Strictly Gershwin at the Royal Albert Hall (18.06.11)

I arrived at the Royal Albert Hall last week with very specific expectations for Strictly Gershwin; I wanted to be dazzled. Having sat through many a hip-hop-street-dance-style extravaganza for the last few years, I wanted to be transported back to the classic era of my favourite Hollywood musicals such as Top Hat, Singin’ In The Rain and Swing Time. Not only this, but I wanted to see this golden age of cinema crossed with technical brilliance, glamorous costuming and beautiful choreography from the English National Ballet…fortunately for me I was not disappointed.

It has been argued that Broadway melodies and pointe shoes do not necessarily mix, and yes, the fast Quickstep and cabaret numbers are danced very cleanly, with balletic like precision, but I fail to see how this is a bad thing. From the overture onwards I was caught up in the beauty and musicality of Derek Deane’s choreography to Gershwin’s familiar rhythms. This positive first impression went on only to be bettered as a faultless selection of guest artists and Gareth Valentine’s orchestra followed, creating a show that, for me, is the complete package.

Maria Friedman provides several musical interludes throughout both acts and her performances of The Man I Love and A Foggy Day certainly serve to make her more than just a filler to cover costume changes. And what costumes they are, ranging from Latin dance legend Carmen Vincelj’s black fringed creation to the ENB’s Swarovski crystal studded tutus for the perfectly staged and executed Rhapsody In Blue.

Other particular highlights include the ENB’s entertaining take on An American In Paris, filled with pram-pushing nannies, wayward cancan girls and roller skaters. Summertime is a deeply sensuous and passionate feast for the eyes, as is the greatest pleasure of the show, an exquisite rumba performed to It Ain’t Necessarily So by seven-times world Latin American champions Bryan Watson and Vincelj. Their placement, precision, pure class and style make Strictly Gershwin worth the ticket price alone.

I was dismayed to see that the Royal Albert Hall was less than filled to capacity with dance lovers and fans of the TV show alluded to in the production’s title. Fortunately, however, those out of the capital will still have an opportunity to catch this stunning show as it goes on tour throughout the rest of the year before returning to the London Coliseum in January 2012.

(Originally published on theatrefixblog.co.uk)

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