Category Archives: Dance

Review, The King and I – Venue Cymru by Richard Evans

Venue Cymru, March 7th to 11th 2023

Rodgers & Hammerstein, based on Margaret Landon’s book Anna and the King

Howard Panter for Trafalgar Theater Productions

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

“How will I know when I know everything?” “When you are King!”

This faithful production of The King and I portrays the unexpected love story between the King of Siam and a schoolteacher really well. It also draws out a series of dilemmas thrown up by a remarkable passage in history, not least the problem of how one inherits omniscience!

At its heart it is the story of two people, the King and Anna, but like much of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s work, the apparently light musical romance is rooted in political change.

For generations, each king of Siam had ultimate power within his protectorate, but the current king is now struggling to reconcile ancient rights with modern progress and the pernicious influence of western colonialism. The king is seen as barbaric, even though the show is set at the same time as the American Civil War, and only shortly after the Indian Mutiny. 

In fact this king is an educated, intelligent man trying hard to balance his autocratic power with a more considerate, conscience-driven approach.  

Opposite him is Anna, an intrepid, forthright widow employed as a teacher to the king’s children – all 67 of them. She arrives in Bangkok accompanied only by her young son, having never lived outside the British Empire. The culture shock in itself would be extreme. 

While others say what they think the king wants to hear, Anna  speaks her mind, becoming a “difficult woman” in the process. Her arrival throws up a number of clashes of culture, attitude and morality, some of which become humorous. Why did Western, Victorian women wear dresses with hoops ten feet wide?  I have no idea.  It is slightly ironic that I viewed this production on International Women’s Day, which seeks to raise the status of women worldwide today. Anna repeatedly asserts her right to be treated with dignity and equality, yet the king sees the role of a woman as merely to serve a man.  

There is therefore much to take from this story. Helen George and Darren Lee are excellent as the leads and are ably-supported by the cast, in particular the children. The score has a number of well-loved tunes, and Marienella Phillips showed her operatic voice to good effect as Tuptim, the chief narrator, a slave girl with an education and attitude.  The choice of Uncle Tom’ Cabin as a showpiece play for western visitors is a definite dig by R & H at US society.  

But there is a problem with this show in the present age: what was vital, bold and brilliant in 1951 lacks the intensity and grittiness that has become today’s standard. It has become a period piece. Some of the songs are very much of their time, and rather twee. 

But this criticism nonetheless admits the show’s classic status; it’s a rattling good story. The score may seem dated to some, but others will recognise their enduring appeal. The audience, of course, lapped it up from curtain-up and offered a sincere ovation at the end. For all its age and increasing creakiness, no one can deny its star quality.    

Review Strictly Ballroom the Musical, Wales Millennium Centre by Rhys Payne

 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

Having been a fan of musical theatre for many, many years you can imagine the outrage when I announced at a family gathering that I had never seen quite possibly in the world’s most successful musical Les Mis. My Aunty who showed particular astonishment decided that she would host a French evening (complete with French food) in her home so she could be in close proximity when I experienced this musical great for the first time. We had gathered our snacks, donned our French outfits and were settled ready to switch on the TV only to discover that someone had borrowed the DVD a few years ago and had yet to return it. This meant that we had to scramble around the house looking for another musical movie based in France which is when we stumbled upon the absolute chaos that is Moulin Rouge. Since this unplanned viewing, I very quickly fell in love with “spectacular spectacular” that is movie musical Moulin Rouge and it was only after researching the show for a review of the west-end, musical adaptation production that I discovered it is apart of the Red Curtain Trilogy directed by the iconic Baz Lurhmann. In this collection are Moulin Rouge, Romeo and Juliet and the lesser-known but most important for this musical review Strictly Ballroom.

