Review: Shall We Dance at Sadler's Wells

Performance: 23 July - 30 August.09
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Tuesday 4 August 2009

Shall We Dance remains a title that can not be said – only sung. Images of the strong-willed tutor, Anna Leonowens, being led around the palace ballroom are interwoven into this number. Yet stripped of its lyrics and coupled with other Richard Rogers classics, this score became the backbone for Adam Cooper’s summer extravaganza at Sadler’s Wells.

Narratively this piece could not stand up to the origins of the music. ‘The Guy’ (Adam Cooper) searches time and space for his ‘Right Girl’ but with such a two dimensional approach to the characters you feel he is chasing every bit of skirt available, only to accept Ebony Molina (The Right Girl) through exhaustion rather than love.

Cooper’s journey through the catalogue of Rogers music leads him to Emma Samms in an opening swing number, Lorraine Stewart in a Viennese waltz, Rachel Muldoon at a Russian peasant fete, Noi Tolmer in the grounds of a Siam palace, Pip Jordan in a tap dancing hoedown, and Sarah Wilder selling herself in a seedy club. The supporting cast, dizzy with the number of styles and characters required, seemed to meander through the first act with only a little ham acting to link the scenes. The rotating stage gave the feeling of travel, yet with little set or choreography embracing its possibilities, the turntable quickly became redundant.

Samms, of Dynasty fame, brought her Royal Ballet School training coupled with her femme fatale acting skills, as the first to steal Cooper’s, um, heart, in a striking red dress. Although the choreography was kept simple, an odd choice for an opening number, Samms did not ooz confidence in her solo steps. The Viennese waltz in an undisclosed European ballroom circled the stage without any of the qualities that a Strictly Come Dancing judge would have been looking for. Stewart lifted the mood by adding drama to her steps, helped by a Romeo and Juliet style meeting between herself and Cooper. Roughed up, yet befriended by the drunken Tom Dwyer, Cooper marched on to Russia, only to have an evil puppet Master ruin his chances of love.

Luckily Act 2 brought a little more showmanship, cast energy and exciting choreography. The three leading ladies, Tolmer, Jordan and Wilder all excelled in their couplings providing much more believability. The audience really got behind this work once Cooper arrived in the Wild West. The tap dancing hoedown was so energetic, fun and lively that you could not help but get lost in its magic. Wilder and Cooper’s duet outshone the rest – whether this connection came out of their personal relationship or the contemporary ballet style in which they performed, they were definitely one of the highlights. Apart from Wilder’s scandalously hideous dress it was great to see her back on the stage.

Choreographically Shall We Dance is no great achievement, yet as a little light Summer’s entertainment the second act makes it worth a viewing. Rogers’ music has the power to conjure up a whole host of images; even if the movement did not always match up.

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