, all six of us do a basketball routine, throwing basketballs all over the stage while tap dancing.
“I mean that’s one of the attractive parts for us to do it, as well as the physical aspect of it, that not just anybody can do it,’ he adds with his droll sense of humour, “otherwise everybody would be doing it.”
Is there room for changes, improv?
“We spent a lot of time getting this tenth anniversary show where we wanted it. We already made it more complicated, as far as that goes.
“We try very hard to keep the ensemble numbers the same, and tight. But there are so many solo opportunities for every cast member all throughout the show for freedom, for improv, for this or that, so no two shows are the same ever, and you do have a lot of opportunity to expand and experiment
“But you don’t want to be the guy who messes up an ensemble number, I’ll tell you that.” Again with the wry humour.
Do basketballs ever go flying off into the audience?
“Oh yeah, we’re not the Harlem Globetrotters! It does happen but we start it again, and get her done right and the audiences appreciate that, we don’t just give up on it.”
Although he has had experience in musical theatre, “my forte was always definitely tap dancing,” muses Cyr. “I always knew I was going to be a dancer.”
We chatted about the state of the art and the future for those types of dancers. He explained how “tap-dancing has always been there. There is an underground going on, a lot more with the hoofers, and free-style tap.”
These days tap dancers can appear in musicals with tap, (Crazy For You, 42nd Street), branch out into the Irish step-dancing style, (Riverdance, Lord of the Dance), or be what Cyr calls “hoofers”, also called rhythm tap, who do Savion Glover stuff (Bring In Da Noize, Bring In Da Funk).
“And from there, what I hope everybody’s doing, who’s in the business, is creating their own new things and writing them down and making new scripts, and hopefully keep our future tap dancers working in the business for a long time as well.”
Cyr’s excited about the three-city run in Canada that also plays in London and Kitchener.
“I just love anywhere in Canada, just get me across that border and I feel at home.
“There’s only six people on stage tap dancing but there’s always something different going on, there’s always something different to watch, something that you didn’t see before.
“Like I said, we’ve raised the bar with this tenth anniversary tour and it’s just a real great show, I think it’s the best the show’s ever been since I’ve been a part of it. And I’m very excited to perform for Canadians.”
// tie dye