Dance shows are rather few and far between in Oxford, and perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, and so it was really encouraging to see a packed audience at the Old Fire Station for the opening night of Paradise, this year’s showcase by The Broad Street Dancers. This audience were in for a treat: an evening of infectious movement, quick changes, relentless energy, impressive acrobatics and, of course, a broad range of dancing styles. This range was clear to see from the very beginning; the transition between the first two dances couldn’t have been more marked.
The opener, as its name ‘Euphoria’ suggests, was a busy, energetic spectacle, and a whole troupe performance (although I might have chosen Fawn Ostrer’s ‘Red Lights’ – a similar feel but with greater energy – to start the show). Charlotte Burton’s blocking here is excellent; the various formations made the piece exciting to watch. The second dance, by contrast, was much more stripped back, with just four dancers, and the glittering silver dresses replaced with plain green T-shirts. Here, Emily Everest-Phillips’ choreography was fascinating, made up of individually rather simple, understated, almost gestural movements, that somehow create a more complex, original, piece. Alongside Bonobo’s gentle, atmospheric track ‘Cirrus’, this dance transported us away from the bright lights and glamour of the first dance to something like a fantastical woodland setting. The diversity allowed dancers’ different comfort zones to flourish; Natasha McCabe’s background in ballet, for instance, was clear to see, whilst Angela Pang was evidently in her element during the hip-hop routines. Rebecca Morton’s choreography was a test of balance and flexibility, whilst Margot Overman’s hand tutting was playful, interesting and well suited to the music.
One dance didn’t quite work for me. Set to ‘Little Lady’ by Ed Sheeran, featuring Mikill Pane, the sixth dance was performed alongside a story of prostitution, violence, and one woman feeling trapped in amongst ‘detectives’, ‘meddling nurses’, and a murderous pimp. Here, the stage-smiles were gone, replaced by pained expressions for the sake of the darker tone of the song, however this came across a bit forced, and despite the convincing urgency with which Lydia Benazaize in particular performed her own choreography, the routine itself seemed far too nice and pretty for the tone and subject matter being conveyed, and as such came across slightly jarring.
The highlight of the show came in the form of a duet between Nils Behling and Charlotte Burton. Undoubtedly the most emotive of the 18 pieces, and the one that drew the largest applause from the audience, each element of the dance (music, facial expression, movement and lighting) worked together to produce a rather powerful performance. The choreography was loaded with emotion and ambition, making use of props, levels and lifts to stunning effect. The lack of detail in this description is down to my reluctance to look away from the dancing in order to take notes.
In fact, all of the duets were effective, as one piece by Emily Hines and Izzy Tol and another by Ailsa McKinlay and Emily Stubbings portrayed very clear and engaging relationship dynamics. It was not always easy to spot the relevance to the central theme of paradise, but the show was no less enjoyable for this, and where the narrative running through the show as a whole becomes less defined, it is just the price to pay for the diverse range of styles and the opportunity for everyone to contribute to the choreography. However, Behling and Burton’s duet, as well as a routine using a row of chairs in the BSD’s 2015 show ‘Dynamica’ made me wish that more levels had been used in ‘Paradise’.
Of course, it’s all about the dancing, however the lighting designer must be commended. Never distracting or excessive, the stage lights were well thought out and contributed nicely to the atmosphere of each dance. The sound was less successful, and at times cut out rather abruptly, interrupting the fluid exit sequences that had been choreographed into the show.
Paradise ended on a high, with a feel-good number, and a great way to round up the show. The Broad Street Dancers are a troupe of talented performers and choreographers, whose show is an exciting spectacle that I would definitely recommend!
The Broad Street Dancers have also organised the first Varsity Dance Competition which takes place in the afternoon of Saturday 27th February, the link can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1079048328783820/