Despite children learning it from a young age, tap has never quite had the platform as a style of dance that ballet has managed to achieve. It lacks the perceived grace and style of its big sister, and yet requires an equally strict level of discipline, skill and control. Fred Astaire and Top Hat aside, tap dancing can additionally be contemporary, full of flair and highly technical. Lexi Bradburn and Avalon Rathgeb take this form of rhythmic expression away from the early twentieth century stereotype with their company Old Kent Road. Fall Out represents their first full length production with a select group of the country’s best dancers.
There is no denying the skill of each performer here, the precision with which they can literally ‘tread the boards’. Rathgeb leads her troupe from centre stage, choreographing ever more complex routines to delight and impress the audience, full of difficulty and poise. Teaming up with Michèle Dree’s passionate and intense band, there is a respect and appreciation between dancer and musician, a synergy that arises from the complementary percussive beats that one bangs out with hands and the other with feet. Yet this level of teamwork is initially not matched within the performers themselves – the opening group numbers lack synchronicity and feeling. As a discipline, tap traditionally requires the upper body to remain relatively inactive but this is not in line with contemporary dance today. Emotion; facial expression; passion, all are left wanting in this almost clinical introduction.
It takes the vocals of Hannah Jackson to inject depth and dimension into the show, encouraging everyone to let go and really enjoy their time on stage. The genre of music switches between Spanish acoustic, singer-songwriter into modern and current. The second half feels more like an improvised jam session, one routine naturally building and reacting off its predecessor. The atmosphere is electric, raw and grounded and rough around the edges. Ultimately, the dancers are connecting with their craft on the next level, their technical skill marrying up to their passion and interpretation. The result is written all over their faces – drenched in sweat and flushed yet glowing and natural.
Fall Out is a production that builds and peaks, with an ending that may not necessarily be as impactful and climactic as the build-up requires. Rathgeb is a gifted choreographer at the top of her game and has demanded the utmost level of skill from her team. This is never in doubt, now needs to come the connection and synergy that can sustain those sporadic moments of elation and impact.
Fall Out is played at the Blue Elephant Theatre until 16 July 2016. For more information, see The Blue Elephant Theatre website.