I think it is incredibly important that different musicals can be opportunities to tour through the UK as you quickly get used to the same shows being on a multi-year rotation. Prior to becoming a musical reviewer, one of my favourite things to do would be book a ticket to a random show that I have never heard of before. I don’t know if it’s the excitement of understanding characters, plot and themes as they happen live but this mystery was always extremely exciting to me. Due to the same shows touring year after a year, you unfairly begin comparing casts and so it is incredibly refreshing to see a show such as “Strictly Ballroom” which I had very little knowledge of before going into the theatre. In fact, I remember a conversation with a close friend a few years where this musical came up and I questioned how they made a musical based on the BBC show Strictly Come Dancing which was met with scoffs from those listening. For those like myself who have not heard of this musical before, Strictly Ballroom (with no connection to the hot TV show) is about Scott Hastings, played wonderfully in this production by Edwin Ray) who is a professional dancer at the top of his game who begins to questions the rigid rules and restrictions of ballroom dancing. This revolutionary spirit leads to him forming a dance partnership with amateur dancer Fran as the pair prepare for the biggest dance computing in the ballroom community!

A highlight performance for me throughout this musical would have to be Eastenders star Maisie Smith who comes fresh from her stint in the aforementioned Strictly Come Dancing. Maisie plays the ugly-duckling style character Fran who is essentially plucked from obscurity to dance with Scott ahead of his championship quest. Maisie managed to beautifully portray every aspect of the character from the awkward and amateur dancer origins to the confident and bold change-maker. Seeing this character go through this journey of confidence almost overshadows the fact that (SPOILER ALERT) the duo do not end up being awarded the first place trophy by this development is worth more than any ward possibly could be! Her comedic timing was absolutely perfect throughout leaving the audience howling with laughter, especially during the earlier stages of the show!

My favourite number in the entire show however would have to be “Paso Doble” where Scott tries (but fails miserably to impress Frans’s father with a ‘traditional Spanish dance.’ It is only once her father played by Jose Agudo begins to show the dancer how this dance should be really done that the music begins to beautifully build up into a wonderful ensemble, dance-heavy spectacle. Before everyone can join in Jose showcases his dance still with an incredible stamp-based choreography where he doesn’t miss a single beat and controls every inch of the stage!

Jose Agudo

Overall, Strictly Ballroom celebrates a very traditional art form in both a homage but also a message of contemporary revolution. The narratives with the story are all timeless stories that are done very cleanly and simply so that every person in the audience can understand and appreciate how each character functions within the story. I do have to admit that I think the scale of the show needs to be exaggerated so that the sense of rebellion can be extremely clear and obvious and for that reason, I would rate this show 3.5 stars out of 5!

Review Contemporary Dance 2.0, The Hofesh Shechter Company ,Battersea Arts Centre,by Tanica Psalmist

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Choreography and Music: Hofesh Shechter
Performed by: Shechter II
Lighting Design: Tom Visser
Original Costume Design: Osnat Kelner

The eight performers performing in Contemporary Dance 2.0 from Hofesh Shechter and his award winning company Shechter II, were; Tristan Carter, Cristel de Frankrijker, Justine Gouache, Zakarius Harry, Alex Haskins, Oscar Jinghu Li, Keanah Faith Simin and Chanel Veyent. They are sensational, adapting perfectly to the Shechter style, which is one minute smooth and sinuous as silk and the next pulsing to a frantic beat of rapid, exhausting movement, as relentless as a heartbeat.

Each dance piece gets divided into five sections, which were signed by the dancers holding up rough cardboard. It begins, with my all time favourite ‘Pop’, with Michael Jackson inspiration posing, followed by ballroom, frantic, electric jumps & contemporary dance moments of joining hands and forming multiple, beautiful dance stunts & visual images.

Freedom of expression through sensory movements were expressed by all eight dancers’ synchronised & projecting an aura of internal power through pop dance, feelings of motherhood and pain/relief experienced by our bodies channeling energy in complex journeys. Seductively taking eyes across the audience as their bodies effortlessly & vigorously flop and rise with their fluidity hypnotised, leaving you mesmerised to the depths of how pop culture, embodying Michael Jackson – the King of Pop’s symmetrical famous moves.

