Strictly Gershwin, Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday 13 June 2011
Strictly Gershwin is an in-the-round extravaganza, stuffed with guest stars and glittering with Swarovski crystals. The dancers of English National Ballet are joined by singers, ballroom and tap dancers.
Roberta Guidi di Bagno dresses them finely in gowns, suits and mad little hats.
Derek Deane, who staged English National Ballet's arena Swan Lake, created Strictly Gershwin in 2008. This autumn, the show will tour to conventional theatres.
The dancers make the most of their material. The show mixes songs written for Broadway and Hollywood with two of Gershwin's best-known concert pieces. An American in Paris, which ends the first half, follows the Gene Kelly movie by staging it as an American's search for a girl through a whirl of stock Parisian images. The music's structure makes this a rambling, episodic ballet, but guest stars Guillaume Côté and Tamara Rojo are delightful.
Côté is a cheerful hero, moving easily from jazzy hoofing to yearning. Rojo's heroine flits lightly through in her demure pink frock. She's even more fun as a vamp in the dream sequence, reaching out with undulating, sensuous arms. The supporting Parisians, meanwhile, daftly wave onions and ride bikes.
Deane stages Rhapsody in Blue as a tutu ballet, with Rojo on sumptuous form. Around her, the corps rush on in flocks. It makes a busy stage picture: your eye is pulled in different directions, though there's always something to see. Behind the orchestra, big screens show close-ups of the performers and shots of Hollywood icons. The screens work best for the singers: you can watch Maria Friedman's face as she sings several ballads, bringing a touch of intimacy to this huge venue.
The ballroom dancers project with particular force. Latin stars Carmen and Bryan Watson undulate fiercely. Douglas Mills and Paul Robinson, though, are the dud of the evening. Their tap routines are clunking and heavy-footed, and return for an interminable marching number.
Daria Klimentová and Stuttgart Ballet's Friedemann Vogel are lavishly romantic in "Summertime", lines flowing beautifully. Erina Takahashi and Vadim Muntagirov sparkle in the opening overture, nipping from Latin wiggles to virtuoso jumps and spins. Conductor Gareth Valentine conducts the big band exuberantly, too.
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