Street dance meets classical in dance-obsessed Britain
In case you haven’t noticed, over the last 10 years Britain has gone from being a nation whose dancing skills lagged behind the rest of the world to being one almost obsessed with dance – and quite skilled in its practice. You could even argue that dance is becoming our national art form.
Of course TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing and Britain’s Got Talent have to take much of the credit for massively broadening our interest in dance. But they’ve also helped break down the boundaries between different forms of dance.
If you look at any of the dance-themed TV shows like Strictly, So You Think You Can Dance or Got to Dance, all of them mix different forms of dance – from ballet to contemporary, Latin to ballroom, street dance to tap. As a consequence, the public sees less of a distinction between them. And as access to all different forms of dance is also increasing, with amateurs from all different social backgrounds joining dance clubs or classes, we are beginning to expect professional dancers, like us, to at least attempt to practise various different forms of dance.
Perhaps Against Time is a direct result of this. The show is a collaboration between 10 street-dancers from Britain’s Got Talent finalists Flawless and 10 ballerinas from acclaimed classical ballet company English National Ballet. The show, which embarks on a national tour on 1 June, fuses street dance with ballet. And both parties admit it’s been a huge challenge.
I’ve been along to rehearsals and they seem to be coping well. At first it’s something of a weird novelty to see ballerinas doing street dance and the boys from Flawless practising their pliés and arabesques at the barre. But as rehearsals progressed, I discovered that the fusion of both dance forms works brilliantly. And not just in the major show-stopping group numbers where the clash of cultures is exploited to explosive effect. I also saw a pas de deux between a street dancer and a ballerina, which was soft, tender and very moving.
I spoke to choreographer Arlene Phillips about the difficulties faced by dancers from ENB and Flawless. ”For a classical dancer who trains and works on their turnout, on elongated muscles, on strength and power in order to be able to appear almost totally airborne – it goes against everything in a hip-hop dancer, who is grounded, who is parallel, who has short, strong muscles. For each of them to cross over and train in the other style, really, is a massive amount of work.”
Inter-disciplinary practice is undeniably tough on dancers. But increasingly, professional dancers are being expected to take it on. Just a glance over any of the big west end shows playing at the moment shows that more and more dancers are becoming multi-skilled, all-purpose dancers. Arlene Phillips talked to me about fusing different dance styles in her recent productions of The Wizard of Oz and Flashdance.
Of course, the collaboration between Flawless and ENB is a unique experiment – and one not intended to diminish either group’s skill in their usual form of dance. On the contrary, dancers I spoke to during rehearsal talked about the valuable lessons they’ve learned from the project, which will benefit their work in the future.
But I think it would be a shame to see more and more professional dancers becoming all-rounders. Attempting to adapt to an unfamiliar discipline can often take its toll on a dancer’s body and lead to injury. And excellence in any one area requires focused, exclusive application.
In the meantime, I’ll look forward to seeing the finished version of Against Time. Because from what I’ve seen in rehearsals, it looks like it’s going to be sensational.
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