The music was upbeat. In beat we witnessed a fusion of dance styles such as krumping, popping, electro funk gliding to the counts within the music flow that went to the rhythm of 1,2,3,4 – however, automatically speeding up to match their heartbeats drumming to the beats 2,4,6,8. This soon boomed to a higher frequency as they began spinning, break out dancing and exploiting various other dance sensations like ballroom & contemporary thanks to the Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter.

Each dancer colourfully dressed visually moved our brains as their facial expressions epically motioned feelings of strain, reactions of excitment & vanity. You could feel the dancers’ hearts race, pumping to the counts of 10, 20, 30, and 40.

A 50 minute non-stop fusion of intensity taken to the stage. Hope was their supply, influence was their leader, precautions were their discipline, and spirit guided was their teacher. Flexible bodies slid springing along the floor; resonating solitary on stage, the lights set the mood remaining predominantly dim lit.

Well incorporated into the dance moves were light bouncing, embracing, smiling, culture, architecture of hearts rejoicing, as their bodies sprung like tigers. Towards the end played ‘The End’ by Frank Sinatra. It became an expression of unity and life between the past and present of home manifested through pop, hip hop & other dancing styles high on energy, moving to a completely different beat working strangely well, appearing extremely beautiful towards the end.

The music consisted of heavy deep drums and heartfelt string instruments. The ambience was uplifting as it radiated emotions of tranquillity, hope, victory and a full tribe of life. Each dancer individually performed a solo as themselves, which conveyed their stamped identity. Towards the end all moves moulded into one! A high off of energy, fire and enjoyment, zero stopping until the stage was cleared making you want to watch forever. Not to be missed!

Contemporary Dance 2.0 will be at Battersea Arts Centre, London, until the 29 October.


Africa Fashion Week, Freemason HALL 2022 Review by Tanica Psalmist

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

‘Africa Fashion Week’ successfully celebrated its 12th year anniversary on the 8th & 9th October 2022 taking place in London, Freemason Hall. To ensure 2023 fashion show was another sell out 2022 had to be truly African infused & it truly was!!!

Credit Tanica Psalmist

A grand exhibition showcasing several merchants, latest garments & handmade jewellery made from various crystals, minerals and materials such as ebony and stone for starters! It’s no doubt that the Motherland was truly represented with deep infused floods of Africa’s rich culture, boutiques, diverse beauty & celebratory inspirations, influence & contentment oozing from the models onto the audience.

Credit Tanica Psalmist

I attended both days to glimpse AFW in every detail & glory from behind scenes, mental preparation to the adequate appreciation for the designers clothes, which all were worn to perfection! Many of the Fashion designers this year included; Pills, LN Watches , Sluvin Designs & Durban South Africa , Gugu Boutique, May M Designs, Massassi B, Twelve19styles, Ethnicity Clothing , Fresh by Do Turn, Slungile Mokoena Designer, Black Snow Men , Dogan Culture , Fashion Ash & many more great legends who’s brands captured, elevated & fulfilled the purpose to represent African designs on a global & grand scale.

AFW is more than just about diverse beauty, fashionistas, togetherness, celebration, unity, embracement, inspiration – it’s about elegance, royalty, Deity, learning, engagement & witnessing the beauty of freedom, culture, love, passion & acceptance.

Credit Tanica Psalmist

A typical start at AFW entails early starts booming intense makeup prep, dress & tech rehearsals & in return audience energy, infusion & model excellence! The unpredictability of unexpected authentic African dance styles is what makes poses equally exciting! certain poses entailed dance styles, such as; Ikpirikpi- Ogu (war dance), Atilogwu (Acrobatic Dance), Mmanwu (masquerades), Omuru onwa & Agbacha-ekuru-nwa, Indlamu, Adumu, Kete to name a few, hitting our eyes with eloquent spins, twirls & flirtation. The entire atmosphere took you to the African continent flight free for a truly memorable, captivating & rewarding evening.

AFW’s statement this year was to love yourself unconditionally & that your worth is not determined by the worth of high end fashion brands but by the price of realness, quality, uniqueness, happiness, tranquility, innocence, projecting your soul & to embrace the individuality of African culture, passion & depths of the motherland’s diversity.

