Dance: The new Pan's People
Burn the Floor Royal Albert Hall, London The Cholmondeleys and The Featherstonehaughs Riverside Studios, London
Sunday 07 November 1999
The producer Harley Medcalf hit on the idea after seeing the ballroom dancing display at Elton John's 50th birthday party. Ballroom, he decided, was ripe for a revamp. Throw out the bouffant and sequins; add in loud music, club-style clothes and sexy young performers. With a bit of of stylistic tweaking it could even become a youth cult.
The age-spread of the ecstatic Albert Hall audience didn't rule this out, though I suspect Burn the Floor's chief fanbase will be the types who still miss Saturday Night at the London Palladium on TV. All the down- tempo numbers are in this vein, though imaginative input is high. There's a Viennese waltz in which a dozen crinolines light up like lampshades; a top-hat-and-tails sequence with the men steering dummies on castors. These slip down with all the silky sugariness of a good egg flip.
But the tone falters several times through the evening. I don't think we were supposed to laugh in the street-mugging scene which segued the Waltz into the Grunge/Punk sequence, but the sight of a Joachim Cortez lookalike standing tightening his six-pack while his clothes were ripped from him prompted loud guffaws. It was less clear what anyone was supposed to think of the women in Barbara Windsor wigs and heart-shaped bunny tails. It had to be ironic, yet one was uneasily aware of this show's need to please everyone, including those who want and expect something pink and frilly. The identity crisis is never fully addressed.
Burn the Floor is at its confident best in the Latin styles. And you don't need to know your cha-cha-cha from your urban cha cha to appreciate the sheer verve of the dancing. Anthony van Laast's choreography is impressively varied, though in the "modern" numbers the legacy of Pan's People (his baby, all those years ago) is perhaps rather too evident. All that air- punching and pouting, and women looking angry about nothing in particular. They also have a tendency as they dance to muss their hair over their faces while opening their mouths - a cheap trick from porn movies which a choreographer really ought to rise above.
But these are mere matters of taste. If you can leave that killjoy luggage at the door, Burn the Floor is a fabulous show whose energy hits you in the face like the blast from an oven. The final routine - they call it hiphop but it's really a free-for-all - is a marathon of high spirits that lifts the roof and puts a grin on your face all the way home. And the fashion tips come as a bonus. Of all Bonita Bryg's wild designs, the fringed white leather two-piece with cut-out buttock area took the biscuit.
Kinky clothing is the staple of Lea Anderson's latest offering, which re-unites The Cholmondeleys (her all-female group) with The Featherstonehaughs (her all-bloke group) and throws in a couple of inspired musicians who call themselves The Victims of Death (who, come to think of it, did look a bit peaky). Anderson's strength has always been her visual-art interest, drawn on to memorable effect in her last show which animated the life- drawings of Egon Schiele. In Smithereens, she fixes on the 1920s movements of Dada and Bauhaus, using the fragmented format of Berlin cabaret to string together a series of kooky movement-and-design motifs. The result is something like the Kit Kat Klub during a blackout on the night Liza Minnelli didn't show for work. Dance-invention is not the show's selling point. It's the cumulative effect of repetitive gesture that motors the show along, the dancers spooling across your line of vision like tape reeling off a machine, then reappearing as if on an audio loop. It's a stylish idea, but ennui is also part of the package. More intriguing over the long term is the dialogue between the two musicians and an ancient wind-up gramophone, which at one stage echoes with creepy precision a piece of hi-tech sound-sampling the pair have apparently just made up. Clever.
But Sandy Powell's costumes are the main reason to buy a ticket. A fibre- optic evening gown in the form of an ostrich. Cat suits with peep-hole cleavages (for men as well as women). Blue-haired gorgons on stilts. Back-to-front face masks. For a mercifully brief 90 minutes, Third Reich decadence rides again.
The Cholmondeleys: Belfast Festival (028 9066 5577) tonight & Mon; Liverpool Everyman (0151 709 4776) Tues & Wed; Wyvern, Swindon (01793 524481) Fri; and touring
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