Review: Flawless/English National Ballet, Against Time at Hammersmith Apollo
Performance reviewed: 1 June
I must begin this review with a disclaimer in the form of the critic’s lament. Seated almost at the back of the stalls (row X, to be precise) in this cavernous venue, behind two of the tallest people imaginable (was the Team GB basketball team in town?) and without a rake, I found myself doing as much bobbing and weaving around as some of the performers, just to be able to see 50% of the distant stage. I couldn’t recognise dancers, see facial expressions, or any feet. Not a good vantage point from which to write a fair review but then again from £30 seats, where many of the paying audience will have similarly struggled to get a good view. The Hammersmith Apollo was too big for the show, which probably won’t be the case for the other eight English theatres in which Against Time is appearing over the coming month.
The best thing to say is that I wasn’t sitting so far from the stage that I couldn’t still enjoy much of the dancing by Flawless. Their routines were tightly timed and impeccably performed (although there was an amusing moment when one of the crew, performing as a statue, collided with a hedge). Other than these sequences, Against Time was largely dreary and shamelessly derivative. The ludicrous and incomprehensible plot was a thin veneer of StreetDance The Movie (ballet meets street dance in a school setting) with bits Into the Hoods , Some Like it Hip Hop [Zoonation] and The Most Incredible Thing [Pet Shop Boys/Javier De Frutos] mixed into the cocktail without creating anything remotely new or innovative. Both Against Time and The Most Incredible Thing focus on a clock with magical powers and the quest to destroy it. The key difference being that the TMIT clock is a force of good destroyed by evil and here it is reversed. This slight story is padded out with several unnecessary scenes, which served no purpose other than to give the ballet dancers an excuse to perform as fireflies, ladybirds and an enchanted Pierrot doll.
The street choreography – by Marlon ‘Swoosh’ Wallen – was at the top of its game with tight, slick harmonies peppered by explosive acrobatic tricks. But the ballet choreography was predictable and dull. The best moments came in the mixed genre pas de deux between Alison McWhinney and Leroy Dias dos Santos (two dancers that I could recognise from so far away) and in the comedic potential of the Flawless dancers taking a class on a crowded barre to the cygnets’ theme from Swan Lake . The worst of the choreography was in the second act ballroom scene, danced to the serially over-used El Tango de Roxanne from Moulin Rouge, which made the pivotal action at a Masquerade Ball seem bland and uneventful.
The whole production appears to have been rushed onto the stage with insufficient preparation. If you could strip away the infantile narrative, the generic ballet choreography, the predictable music (ironic that a venue famed for live gigs should play host to such “school hall” recordings) and improve upon some laborious and messy set changes, the residue of Flawless dance routines and their slivers of comedy would have been worthwhile; but then we would have been left with half a Flawless show, so why not go back to making a whole one and forget the flawed hybrid of this attempt at diversity.
Flawless & English National Ballet Against Time tour details:
Photos: Laurent Liotardo
Graham Watts writes for many publications including DanceTabs and Dancing Times. He is Chair of the Critics’ Circle Dance Section.
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