Review: Paradise

The Broad Street Dancers are the definition of ‘eclectic’. They are an extremely diverse dance troupe, with different artistic backgrounds, and showcasing a wide range of dance styles. Their latest show, Paradise, running at the Old Fire Station from 25 to 27 February, is the perfect expression of the heterogeneity of this company. Dancers alternated with each other in the eighteen choreographies that formed the show, keeping me constantly curious as to what would happen next. Each sketch was different from the next, which gave the dancers (and the choreographers) the chance to experiment with different styles, tones, emotions, steps, and songs.

Although the show description on the theatre website states that “Through the intricate and expressive medium of dance we ask how we can stop longing for the all-encompassing perfection of an otherworldly paradise and start enjoying the smaller perfections of the everyday”, this narrative thread was far from obvious. Some titles of individual choreographies announced them as an exploration of sin: ‘Serpentine’, ‘The Fall’, ‘Devil’s Grip’. Titles were however necessary to interpret the dance pieces in this way, since the steps and movements themselves did not seem to point to any specific interpretation over another.  This interpretation was more clearly signposted in ‘The Fall’,  a beautifully soothing piece (not least because of choosing Nina Simone’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ as accompanying music), where two of the four dancers on stage held an apple in their hand. An obvious symbolism, perhaps, but typical of more narrative types of dance (such as classical ballets like ‘The Swan Lake’, ‘Giselle’, or ‘Don Quixote’), where the development of the plot, which happens only through movement, has to be clearly marked out.

From the initial piece, ‘Euphoria’, the first nine performances seemed to build up a climax (or perhaps an anti-climax) towards the fall of man. A number of pieces focused on women’s seductiveness, such as ‘Juggernaut’, ‘Rendez-vous’, and ‘Red Lights’, which, together with the predominance of female dancers, made me think that Eve’s role in the fall was often evoked, and positively so: women were represented as seductive, but also as resourceful, adventurous, and open-minded.

If some kind of thematic unity was discernible in the first Act, the second was far looser: it oscillated between the themes of reconciliation and division, giving more an idea of confusion than of exploration. This difficulty in finding the leitmotiv of the whole show was also due to the fact that each piece was almost self-standing: a lights-off pause marked the passage from one to the other, rather than encouraging continuity.

Although the difficulty to clearly grasp a narrative thread was a bit off-putting, the show was nonetheless more than enjoyable. Rebecca Morton’s work as show director was on-point. Her organisation was effective in alternating the various pieces more or less smoothly, although sometimes the pauses in-between were a bit too long. However one positive aspect of such pauses was however that the audience had time to prepare for another, in most cases entirely different, dance piece.

Broad Street Dancers

The choreographies explored all sorts of different styles, from hip-hop (in ‘6foot7foot’), to tap dance (in ‘Happy’). Most pieces were akin to the style of lyrical jazz, which uses song lyrics as a starting point for the choreographer to create the movements. Such were, for example, ‘Juggernaut’, ‘Little Lady’, ‘Amazing Grace’, and ‘Wake Up’. While lyrical jazz certainly provides interesting ways of exploring the links between music and movement, it can be sometimes a little too mimetic, a risk that was only just avoided in ‘Little Lady’. Music proved to be central to the success of some performances as well: catchy songs like Stromaes Tous Les Mêmes (in ‘Rendez-vous’), or Snoop Doggs Sweat (in ‘6foot7foot’) made these pieces more effective than, for instance, the rather more mellow notes of Bonobos Cirrus, used in ‘Serpentine’.

The variety of dance styles was also reflected in the costumes. Each piece (apart from the first and the last one) had a specific costume. Some choices were particularly successful, such as the flared dresses in ‘You Give Me Something’ which created a hypnotic effect as the dancers pirouetted on stage. ‘Juggernaut’ was modelled on a song from Andrew Lippa’s musical The Wild Party, set in the roaring 20’s, and the costumes were absolutely in accordance with the period, featuring black dresses, fringes, and tiaras.

In describing this show, just as in describing the troupe that put it up, it is impossible to escape from a recurring idea of variety, eclecticism, experimentalism. Although this made the show feel rather disconnected at times, it was also the best way to showcase all the different (and indeed admirable) talents that are part of the company. Besides, all the dancers managed to convey a powerful energy throughout the show, which is praiseworthy in an almost two-hour long performance. This energy was particularly intense in pieces such as ‘Rendez-vous’, ‘Happy’, and ‘Runnin’, but perhaps reached its peak in ‘Forgiveness’. Here, dancers Nils Behling and Charlotte Burton poured out all their vigour in the representation of a troubled couple (a thought-provoking reinterpretation of the accompanying song, Beyoncé’s Halo). Jumps, daring lifts, and the use of a table as an element to propel the dancers’ movements made the piece an exciting one indeed.

This show was, in some ways, perfectly imperfect: it was entertaining and energetic, presenting the manifold talents of an amazingly diverse troupe. In a sense, the title of the third choreography, juggernaut, meaning ‘an unstoppable force’, encapsulates the ultimate characteristic of the performance.

Francesca Beretta

“Paradise” runs at the Old Fire Station from 25 to 27 of February and is sold out.

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