Dance Review by Sophie Constanti

tap dogs Sadler's Wells, London
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Is Tap Dogs Australia's answer to Iron John? Well, not quite. Whereas Iron John was a money-spinning therapy-cum-fantasy dreamt up by some American guy who blamed the inadequacy of his own sex on feminism and women, Tap Dogs is lightweight, bloke-ish fun. It's a tap dance show with seven men got up like construction workers who sweat and grind their way through routines of exceptional coarseness. Yet in its caveman mentality, in its similarly contrived exercises in male bonding and in its misreckoned homo-erotic appeal, Tap Dogs borrows some elementary ideas from the Iron John philosophy. Most particularly, it cashes in on the comeback staged by that Nineties species known as unreconstructed man. In this respect, some would say the Australians have a head start. Some years ago, during the new man era of the Eighties, a female friend summed it up thus: "Get 10 Aussie men in a tube carriage and it's like travelling with a herd of animals."

Tap Dogs indicates that nothing much has changed - only that the animals have discarded their tinnies and shifted into the disciplined realms of theatre. It also proves that there's still a huge audience for the brawn- not-brains trend established by troupes like the Chippendales and Dreamboys. Choreographer/ performer Dein Perry and director/ designer Nigel Triffitt created Tap Dogs in Sydney nine months ago and brought it to the Edinburgh Festival last month. Perry's work was recently seen in London in another tap dance production, Hot Shoe Shuffle, and Tap Dogs bears many similarities to that show. It's heavy-handed, everything is painfully over-amplified, and there's little of the spontaneity which tap dance can accommodate so handsomely. However, if Perry was searching for the perfect concept for his brand of savage and deafening tap, this is it. A team of dancing site-workers, wearing denims, T-shirts, lumberjack shirts and work boots, are sent crashing around on a self-assembly set of integral frames, ladders and platforms, where the chug and thud of each variation piledrives home the men-at-work theme.

The opening solo, for a man whose knees peek out of ripped jeans, gives you a hint of the low-level tease factor: a few T-shirts are later removed and, although there's some shameless flaunting of musculature, Perry dodges hen-night entertainment. If anything, the show's a boys' night out in which floppy-fringed lads play at being rough trade. Andrew Wilkie's muzak comes in fits and starts, a watery accompaniment next to the aural rhythms of the tapping. Not that Perry's palette is richly varied; his most common sound patterns being those of horses galloping and a train gathering speed (the latter used to clever, if cliched effect in the back-lit convoy moving slowly downstage, like a locomotive coursing through a tunnel).

Elsewhere, he gives you only an unadulterated din, forged and sustained by an ensemble which works on the principle that feet first - or rather feet only - is what tap dance is all about. Consequently, the upper body is rendered as rigid as the tension wires which stabilise Triffitt's angled set of drawbridges. There may be a place for heavy-footedness in a show like Tap Dogs, but Perry takes it to barbarous extremes. Perhaps a more apt title would be Hammer Dogs, for Perry's mechanised, prefabricated routines are characterised by pulverising noise levels, and have all the subtlety of phrasing you might find during a labourers' tea break.

n To 7 October. Booking: 0171-278 8916

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