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‘Steel City’ Is Heavy Metal Tap

February 3, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ A steel plant hardly seems to be an appropriate backdrop for a tap show.

But when you hear the bang of scaffolding combined with 14 pairs of stomping steel heels in ``Steel City,″ the heavy metalization of tap makes perfect sense.

``Steel City″ is a noisy, dazzling spectacle. It features 10 men and four women who use forklifts and old cars as their tap floor and jackhammers as their partners, with a live rock band blaring from above.

``It’s really energetic, very energetic _ it’s something you have to see. You’ll either love it or hate it,″ said choreographer Dein Perry, who introduced audiences to his Aussie brand of industrial tap with the hit show ``Tap Dogs.″

``Steel City″ made its American debut at Radio City Music Hall last month, before beginning a 40-city North American tour. The tour includes stops in Las Vegas, Toronto and Chicago.

Perry’s tap show is attracting a new generation with its young, energetic cast and music by Tim Finn of Split Enz and Crowded House fame.

But ``Steel City″ is not the slap-happy dancing popularized in such Broadway musicals as ``42nd Street″ or the Ruby Keeler revival of ``No, No, Nanette.″ Nor is it the jazzier steps that tap wizard Savion Glover celebrated in ``Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk.″

You could call it ``testosterone tap.″

``I’m from an industrial background. I’m like a heavy machinist,″ said Perry, 38, a native of Newcastle, Australia. ``I just sort of figured that it would be good to use actual real things and ... put them in tap dance and put it along with rock ‘n’ roll music as well. It makes for a whole different picture.″

Perry began tap when he was 6 but stopped taking lessons when he was 16.

Years later, ``I was watching Gregory Hines on television one day, and it just inspired me so much, with his tap dancing and his feet, it just got me hooked again,″ he said. ``I was missing it because it was something that was trained into me and drummed into me as a kid.″

Although ``there’s no actual tap dance companies in Australia, only what we get to see from American television really,″ Perry began performing tap in his native country.

The performers in ``Steel City,″ wearing hard hats and bluejeans, stomp their feet furiously while banging on lockers, cars and other metal props strewn about the crowded stage.

At times, the show seems as much of a daredevil act as a dance performance.

``It’s pretty rigorous,″ said cast member Melissa Gibson, 23.

``It’s pretty mentally demanding, too, because there’s lots of equipment and everything onstage, so you’ve really got to be aware and always on the ball,″ she said. ``It’s kind of a dangerous show, there’s always an element of danger. We drive forklifts in the show, so the girls had to go and get their forklift license, so that was fun.″

One highlight features dancers tapping inside crates hoisted into the air by forklifts.

At another point, the dancers descend from above the stage on ropes. Then, in midair, they dance sideways against the mesh curtain.

Perry will not be along for the ``Steel City″ tour. He will be back home in Australia with his wife and 14-month-old son, working on a film about dance in Australia.

``It’s not good now for me,″ he said, noticeably weary after his plane trip from Australia. ``I’ve been doing it for five years, but I’ve had enough. I’m basically going to perform here at Radio City and set it up for touring and send it on its way.″

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