Credit Tanica Psalmist

Nothing spoke louder then Sunday’s event where we witnessed the community within the audience come to life! oozing out positive intelligence, passion, enthusiasm, self love & a reminder to be you & live as you & be the best person of yourself, good job AFW – ROLL ON AFW 2023!!!

Review, The Rest of Our Lives, Jo Fong & George Orange, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I’m going to begin this review with a very strong opening. A strong, and 100% deserved opening: If there is one thing you do this year, it’s go and see The Rest of Our Lives.

The Rest of Our Lives is a post-pandemic show in some respects but it isn’t about the pandemic. It is a question of what we do after a monumental change in our lives. How do we cope, move on, return to life as we know it. How do we enjoy it and laugh, and love, and cry. How do we become us again. How do we create community again.

This brilliant show is prime example of the unique, inspirational and exquisite style of performance that comes only from the Welsh theatre and arts scene. Perhaps some bias in my admiration for Jo Fong that has stemmed since my own performance training years in Wales, I still stand by the genius and beauty behind this piece with George Orange.

The Rest of Our Lives is a physical theatre, multi-media, dance and movement piece. It is comical, warm, open and personal. There is no barrier between us and the performers – we are welcomed and treated as friends, making regular eye contact and somehow having a feeling of a personal relationship with the performers, as if we were in their living room of an evening.

Physically, the performance was abstract yet gentle and evoked any emotion from hilarity to sadness. The performers pushed themselves to the limits and broke physical and environmental boundaries without a sense of fear or hesitation. There was many a moment that I found myself crying at how moved I was at their portrayal of normal human elements such as romance and pain, and how I would soon be laughing and smiling through my tears. I didn’t feel like an audience member – I was a friend, a family member, some one close and welcomed and it was such a unique and beautiful feeling and created so simply yet mysteriously – that space felt safe as soon as we came in and I still can’t pinpoint why; the signs of a successful production.

Audience interaction is a huge part of this show and it continues the feeling of inclusion in the action, with no formality to any of the proceedings or interaction. It created an almost immersive atmosphere that you never wanted to end. Finishing the production, we are welcomed onto the stage where we dance and sing to Donna Summer and congratulate Fong and Orange. Hardly any of us know one another but there we hugged, we held hands, we sung together as if we were in Karaoke and all of it was euphoric, beautiful and special.

The Rest of Our Lives is a triumph of theatre, dance and physical theatre. It is everything and more that Welsh theatre brings to the table and is unlike anything I have ever seen. It reminds us of who we are and once were and brings us together as humans and friends.

Review James Bonas with Anthony Roth Costanzo, Glass Handel, ENO/BBC Proms 22,The Printworks by James Ellis 

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In a return to the BBC Proms in London, a new venue for the festival would call. Whilst I’ll confess  the Printworks in Canada Water is a bit out of the way for this travelling reviewer, it was a fleeting chance to see another side of London. In a more laid-back, approachable look on classical music, the venue itself on first appearance looked cluttered, very busy.

 As things went on, I found the whole thing to be truly wonderful, the direction of James Bonas with a metaphorical butterfly net keeping everything grounded, yet delightful.

The head turning array of soloist, orchestra, dance, art, beat-boxing and sound design filled the venue with the ambition of a classic happening. The star of the show was very much American counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo who has dazzled audiences across the pond and over the world. It is his clear sex appeal and queer ideals that dust the show with beautiful goings on. In both the bejewelled Handel and Phillip Glass repertoire (extracts from both their operas, some never heard at the Proms along with a world premier from Glass) he proves his broad taste and mighty passions, his voice sharp and touching. 

All the other goings on segway well into each aria, the dancers never quite getting the limelight (with emotive choreography by Justin Peck). The live painting of Glenn Brown was only truly visible to one side of the vast elongated factory. Players from English National Opera and conductor Karen Kamensek never wained is this apparent gamble that paid off all round. Costumes by Raf Simons are billowy, colourfull fun creations, slight and web like for the dancers, exaggerated for Costanzo.

