DANCE Tobias Tak Purcell Room, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Today's tap dancers have a hard act to follow. Our mental template for their art has been drawn by Hollywood musicals that combined rare talent with 25-take celluloid perfection. Ballet dancers have enough trouble competing with rose-coloured memories of Ulanova or Bruhn but at least their films aren't on BBC2 every Saturday afternoon. The unsweaty insouciance of the Hollywood hoofer is impossible to achieve outside the cutting room but the Dutch dancer Tobias Tak comes very close. His stamina and breath control are such that he can happily interrupt a song with a virtuoso tap display then slip back into the verse without missing a beat.

Tak has studied with men such as Honi Coles and Charles Cook and has shared a stage with Harold Nicholas. He co-founded Zoots and Spangles and now teaches and tours internationally. His latest show, Tapping the Blues Away (Part 2), played to a responsive crowd at the Purcell Room on Sunday and takes the form of a curtain lecture. "Harry" Paul Harris obliges at the piano while Tak, sporting wide zoot suit trousers and natty bell-boy jacket, gives us a short history of his craft. His spoken delivery, with its unnerving mix of strong accent and colloquial fluency, is a tad reminiscent of Jean Paul Gaultier. Puckishly pretty with a wide, mobile mouth and saucy eyebrows, he has a face made for Vaudeville.

He sings, too. He has clearly made a close study of the mannerisms and phrasing of Forties torch singing but his voice is exposed in ballads such as Burke and Van Heusen's "But Beautiful". Up-tempo numbers like Jaxon's "Take It Easy Greasy" are better suited to his personality. It might be argued that Mr Tak has got slightly more personality than you would want in a performer but I think this comes with the shoes. Astaire's divine diffidence always excepted, tap dancers can't help being cute.

Tak is assisted by Donna Berlin and Tine Schroder, who dance a duet to "Shiny Stockings", in palazzo pants whose authenticity is matched only by their ugliness. Of the two women, it is Donna Berlin, with her Bertice Reading eyelashes, high shoulder and easy rapport with the audience, who enjoys most success. She and Tak work well together although their talents are pretty much confined to song and dance; they act a little, but only a very little.

All is forgiven when Tak hits the floor in fluid routines that remind us of the range and variety of tap and trace its progress from buck-and- wing to jazz improvisation. Tak's tributes may be a little short on spontaneity but his loving homage is considerably more appealing than the soullessly cloned percussive feet of, say, Tap Dogs. Fred Astaire he ain't, but he's a lovely little mover. Louise Levene