Fall Out, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Fall Out is one of very few solely tap shows at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Old Kent Road are a London-based company of hoofers whose vocabulary is developed out of improvisation in response to a jazz accompaniment. The results mean the dancers’ tap shoes become a percussive instrument that create a highly complex jazz melody over the top of their band. Rhythm tap is far more mathematic than the ballroom based jazz tap and musical theatre styles. These performers are musicians as well as dancers. Above all, they are super-cool.

Fall Out is based loosely on the theme of falling out of love. It is a forty-minute show of pure tap dancing at its heaviest and rhythmically most intricate. After a confusing start, Alastair Crosswell, Helen Duffy, Ryan Campbell Birch, Jamie Spall and Veronica Fulton, performing alongside artistic director Avalon Rathgeb. create such an intoxicating mix of lyrical and highly energetic scores that the adrenaline and excitement experienced whilst watching is eventually exhausting. Their phrases are satisfyingly melodic or accented, and at counterpoint. Their unison is strong and powerful and their solos risky and passionate. Unexpected musical variation embodied by each dancer keeps the work fast-paced and intriguing right up to its standing ovation.

Six performers march onto three wooden strips placed off centre, giving precedence to the live band on stage, Angus Croudace, Henry Claude and Will Briant. As Rathgeb stands beside her London based troupe dressed in silver and grey uniforms, their upright postures and hard focus form a stiff presentation that feels thoroughly at odds with the weighted, bluesy jazzy style of rhythm tap. Watching arabesque arm alignments, tense upper body curves and committed bends into jazz fourth is uncomfortable for all.

As this tension gradually begins to subside, each dancer eventually re-enters the stage in shorts and a shirt. The slow embodiment of a grounded and relaxed hoofer mirrors the gradual descent into informality across the piece. As the company fall into their own personalities, the work becomes outstanding and although the narrative arc isn’t necessary to make already stunning and touching routines cohesive, it does begin to make sense.

Rathgeb commands the studio space in a dark solo that moves the audience with quiet intensity. She builds up to speed with emotive musicality and ebbs and flows with a restrained dynamic loaded with tingles. Delivering tap dance that is both fast and slow, lyrical and loud, soft and sensuous; the work is intense and the actual tap steps too abundant to describe.

There is a barefoot duet, charming and playful amidst the loud snaps and beats of metal on wood. Moments where dancers seem to hover over the floor with wings, toe taps and shuffles all squeezed in before the landing.

Dancing to song and spoken word by vocalist Tara Ivory adds another facet to a work already rich with rhythmical flare and variation. The piece works because of the company’s skill and mastery of form. The emotions, patterns and interpretation of lyrics are an added bonus.

Jamming one by one at the end has the viewers on the edge of their seats while tappers and musicians compete. Bouncing off one another and making awesome tricks and tunes, each member of Old Kent Road show off mind-boggling tapping that looks and sounds exhilarating.

Fall Out tours through 2018.

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