Whatever else Dein Perry does in his career, Tap Dogs will be his legacy. The unlikely hit was first conceived in 1995 by the Australian native, a tap dancing specialist from the city of Newcastle in New South Wales. The revue, which features six male dancers and two female percussionists, has toured the world for almost 20 years.
It has won multiple awards, rave reviews, and featured in the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
After enduring three decades' wear and tear as a dancer, Perry retired himself from performing around 2005. But he wasn't through with Tap Dogs. He is still its choreographer, and the touring production will kick off its Hong Kong run on May 20.
At a recent rehearsal in Dubai, Perry is putting the boys through their paces, tweaking a routine that involves dribbling a basketball while tapping. It's a complicated move and the guys don't have Kobe Bryant's skills. But when they get it right, it's clever, and hilarious.
"Every time I see it, I think there is something else that could be funnier," Perry says. "We think Tap Dogs is ever-evolving. It's important we do, otherwise the show gets stale. It's much funnier now than it was. For a show without dialogue, humour is really important."
The unlikely global tap-dancing hit from Down Under began as a short segment in another Australian show in which Perry appeared. Originally presented as filler, the piece was so impressive, Perry had producers coming to him with open cheque books.
When Tap Dogs made its debut at the 1995 Sydney Festival, it was an overnight sensation. "I was doing a top hat and tails type of show, and in the middle of it, I created a contemporary tap dance piece done on machinery, that was only five minutes long. A producer in Sydney saw that and said, 'We can make a show out of this.' Yes, I felt lucky, but I had been dancing and touring for 12 years already, trying to make things happen."
The garbage-bin romp called Stomp is an obvious comparison to Tap Dogs. They're both loud, percussive and physical. You might say there's even more testosterone in Tap Dogs since it's an all-male cast. But there's also grace in the dancing, theatricality in the versatile set, and greater musicality in their boots. "Tap dance is not just dancing. It's dancing and making music," Perry says, adding his personal hero was the great American hoofer Gregory Hines.
"The thing I love about tap dance is that you can create your own style. You don't have to copy another person. You can let your individuality come out. I grew up with Australian rock music, so our show is more rock and roll than jazz."
Indeed, Tap Dogs is nothing like the old school Fred Astaire routines. The cast kick their heels and toes on metal surfaces, wooden boards, sound-effect boxes, and even use water to splash around the play of acoustics on stage.
There are also standout solo pieces to showcase individual dancer's talents. They don't just make tap dancing more contemporary, they make it cutting edge and funky. Every furious 75-minute performance leaves the performers drained and exhausted.
The toll is evident even in rehearsal. Three cast members, including Dein's brother Sheldon Perry, are veterans, and have been involved with Tap Dogs for over a decade. They are slumping in chairs, utterly exhausted. But the three younger performers, all in their 20s, are goofing around, trying basketball tricks.
No doubt, Perry would love to have the legs to perform like he used to in the past. But the Tap Dogs creator has no regrets about hanging up his taps to focus on choreography, and working on other dance-related projects.
Last year, he collaborated with tap prodigy Savion Glover on the film Happy Feet 2, and trained Bollywood star Aamir Khan for the Indian blockbuster Dhoom 3.
"I could have changed the roles so I don't do so much on stage, but I've got children now and I didn't want to travel and tour anymore," Perry says.
"This is a show that has to tour. I've always loved tap dancing, and after not doing it for seven years, I did two short tours. Halfway through, I realised I was missing my children and family too much - they are the important thing to me now," he says. "It is hard for me, as my passion is tap dance, but you have to let it go sometime."
Tap Dogs, Lyric Theatre, Academy for Performing Arts, 1 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai. May 20-25, HK$350-HK$850. Inquiries: 3128 8288