Jason Singh would beatbox and add whispy vocal tricks to make space between the notes of the arias. What almost attempted to steal the show was the finely crafted surreal video work which graced the brick walls. The likes of James Ivory with Pix Talarico, Tilda Swinton and Daniel Askill and more had unsettling, vivid and witty films that got away with a lot of it’s demands. 

A fine event I won’t forget yet.

You can listen to the event on BBC Sounds here

Review Sumida River in Sign Language, What More? Productions/Impact Dance: Chapter 25+1 Kings Place/Peacock Theatre by James Ellis 

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) Sumida River

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) Impact Dance: Chapter 25+1

A hectic Saturday, along with tube strikes would herald a invigorating day of theatre in London. Kings Place has been itching to do their Noh Theatre festival since pre-pandemic times and with two days filled with events, I was only able to make Sumida River in Sign Language. This inclusive show, based on an old Japanese play of the Noh tradition, would welcome both deaf and hearing audiences. The lead roles were taken by Deaf performers who signed in their respective languages of JSL (Japanese Sign Language) and BSL (British Sign Language) with voiced translation in English.

Chisato Minamimura as the Mother

The tale itself is quite simple: a Ferryman (the fitting stature of Brian Duffy) refuses to let The Mother (the elegant Chisato Minamimura) pass the river so late at night. The story of a child who drowned in said river permeates the story, having been kidnapped by bandits and was fleeing in the process. The theme of the after life and the never ending flow of nature are the main elements of the piece, here even more distilled in a often calm, sometimes heightened drama. Percussionist Beibei Wang used all sorts of instruments, big drums to make us jump out of our seats, little gongs and even the floors and seats of the auditorium. 

Most interesting was the use of both British and Japanese Sign Language, the Ferryman not able to grasp what The Mother means, with her insistent waving of her hand, her index and thumb together like the okay symbol. Being a lover of the dense practice of Noh, this was more accessible for both deaf audiences and for those unsure of the art itself. The strict posturing and lapping dialogue in the traditional pieces take time to unfold over you. Director Verity Lane should be praised here for her efforts, along with the cast including Elizabeth Oliver as the English voiceover and the plush costumes of Mirei Yazawa. 

A venture over to the Peacock Theatre saw the barnstorming talents of Impact Dance. Starring the legend Hakeem Onibudo, some 26 years of discovering dance talent in London (and beyond). He isn’t known as Mr Impact for nothing. 

It was the sheer talent on display from all these young dancers that was highly impressive. Each of these groups offered some neck breaking, animated moves, something you wouldn’t think the human body could do in such quick succession. The diverse nature of the inclusion would see Impact spread out to Reading and Birmingham. I was off course delighted to see Fusions Elite, a troupe from Cardiff grace the stage, a welcome reminder of home on this trip away. 

Many of these pieces had a certain mood, either jubilant, yearnful or furious. It’s that violent body popping I just cant get enough off! A retro cut of musical choices would see the delights of dubstep, a mass of hip-hop, The Pet Shop Boys, The Lion King and more. A breathtaking dance from Samuel da Silveria Lima, who came from Brazil to perform, proved that any one can dance.  An appearance from Botis Seva, fresh off the success of BLKDOG, ended the guest artist programme in a typically evocative and strident target on violence in today’s world. 

Seeing all this come together and the response from the audience to Hakeem’s lifetime of work was very touching. I’m in it for the journey now and want to see more. 

Review George Fu/MIIN-BODY TO BODY St Martin in the Fields/The Place by James Ellis

Photo credit: Kim Wolf 

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5) George Fu 

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5) MIIN-BODY TO BODY

In the ever brilliant concerts at St Martin in the Field, pianist George Fu gave a dizzying recital leaving a huge impact on the afternoon audience. His love for Chopin leaked over the entire programme, with Mazurkas, a Ballade and even an encore from the Polish composer. My thoughts on Chopin won’t appease conventional tastes, especially in the standard repertoire, Fu brought out some really insightful moments in these classics. Both familiar and friendly, Chopin does have a far reaching appeal, his canon forever having an influence on the piano. It’s curious to hear how simple the music sounds, yet Fu is constantly in flux, awash in a musical feat of reverence. 

