It is nice to have some tap in Dance Base’s 2017 Fringe programme. After all, at one time, tap would have been one of the dance skills the necessarily multifaceted stage entertainer would have had to have learned, as part of their basic craft. These days, sadly, tap is rather more niche.
The premise of Old Kent Road’s Fall Out is falling out of love, explored in a dialogue between tap dancers and live musicians. The relatively concise programme is presented as a series of short numbers, involving the dancers in various combinations.
It is certainly a lot of fun—the dancers have a great deal of drive, completely throw themselves into what they are doing, and clearly derive a lot of pleasure from what they do. These things alone are bound to win over any audience. Using a live band allows a direct line of communication between musicians and dancers: an ideal situation that allows room for improvisation on all sides.
However, it does seem a shame that the dancers limit themselves to dancing in the relative confines of a set of wooden boards, rather than allowing themselves to roam free over the whole of the dance floor. Perhaps this is done for artistic reasons—to emphasis either rhythm (rather than movement through space), or the technical proficiency of the dancers–or for purely technical/financial ones—the cost/difficulty in moving a full-sized tap floor from location to location, for example.
However, whatever the reason, it does make their production seem more like a tap-demonstration than a true performance, and it feels as if they are drawing a picture (very small) in the corner of a really large sheet of paper.
Having a live band is also a double-edged sword. Yes, it certainly does allow for spontaneity, as Old Kent Road clearly demonstrate, but unfortunately if the band are only fair to middling, as is the case here, the sort of groove/microtiming that really makes music pop won’t be there. If it isn’t there is the music, it won’t be there in the dance either. As a result, despite the dancers having a great deal of technical prowess, rhythmically today’s performance is rather flat and under articulated: a real shame.
Yet, it should be remembered that tap is, in many ways, really about entertainment. Old Kent Road are certainly entertaining, and this is an enjoyable 40 minutes from a passionate group of dancers and musicians.