Putting the boots in

DANCE
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Indy Lifestyle Online
AS SUMMER fades into autumn, so the 90-degrees hype of the Edinburgh Fringe begins to look like just another symptom of overheated imagination. The hottest dance ticket last season - the one you couldn't get for love nor money, nor even a bona fide press card - was for Tap Dogs, a gang of seven hunky Australians who set out to do for workboots and scaffolding what Gene Kelly did for umbrellas. In Edinburgh they had girls squealing in their seats. If all goes well during the subsequent British tour, they may be lucky enough to land jobs in the construction industry when it's all over.

The dancers - Dein (Perry, also the choreographer), Darren, Drew and their mates - lay great store by their personal appearance. Jeans are meticulously slashed and grubbied, shirts crumpled or discarded, profuse sweating is de rigueur. Most important of all, every pair of feet sports a pair of Blundstones (Australia's answer to DMs), heeled and tipped with steel. The Dogs like to make a lot of noise, you see, rather in the way that next-door's roofer likes to clank his bucket up the outside wall as he mounts his ladder. Noise - hard, nasty, noise for the hell of it - is the reason for the show.

Of course, noise has always been a major element of tap, ever since the syncopated stamping of 18th-century black slaves got together with the Irish jig. But at its sophisticated peak in the 1930s, the foot-music took equal place with an overall harmony of movement. We don't just listen to Astaire, we marvel at his easy grace, his whole-body panache, the way his face says "I'm in heaven" while his feet do the devilish impossible. When the Dogs dance their faces too often show the effort and their upper bodies are a mess. Perhaps this is deliberate - the individualism of the disco floor - but given that seven pairs of feet have been drilled to synchronise, I doubt it.

The sweat and puff, the air-punching and the "Phew!" after every energetic number, is all part of the machismo. (If this were a more serious show, it would also be a major failure of dance etiquette. These guys should see Riverdance, returning to London next week, for an example of perfect cool in the face of hard hoofing.) Tap Dogs also runs on the curious assumption that dry ice, belching bucketloads of the stuff, adds to the tough-guy allure.

Nigel Triffitt's set, a miracle of heavy engineering on Sadler's Wells' cramped stage, has the ambition of a Pink-Floyd-at-Earls-Court affair. A grid of scaffolding houses musicians at the back, while a multi-gym of winches and girders upstage produces a sequence of different surfaces, culminating in a suspension bridge that opens up like Tower Bridge to allow the dancers to run daringly up its 45-degree slopes. Metal trampolines provide the Tap Dogs' dream dance-floor, amplified steel-on-steel producing a grungy syncopation that, however well executed, cannot hold our attention because the noise is just so awful. At one point the performing surface splits in two, creating a narrow zig-zag channel which the Dogs negotiate in the manner of a co-ordination test at Crufts. One of them slips and lands on his bottom.

The amazements of the set and an excellent rock band, which produces some sounds of ambient, gamelan-like beauty for the few slow numbers, are two reasons for seeing this show. A reason to stay away is that the Tap Dogs' sole motivation is to prove that they are not a bunch of sheilas. I think they have an attitude problem.

Tap Dogs: Sadler's Wells, EC1 (0171 713 6000), to Sat; Glasgow Theatre Royal (0141 332 9000), 9-11 Oct.

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