Caroline Shaw and her piece Gustave le Gray, is inspired by the artist and has a lot of weight to it. A perfect companion to the Chopin. Revealing a lot of the trappings of romanticism, the piece utilised a liberal use of the dampener pedal and had a passionate use of fingering. It did outstay it’s welcome, though this held up as a fine discovery. My reason for attending was the finale of the late Frederic Rzewski and highlights from his North American Ballads. Down by the Riverside is an endlessly charming and touching plea for peace, an old spiritual. This holds up as a fine example of Rzewski’s skewered use of original pieces and transforms them to something spectacular. This reaches it’s zenith in the Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, a devastating depiction of it’s location, the mechanised patterns of the machines executed as forearms bashing on the keys. The amount of tone clusters in this is eye watering and a revelation, the look on some of the shocked audience and school children present was highly amusing. Fu shines in this music which leaves no prisoners. Keep a close eye on this one.   

A Festival of Korean Dance has graced The Place for the past week. Some really enticing work has been done and I was lucky to see Collective A/Cha Jinyeob and their MIIN-BODY TO BODY. There was a lot to unpack in this show, how women are expected to be and behave in South Korea proves a conservatism we might not be able to grasp in the West. A male dancer dominates the space as beginners, slowly falls and writhed around in the circle of sand. The female dancers show a lot of vulnerability here, sharing more than expected, the amount of leg spreading in the show proved liberating, due to the demands of their culture expecting the opposite, as explained in the post show discussion. A monologue about cuckoos and the lack of interest in having a baby proved very telling. 

These slight bodies stack on top one another, they form and separate. Video work and lighting are a very nice touch, the sand proving powerfully versatile with lights cast upon it. They want to challenge gender roles, something which is under post-mortem in many cultures presently. Yet, the most moving part came with a beautiful duet between both male and female, with the former carrying off with great ease the latter at the conclusion. Some other movement would evoke a cat walk, dancing in a nightclub and the violent swishing of long hair. “Miin” refers to an attractive person in Korean and this remains the prominent element of the show. These are artists who are tired of objectification and sexism. The post show talk would ask how if the show is in fact about feminism, the dancers also being translated into English as the discussion grew. This was a strange hour but it did have some touching and intense highlights. 

MIIN-BODY TO BODY continues at The Place till 25 June 2022. 

REVIEW Chicago, New Theatre Cardiff by Barbara Hughes-Moore

Chicago, 1920s. In a city ruled by mob bosses and moonshine, misbehaviour ain’t just on the menu: it’s a way of life. If it’s fame you’re after, you might get fifteen minutes or fifteen to life – and Roxie Hart’s dream of seeing her name in the papers is one she’ll kill for. With blood on her hands and a song in her heart, Roxie (Faye Brookes) teams up with sleazy lawyer Billy Flynn (Lee Mead) to fool the masses, stealing the thunder of her rival cellmate, Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott), in the process.

‘All That Jazz’: the Chicago ensemble, led by Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly

Featuring classic songs by Kander and Ebb and original choreography by Bob Fosse (the trio behind the iconic Cabaret), Chicago is fresher, funnier and fiercer than ever. 25 years after its revival swept the Tonys, and nearly 50 since it first premiered on Broadway, the show’s satire of law, politics and the press could hardly be more relevant: after all, what’s the difference between a theatre and a courtroom when showmanship, not integrity, is the order of the day? Even when the actors are playing judges and reporters, they’re wearing mesh, fishnets, and leather: justice is showbiz, darling, and you’d better pray for an encore. Chicago is self-consciously theatrical, drawing attention to its own artifice: a gilt frame encloses the stage, but the set itself has no frills and few props: its simplicity spotlights the performances instead of the staging.

