First Night: Divas, Apollo Theatre, London
Not even Piaf, Dietrich and Garland can save this
Thursday 26 June 2008
Peter Schaufuss's latest dance spectacular has three star subjects, thrown together apparently at random. Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland provide the soundtracks, with a ballerina representing each woman. The only link is in the decor: all three have numbers in which they hug steel chairs, emoting vaguely to their signature tunes. It is stupendously bad.
Schaufuss set up his own company after an international career as dancer and director. Based in Denmark, its repertory has been a series of Schaufuss shows on celebrity subjects, from Diana – The Princess to last year's Rolling Stones musical Satisfaction. They show little sign of the experience Schaufuss must have gained around the world.
In Divas, Dietrich comes off worst. Zara Deakin (Schaufuss's wife) appears in silver sheath dress and furs, posing around the raised stage platform. Around her, the corps start evoking Berlin decadence and Nazi Germany. Schaufuss's ideas of both seem to come from third-hand productions of Cabaret: lots of stocking tops and strutting.
The first lot of Nazi officers are a camp caricature, wiggling bottoms and pouty lips. Then we get a hamfisted evocation of the horrors of war. Helmeted men lug women across the stage, through the dry ice. Meanwhile, poor Marlene crawls about, while the backdrop shows a city in ruins.
Schaufuss's staging is astonishingly inept. It never occurs to him that his dancing Nazis look silly, or that it's cheap to bring them on in Grim Reaper outfits. Even his set design is poorly planned. The divas appear on a raised platform (from the stalls, it's hard to see their feet), leaving the corps doing their best on a narrow strip of stage. The costumes, also designed by Schaufuss, are clichés.
Schaufuss's choreography recycles the same steps for Garland and Piaf. Women are always being bent double. The corps women turn cartwheels in one finale, but the timing is hiccupy, losing all momentum. Throughout, the dancers are enthusiastic but untidy. Bending into penchée arabesque, they conscientiously get their heads to their knees, but the lifted legs are all at different angles.
The Russian ballerina Irina Kolesnikova appears as Garland, but Schaufuss has no idea what to do with his guest star. He drops in a few Swan Lake poses and fouettes, but spends more time choreographing bland gestures for her partner. It's hard to see coherent planning in any part of Divas.
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