Hilarious. The motto of the team behind Against Time is clearly "Don't Let the Audience Know What's Hit 'em". The idea makes so much sense. The ethereal, glittering females of traditional ballet have always put their male counterparts in the shade, and for street dance you need testosterone-fuelled acrobatics and wrists robust enough to spin round on with the rest of you upside down in the air. This production faces up to that gender schism, celebrates it and does something marvellous with it. The dancing styles are split with no nonsense down the middle - a team of English National Ballerinas are in a dance off against the boys of what is probably Britain's top street dance group, Flawless. That's not to say there's no fusion. Each team has a lot of affectionate, respectful fun messing about with the other's moves, and probably the best set pieces are the ones which blend both genres as well as, inevitably, contrasting them.
The plot, qua plot, is flimsier than the least coherent offering of a disaffected hungover teenager in a compulsory Monday morning drama class. It involves a streetdance & ballet school run by a misanthropic professor with a magic hat, a clock obsession and a penchant for throwing masqued balls (my companion protests that it was all much more coherent than the story of the last ballet he saw). But who cares about the plot when the eye is belaboured by wave after wave of such stunning, sparkling, funny and often beautiful dance pieces? The story is successful in its aim of providing an atmosphere of silliness and a narrative structure for the fine miming and dazzling movement.
The obvious comparison is with Matthew Bourne's productions, and in terms of vivacity, irreverance and inventiveness it is comparable. But there are crucial differences: firstly, that the dancing really is breath-taking. It's not just prancing about, it's emotionally intense, vibrant, impeccably drilled and bone-crackingly challenging, from the boys spinning round on their heads or somersaulting like rubber dolls through the air to the girls floating like feathers on a breeze or unfolding themselves like elegant liquid in their partners' arms. And secondly, unlike for example Bourne's recent Nutcracker!, not everything is played for laughs, so there is an emotional texture to the piece. A Romeo and Juliet pas de deux in the garden in the second act is purely, romantically lovely; the Flawless boys playing out a seated routine in Detention is hugely funny; a fusion piece centred around a book, passed slickly and swiftly among a group in a library, is mystical and disorienting.
The music is eclectic, mainly modern with a nod here and there to classical ballet, and the set does exactly what is required: movable blocks of stairs and constant background projections provide interest and atmosphere without taking over. The costumes are pleasingly spectacular and their ensemble effect is well-designed. The background projections are like those of a passionate Flash amateur rather than glossy, professional-looking images, and this, bizarrely, works. The whole production lives on the homespun creative inventiveness of some incredibly talented individuals.
Just one other thing: I haven't seen anyone dance like the guy playing the professor since I last watched a Fred Astaire film. Such a natural-looking perfection of gesture. Just one tiny amazing thing in a production that's a big rag bag of amazing things.
If you can't get tickets for tonight at the New Theatre, chase it to Aylesbury, Birmingham, Wimbledon, Woking or Manchester or even Torquay, before the 8th of July. You won't ever have seen anything quite like it.
Miranda Rose (DI Staff), 15/06/12
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