‘We Both Reached for the Gun’: Billy Flynn (Lee Mead) puppeteers Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) through a press conference

And what performances! Faye Brookes brings lashings of wit and charm to Roxie Hart: one part hapless crim, one part ruthless dame. Brookes is a hilarious and vibrant stage presence, particularly when pitted against Djalenga Scott as Velma Kelly, whose stylish swagger makes for an effective foil to Brookes’ wide-eyed ebullience; their ‘Hot Honey Rag’ duet is a veritable dance masterclass.

‘The name on everybody’s lips is gonna be “Roxie”‘: Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) and her ‘boys’

There are excellent supporting performances by X Factor finalist Brenda Edwards as the sultry Matron ‘Mama’ Morton, Jamie Baughan as Roxie’s hangdog husband Amos and B.E. Wong as big-hearted but gullible journo Mary Sunshine. Meanwhile, Lee Mead as Billy Flynn really does give the audience the ol’ ‘Razzle Dazzle’, and Scott’s sensational rendition of ‘All That Jazz’ brings the house down by the time the show’s barely started. But the Cell Block Tango might just be the standout: by the final chorus, you’ll really believe ‘he had it coming!’

A chain-smoking tap-dance

The incredibly intricate dancing is executed with effortless precision, with every Fosse finger snap and hip roll present and accounted for. The ensemble is on top form as is the superb live band, directed by Andrew Hilton, who are seated onstage in striking, asymmetric tiers. You won’t find better singing, dancing or live music this side of the ‘20s: the cast prove once again why Chicago is still one of the best musicals around. If you love the Oscar-winning movie, you’ll be in your element; if you’re new to the medium, then you’re starting out with the best. Stylish, sexy and spectacular, Chicago is all that jazz and then some – it’s the most fun you can have without breaking the law!

‘I Can’t Do it Alone’: Velma Kelly (Djalenga Scott) and Roxie Hart (Faye Brookes) take their criminally-good show on the road

Chicago is playing at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 25 June

Review by
Barbara Hughes-Moore

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Dance Artists working in collaboration, The CanDo Hub and National Dance Company Wales.

Sam Nicholson

Hi Sam, great to meet you, can you give our readers some background information on yourself please?

Hi of course, I’m Sam Nicholson, I’m a dance teacher and fitness instructor down in Swansea. I have the pleasure of teaching lots of age ranges and abilities but I’m also the programme director for CanDo Hub where I get to work with 20 talented dancers with learning disabilities in our training provision.

I’m a Makaton tutor and I also work with lots of dance teachers and fitness instructors upskilling them in Additional Learning Needs.

What got you interested in dance and the arts?

I’ve danced since I was three so I’ve grown up with dance and the arts, it’s always been a part of my life and I don’t think I can see a time when it’s not going to be. I love how free it can make you, and through dance I’ve been taught so much.

You run the CanDo Hub which is for Adults with Additional Leaning Needs. You run group exercise and dance fitness opportunities, classes and day provision for adults with ALN, as well as CPD training for professionals. Can you tell us more about the group?

I set up CanDo Hub initially to provide dance and group exercise opportunities to individuals with ALN and their families. This quickly grew and a need for more specialised training became apparent – hence the start of our training provision.

Our training provision is made up of 20 talented individuals who all have Additional Learning Needs. It’s centred around giving and encouraging members to have a voice. Our teams decide their learning topics, what genre of art they want to focus on and so on. We very rarely say ‘oh no, you can’t do that’, its about finding a way to make their goals achievable and accessible. We work as a collective respecting each other and we get the best possible outcomes due to it.

The group have recently been working with Rebecca Edwards the National Dance Company Wales, Dance Ambassador for the Talesin in Swansea. How did you come to work together?

We were very lucky that Karen Thomas, Company Manager from NDCWales got in touch with us wanting to know more about our team, that lead to a meeting with NDCWales, Engagement Producer Guy O’Donnell, who put us in touch with our local Dance Ambassador. Rebecca has been fabulous and our team have really enjoyed working with her. Rebecca respects every one of them as dancers and has given them scope to add their own bits of choreography into the piece as well as expanding their knowledge and abilities. This was some of our dancers first experience of contemporary dance and they have really grown in terms of ability and confidence since working with her.

