Friday, 4 November 2011

English National Ballet's Strictly Gershwin

Yesterday I saw the English National Ballet's new production, Strictly Gershwin, at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool. I love ballet, and was excited to see some of my favourite dancers again, especially Erina Takahashi who partnered with Zdenek Konvalina for Someone to Watch Over Me and with Esteban Berlanga for The Man I Love

The dancers were wonderful, the costumes were gorgeous...but did the choreography quite work? Gershwin was never meant to be twee, and unfortunately the show sometimes felt stilted and unadventurous, particularly with Rhapsody in Blue where the dance bore no relation at all to the story told by the music which, for that piece, was played in a lacklustre manner by the orchestra.

The orchestra formed a large part of the backdrop for the performance.  Perhaps this could have been exploited to greater visual effect, so that soloists might have been picked out by a spotlight - hardly a groundbreaking method of allowing the audience to see more clearly who was playing what, but this opportunity was overlooked.

The remainder of the backdrop was created by a sequence of still images depicting famous old-time Hollywood actors and images of Paris, which worked well.  However, what did any of this have to do with outer space?  Fuzzy images of stars and planet Earth were not relevant to the show's content.  If budget cuts were the cause of the setting's limitations, then why not make a virtue out necessity and do away with the film show altogether?  Gene Kelly used a bare stage with simple props to great effect for his dance sequences; a similar idea could easily have been employed.

The tap dancing sequences were excellent; brimming with energy and fun.  I'm not usually enthusiastic about tap, but these dances were among the highlights of a show which otherwise felt too safe and conformist - and Ira and George Gershwin, in their day, were neither.

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