Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Stars in Our Eyes review


Sadlers Wells, 2pm, 21 April 2014

Last week, I was proud to see my niece Sian has got what it takes to be a professional dancer.

Sian (second from left), as usual making it all look terribly easy.
(Image: Silhouette Stage School)


On Easter Monday I went along to Sadlers Wells theatre to support my teenage niece Sian Websdale in her first dance performance on a London stage. She's a member of the Silhouette Stage School in Lowestoft, founded by Helen Smith, who teaches her pupils Ballet, Tap, Modern, Jazz, Singing and Drama. Sian and the rest of Silhouette's hard work had brought her and the rest of Silhouette to 'The Stars in their Eyes' Easter gala, run by the company Mardi Gras Dance, to showcase the 'leading ladies and leading men of the not too distant future.'

I've seen Sian dance before – though not as often as I'd like – and I was delighted to see how much she's developed. I'm sure I'm a bit old school, but for me dancing isn't just a case knowing the steps and moving in time with everybody else. The best dancers I've seen gracefully express themselves with their whole bodies, from their facial expressions to the way they stand and pause before another dance move. Ms Websdale showed herself to be a natural in understanding this approach, looking composed, professional and, I'm delighted to say, as if she belonged on stage. It's no wonder she's already won a scholarship to another dance school in Ipswich.

OK, I might be a little bit biased, but it seemed to me that Silhouette – as well as Time Step and Greenhall, two other dance schools whose presentations struck me as particularly good – take the following approach: a) begin by teaching the principles of ballet. Once they've got that (and it shows), the pupils have the fundamental skills to diversify into more modern styles; b) when choreographing a dance routine, sit where the audience are going to be and make sure the whole thing works as a unified spectacle for the people who are going to watch it.

Silhouette's first routine, to the song 'Only in My Heart' (I think that's the right title), used every single one of the dancers, from the youngest at 6 years-old up to Sian's age, in an integrated series of notably classical moves and tableaux. Equally good was their routine to Bjork's 'It's Oh So Quiet', a more upbeat, humorous and equally well put together performance. The same was true of Time Step's take on the soundtrack to the recent movie of The Great Gatsby and Greenhall's interpretation of the Peter Pan story.

The finale, with all the dance schools performing together.
(Image: Mardi Gras Dance)
The weaker routines I saw suffered from a lack of coherence and a tendency to concentrate on a few of the obviously more gifted dancers, while the rest had little to do except bounce from foot to foot, yelp of fill in with a quick back flip. It might be the old fogey in me, but these weaknesses were almost exclusively confined to the troupes who taught modern - and by modern I mean 'urban' - dance styles. 'Seven Nation Army' might be the bassiest indie rock song ever, but on this showing it doesn't lend itself that well to being interpreted through dance.

At the end of the gala, all the dance schools crammed on stage to perform to 'Best Night of Our Lives' (written by Cliff Richard's bass player and sung by Cheryl Baker, no less). If not the best, for all of them, including Sian, it was a night they'll remember all their lives, as will all the proud parents, friends and relations in the audience. It's a helluva thing performing on a London stage, and just to be able to get up there and do it at such a young age, with such obvious joy and enthusiasm, is a landmark moment in anyone's life.

I never got the chance to congratulate Sian afterwards as I lost her in the general, agitated crush afterwards to get on the Lowestoft bus and away - more than understandable, as she'd arrived in London at 9 o'clock. She's at that age, I think, where she doesn't do conspicuous displays of affection from old (and obviously boring) adults, so I'll conclude by saying what I would have said to her then:

Really well done, Sian. Your uncle, Rachel – hell, everyone! – is so very proud of you.

For more information on Mardi Gras Dance:

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