Your group performed a Curtain Raiser at The Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea prior to National Dance Company Wales performance on the main stage. That must have been a nerve-wracking moment for the group!

They really enjoyed being part of the curtain raiser, there were a lot of nerves and excitement leading up to the piece, the performance included two teams who had rehearsed separately, the first time they rehearsed all together was 45 minutes before the performance so that was incredibly nerve wracking, hoping that that the strategies we had put in place to rehearse spacing would work! Thankfully it did and we were very proud of how our dancers performed. More importantly, the dancers themselves were very proud of themselves.

The CanDo Hub group prior to performing their Curtain Raiser

You created some visual resources prior to the performance by NDCWales for the CanDo Hub, how do these support access to an understanding of Contemporary Dance for your group members?

Visual resources are so important for our teams, it helps consolidate knowledge and helps understanding. Prior to attending, we had watched the trailers for each piece and discussed what we thought each piece was going to be like.

Then during the performances each dancer was given visual worksheet on questions regarding each performance. This really helped our dancers focus their attention on different aspects of the performance.  From set, props, costume and music, to movements and symbolism behind each piece.

The responses were great and lead to lots of discussion after the performance. Some of our dancers picked up on symbolism that for many would remain hidden. E.g Codi, one of our dancers saw within the first minutes of the piece that the flag used was to symbolise death. This worksheet was really helpful to refer back to when they were reviewing the pieces afterwards.

Codi Choreographed by Anthony Matsena Performed by NDCWales.

Contemporary dance is often abstract so there’s this common myth that someone with an Additional Learning Need wont ‘get it’, however if we as professionals provide the support in order to focus attention on certain aspects of each performance the results are often fascinating. 

We believe some of your group have reviewed the performance? What did they think?

Yes! They loved all three pieces. I was expecting them to all decide as a collective on what was the overall favourite but this led to a debate with no overall favourite chosen. What was interesting was that our dancers all had valid reasons as to why their chosen piece was their favourite overall, and there was a lot of symbolism that they understood.

They loved the spoken word section of Wild Thoughts using different speeds of movement. In Codi they enjoyed the prop work with the stick and the rhythm section comprised of clapping and stamping. In Ludo, they like how fun the piece was and the hopscotch lighting effect section.

We share a selection of quotes from the groups reviews below

“My favourite bit was the blood pumping and jumps. The dance was about mining. The red flag was blood and they waved it when people died. The music was loud. It was my favourite piece.”   Nia talking about Codi

“The music was loud and sharp. The dance made me feel jump scared but I was ok. My favourite dance moves were the dying moves and the stick work” Matthew talking about Codi

“I liked it when she turned the horn and scarf into a ship – it was funny!”  – Ross talking about his favourite part in Ludo.

“The hopscotch was fab. I liked the jumps and lifts. It made me feel happy.” Joanne talking about her favourite part in  Ludo.

“I liked it when they worked together as a team. I liked their floorwork and ballet moves. It was amazing”   Sara talking about Wild Thoughts.

“My favourite move was when everyone walked saying ‘foot foot foot foot.’ I liked the lifts too”  Clare talking about Wild thoughts.

If you were able to fund an area of the arts in Wales what would this be and why?

More opportunities for learning disabled dancers and learning disabled dance companies. As a sector we need to understand that we as professionals can learn a lot from learning disabled dancers and not put limits on their potential which quite often we are all guilty of.

What excites you about the arts in Wales?

 It’s great to see how the arts is growing and reaching all different ages, backgrounds and abilities. It’s exciting to see new collaborations and relationships starting to be made that will hopefully grow providing more opportunities for everyone in our sector.

What was the last really great thing that you experienced that you would like to share with our readers? 

The last thing I wanted to say was thank you to NDCWales!  Our dancers felt valued and respected by the NDCW dance leaders and company and we really hope we get to work with them again.  

You can find our more about The CanDo Hub here.