Tap Dogs

S&S sat down with the men behind the recent UAE Tap Dogs performance
Madinat Jumeirah, Tap Dogs, Analysis, Broadcast Business

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With last month heralding the UAE debut of urban dance act Tap Dogs, Sound & Stage sat down with the tour’s Company Manager David Pinner and Entertainment Manager of the Madinat Theatre Joseph Fowler – to learn a little more about the show with the biggest bark on Broadway ...

Tap Dogs has already been performed in over 330 cities over the past two decades, why did you decide now would be the best time to bring it to the UAE?
David: Broadway Entertainment group is actually headquartered here in the UAE, and they have been producing Tap Dogs for a while, they just moved to Dubai a few years ago so they’ve been hoping to get the production here since they moved. And when the opportunity came up, we jumped on it. This has been in the works for a couple of years so we’re really happy to get the chance to do it.

Joseph: They’re about to celebrate their 20th year, so it’s more than stood the test of time – but the main attraction for me is the show’s masculinity, the dancers are all male, there’s only two female artists in the act – the musicians and the percussion. It dispels the notion that dancing is essentially a female art.

It sounds corny but it’s tap dancing as you’ve never seen it. The show’s hugely successful, it’s been on Broadway and is one of the highest grossing products to be exported from Australia, it was even featured on the Sydney Olympics in 2000 – so there’s various really impressive milestones in the Tap Dogs journey and it’s never been here, so I thought now was the right time to bring it to Dubai.

Tell us a little bit about the context of the show and why it’s appropriate for this region...
Joseph:I think it’s highly appropriate to this region. After all we’re a melting pot of cultures and nationalities, and in Tap Dogs there is no language barrier, anyone of any age can come and see it – there’s nothing offensive in it.

From a theatre manager’s point of view in this region, when you’re introducing art to a virgin territory - which the theatre sphere is a bit over here - you have to be very careful. Firstly with the product itself, you have to be culturally sensitive but also be careful about the quality you’re introducing.

If you present diluted, average shows, that’s what people will think the theatre is about. And that’s why it’s so important to have productions of this calibre exposing people to this art form on that level.

David: This show is just really popular with all its audiences, all the gags, all the jokes and stuff - they come clear across cultures and across languages. There are no spoken lines, I mean the boys will holler at each other throughout but there’s no written dialogue. It’s all physical gags and jokes and everywhere we’ve gone people have loved it.

For audiences who don’t know what to expect, can you explain in a nutshell what Tap Dogs is about?
David: Well, Dean Perry who created Tap Dogs was influenced by the steel mills around Newcastle in Australia. That was the vibe he was going for when he created the show, a worksite is the motif.

It’s emblematic of a group of construction workers coming in at the beginning of the day and working throughout the day –having fun. There’s no spoken word, there’s no dialogue there’s no songs. It’s pure rhythm and dance.

Joseph: This is taking tap dancing and turning it on its head – literally at one point when one of the dancers is turned upside down on a harness and tap dances on a metal surface.

There’s lots of cables, wires, lots of pulleys – the surfaces of woods, metals, grills, ladders. So it’s incredibly industrial, then you add on to that six high energy tap dancers dressed in workers clothes – tap dancing all over this set, on all different surfaces so you get different sounds, different rhythms, along with live drums percussion- even tapping upside down.

The setting is urban, made up essentially of scaffolding and imitations of what you may find on a building site. It’s very unique, very aggressive – poetic at times, but testosterone fuelled.

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As you mention, the show’s been performing for twenty years - how much has the content changed in this time?
Joseph: The show has changed slightly over the twenty years since its inception, some of the content has been changed, some of the choreography has been renewed or revised but the components of the show have remained the same.

David: It’s almost the exact the same set yeah. A lot of the pieces used are the original pieces, obviously we get new scaffolding but props like the ladders, the trucks and the steel underneath where they dance on– all that is original.

How self-contained is Tap Dogs and what revisions had to be made for the space at the Madinat Theatre?
Joseph: They bought everything with them, we have our own technical rider in the theatre so they incorporated as much as they could from that, but then the technical requirements for the show exceeded what we have here.

Normally the show plays in bigger venues, so the lighting and sound is designed for those kinds of spaces, so that has to be slightly adjusted to fit our venue which they’ve done brilliantly.

But for the actual build of the set they brought their own team with them to do that, working hand in hand with our technical team. The load-in was 12 people collectively, then Gavin Norris came – who’s the lighting designer – he adapted the show for the theatre so it was kept in sync with the look and the feel of the show.

David: This is one of the most interesting theatres I’ve ever been in, it’s got the continental style of seating which is very common in Europe, and the rake is a little bit different – it’s a lot more of a steeper gradient than I’m used to.

It reminds me more of a movie theatre. It’s very nice though, I’d definitely put it in the top 10 theatres I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been to a thousand different theatres. This needs to be seen in a theatre, we want the dancers as close to the audience as possible for interaction purposes.

As for how self- contained we are – almost completely. The set itself is about 15-20,000 pounds. In the States we have one 53ft truck and we fit it all in that, every single thing you see in front of you we fit it one tractor trailer.

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The set itself is quite an amorphous one, what will we see on the night and how is it managed?
David: When you come in to see it, all you’ll see is a little red step and an aluminium wall. Then over the course of the show, the wall will fly out, the ‘jaws’ - as we call them, the big red jagged stage starts in the middle before moving to the side.

The ladders start on the ground but they move up into ramps at 30, 40 and 50 degrees and the dancers dance on those, we call that ‘ramp ballet’. I’m from a carpentry field background and moved up through that, so from my perspective it’s a really good set to work on.

The dancers do 99% of the work – there’s two swing dancers who break up their roles. They do a lot of their tracking that on a typical show would be given to a stagehand. Because they know the shows so well, it’s easier for them to do it and they know exactly when the cue will be and so on. As the set changes the dancers do it all, with a little help from myself and someone else.

We have two percussionists; they’re there to supplement the boys and to complement the dancers – they’re both fantastic musicians but they’re there for enhancement. One of them studied at the Berkley School for Music and tours with the Harvard Symphony – so they know what they’re doing.

Where is Tap Dogs off to next?
David: Next we’re off to Paris - we’re doing four weeks there and then have a bit of a time off. Then actually we’re actually looking at another Middle East performance with Doha in Qatar in May, it’s in the works.

They have the theatre contracted and their working on a few bits and pieces but that could be happening in the middle of May. After that we’re doing a week in Hong Kong, then a week in Singapore after that. We’ve also got Shanghai and other cities in the works.

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