STAGE: Shall We Dance – Playhouse Opera, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
NOW in its 25th year, making it one of the longest running shows in South Africa, Shall We Dance is always a colourful spectacle, offering a fun and varied mix of dance. This year’s event is no exception.
Once again produced and directed by Durban’s Neville Letard and Caryl Cusens, who have been at the helm since the show’s inception, Shall We Dance takes on extra glitter this year, even the show title on the impressive programme shimmering with silver sparkle to celebrate the silver anniversary.
A variety extravaganza conceived as a showcase for local dance studios affiliated to the South African Dance Teachers’ Association, the production has always been a fascinating mix.
While early emphasis was on Ballroom and Latin American dance, this has widened over the years to embrace a diverse range of dance styles. Tap, bellydance, flamenco, disco, Irish, modern, ballet, line-dancing, adage work… all find place in a slick production which this year features more than 100 dancers, the youngest aged eight.
The production opens with most of the cast in a routine set to Shall We Dance – a sequence dominated by silvery sparkle and feathers, and ending with longtime show host Damon Beard slowly rising from the orchestra pit, flanked by dancers with feathery headdresses and fans. A very good start.
With 17 items in the first half and 18 in the second, there is something for everyone, the professional guest artists obviously stealing most of the thunder in a show using backing tracks and featuring a change of scenery and lighting for each item.
Versatile former Strictly Come Dancing star, Ryan Hammond, a hit in last year’s show, is back again – this time with new partner, Angelique Allison. They bring great value to the production with a variety of routines displaying the grand style that saw them crowned in the recent South African Latin Championships.
They also each offer some novel touches – both teaming with other dancers for a sexy, playful interpretation of Be Italian, from the musical Nine; and Ryan leading some audience participation later in the show, and also performing an amusing routine with a bare torso and a towel, alongside another of the show’s pros,
SA Professional Ballroom champion Penwell Nhlapo is also back this year, this time with Lindelwa Mankangeni, to offer elegant Ballroom routines. They have been a team for six months and have multiple ballroom awards individually.
Most recently, they won the Sasol Championships in Mpumalanga and will soon be participating in the Gold Cup in South Africa, then the US Competition in Boston in February.
Also worth special mention is Durban’s Linda Vargas Spanish Dance Company, presenting an engaging but overlong Sevillanas, featuring the whole company; and Alegrias, an excellent solo guest appearance by Vargas’s son, Ramon Fernandez, currently living in Spain.
Best of the bunch, though, certainly in my opinion, is the team of Gerhard van Rooyen and Micheline Marmol, specialists in adage work involving death-defying lifts and graceful displays of flexibility and strength.
Finalists in the British Championship last month, they steal the show with their riveting closing routine, Heart of Courage, and also impress with a routine set to a not-so-great alternative recording of the hit, Say Something. Gerhard also wins whoops of approval sharing that towel routine with Ryan Hammond, mentioned earlier.
The rest of the programme offers a delightful flow of fun, highlights including the three pairs of cute youngsters who make up the Dance Basics Junior Formation Team. They first perform a nostalgic number set to In the Mood and then get into disco mode for an energetic interpretation of Earth Wind and Fire’s September.
Of note, too, are routines by Young Dancers’ Project, headed by versatile Pavishen Paideya, who leads (and choreographed) a lively tap routine set to We’re in the Money; and also appears in what is a big highlight, What Are You Afraid Of, a powerful piece set to the spoken word and featuring a novel costume change.
Among other standouts are two novel teamings to songs by Ed Sheeran – tap and Celtic dance melding for a routine set to Galway Girl ; and bellydance and line-dancing meshing for a fun interpretation of Shape of You.
Other highlights include the Mark Wilson Formation team’s slinky interpretation of the Justin Bieber hit, Despicato; and the whole cast, some in wild wigs and flares, going groovy for the second-half opening item, Shake Your Groove Thing, in which Damon Beard, as usual, makes a surprise dance appearance.
Beard is an amiable and popular enough host, but it would be nice to see someone new as MC next year.
Shall We Dance runs until September 17 and booking is at Computicket outlets.