STAGE: Shall We Dance – Playhouse Opera, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
HARD to believe that one of the country’s longest-running annual shows, Shall We Dance, still being produced and directed by Durban’s hard-working Neville Letard and Caryl Cusens, is now in its 26th year – and still keeping the customers satisfied.
The show is always a colourful and joyous occasion, a variety spectacle offering a fun and varied mix of dance, and features a cast of almost 100 this year, comprising members of local dance companies and professionals.
Conceived as a showcase for local dance studios affiliated to the South African Dance Teachers’ Association, the production, presented in association with The Playhouse Company, has always offered something for everyone. That remains the case, and I found this year’s production undeniably enjoyable, but perhaps not quite as vibrant as the 25th anniversary show last year.
Perhaps the formula needs a little bit of fresh tweaking? For starters, I’d like a variety of hosts – radio jock Damon Beard, MC for 10 years running, may be amiable and popular, but he is predictable and virtually says the same things year after year (I counted, he said “ladies and gentlemen” 29 times on opening night this week).
This year’s production is also a little lacking in comedy – and another disappointment is that there are no Celtic dancers this year. Also conspicuous by its absence is Durban’s Linda Vargas Spanish dance company.
That all said, Letard and Cusens have created a slick, bright show with a changing parade of good costumes and backdrops. It gets extra points for the welcome introduction this year of two vibrant, Bollywood-inspired routines by the attractive and exciting Rudra Dance Theatre company. The company was formed by young dance all-rounder Pavishen Paideya, a regular Shall We Dance performer and also the show’s tap choreographer, who is a member of Young Dancers’ Project, by far my favourite of the larger group acts this year.
Young Dancers’ Project provides two highlights in this show – a sassy salute to the razzle dazzle of Chicago in the first half, and, in the second half, an exciting, streetwise salute to the musical Stomp, with a nod to Tap Dogs.
As usual the show opens with the whole cast in silver, black and white, feathers and all, set to the title song, then its straight into an excellent routine by polished, animated and often amusing guest performers Nikolaj Lund, from Denmark and Marta Kocck, from Poland. They are the current Danish 10 dance champs for Ballroom and Latin and grace the stage with six diverse routines.
Making their first appearance as featured dancers are Siphosethu Ngcobo from Umlazi and Sibusiso Ndlovu from Ladysmith, both performing delightful routines with Madison Bromfield. Ngcobo and Bromfield take to the floor for the Ballroom sequence, while Ndlovu and Bromfield perform Latin American.
Another pairing of note is self-taught Durban male duo, Statik (Clinton Green and Selwyn Rautenbach), which performs two beguiling hip-hop/robotic routines, one influenced by the moves of Janet and Michael Jackson.
Also a big crowdpleaser, as he was last year, is muscular Gerhard van Rooyen. This year he is teamed with a new partner, Ecaterina Jeleznii from Maldova. Their adagio work, showcased in two routines and laden with one-arm lifts, is a wondrous display of rhythm, fluidity and strength.
Among other highlights this year are the six tiny dancers that perform as Dance Basic Juniors, the three boys among whom join Damon Beard to show how best to perform the current dance fad, the super-fast The Floss.
I also rather liked the idea of the Raq Arabia bellydance troupe and the Denim & Diamonds line-dancing team joining forces to interpret Never Enough from The Greatest Showman, but the marriage of styles with that song didn’t quite work, for me.
Among other highlights are the Strictly Ballroom team with an elegant dance to Beauty and the Beast, and two routines by Dance Basics – in the best costumes of the night for an enjoyable interpretation of Ronan Keating’s If Tomorrow Never Comes, and in the fun routine set to Roisin Murphy’s offbeat and beguiling Rama Lama (Bang Bang).
Also featuring the Mark Wilson Formation Team, at best in a delivery of Havana, Shall We Dance is being staged until September 16, every Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm, with 3pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Booking is at Computicket outlets.