Strictly Gershwin is an all singing and all dancing show focussing on entertainment which Craig Hassall, the managing director of the English National Ballet (ENB), has ironically apologised for.
It has truly split opinions with many thinking that Strictly Gershwin is too razzle-dazzle with the consequence being that the Gershwin’s talents are wasted in this latest effort by the ENB at the Coliseum, whereas others feel the adaptation from the Albert Hall has worked very well, with the addition of dramatic focus working in its favour and the dancers perform it beautifully.
What is agreed is that the numbers are performed with a big band style, and the dancing varies between simple duets and elaborate crowd scenes. Last year, Strictly Gershwin was performed in the Royal Albert Hall, but it has moved for its long winter tour into the London Coliseum. One consequence of this is that it is no longer performed in the round, which was never an ideal setting for a dance show.
This is a big show designed with the box office in mind. A veritable smorgasbord of dances to really appeal to the Strictly television fans, complete with glitzy costumes and lighting. It is not your traditional ballet, as it is looking to be open to a wider audience than would usually consider the ballet a good night out.
Created by Derek Deane in 2008, the big assets were Barbara Cook and the ballroom dancing duo of Lilia Koplova and Darren Dennett. These stars have moved on now, and the ENBs own singers and dancers are not quite up to their impeccable standards.
The showmanship is up in this performance, which is not unusual in a Deane production. With as many sequins as can humanly be put on the costumes, a completely overactive conductor hitting his own bottom with his baton, and excessively cheesy tap dances, there is no mistaking this as one of Derek Deane’s own.
The big ballet ensembles for Gershwin’s best known compositions such as ‘An American in Paris’ and ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ are big group numbers with excellent costume work. Whether it is Eiffel Tower tutus and hats, or sexy blue plate tutus, the beautiful costumes are just about able to compensate for the lack of pizzazz in the choreography.
The best dancers on the night were Klimentová and Muntagirov, both of whom could dance comfortably on any stage in the world. That said, they both had their moments when you didn’t think that they believed in what they were doing. This wasn’t improved by their fellow cast members such as Gruzdyev or the man playing Gene Kelly who were simply not able to pull their weight.
The applause at the end of the show made it obvious that the negative reviewers weren’t universal, but by appealing to a wider audience the ENB has rather left some of the more poignant moments in ballet by the wayside. The special effects come across as lazy and while they may be fun it just doesn’t seem right on a ballet stage.