Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
Tuesday 7th September 2010
Though I was apprehensive about a show based on the theme of Shoes, I must admit that watching the promotional video on the Sadler's Wells website and hearing the opening number lyrics “if you don't like shoes, this is going to be a very long evening”, made me laugh and therefore decide to go and watch it.
The concept for the show is simple. Shoes. The realisation for such project has not been so simple: eighteen months, five choreographers to shape the musical numbers, composer and lyricist, designers... and shoes, many shoes...
The programme states on different sections that the original meeting between composer Richard Thomas and Alistair Spalding, director of Sadler's Wells, took 15 minutes, after which time, the show started taking shape. In fact, the final result happens to reflect that original meeting somehow. It appears as an afterthought, rather than a coherent work. Though some of the numbers are really funny and some of the ideas are highly interesting to investigate in choreographic terms, there seems to be a superficiality that pervades the show.
The main choreographer for the show is Stephen Mear, well known to the audiences through his work in the West End. He choreographed Mary Poppins with Mathew Bourne and at the moment his Sweet Charity is also in town. Mear delegated some of the work in other well known choreographers so that the show would include variety of styles. The choreographers he chose were Kate Prince, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Aletta Collins and Mark Smith. The stakes were high and one would have thought that influences from each other's work would have made their way into the final piece, but this did not really happen, which was a shame.
Mear's choreography resembled at times Musical Theatre schools shows and did not seek to add anything new to the genre. There was nice tap, but not of the kind that would give stylistic differences to the different shoes it tried to depict.
Kate Prince's numbers were also a bit disappointing, considering this is the woman that created Into the Hoods. Her choreography was subdued and it was not until her last number, that at least some imagination was set loose in depicting a young woman's obsession with trainers. This seemed to guide the choreographer in trying to create some magical kingdom in which trainers came alive and danced on their own.
The most successful choreography for me was that of Cherkaoui, who managed to create a fantastic number within a portrait frame on the horrors of passing down some wedding shoes through the different generations. There was imagination, sarcasm and great use of an enclosed space within the stage to create hilarious scenes of family relations. His depiction of Salvatore Ferragamo's shoes to tarantella's rhythm was also fantastically simple and engaging.
However, and overall, the show at times seemed devoid of any comment other than the brands it advertised. True, some of the clips were hilarious, like having four sheep and a goat presenting Ugg Boots, followed by the figure of Jesus presenting Birkenstocks Sandals. Funny though the numbers were, one could not stop feeling if the brands had actually paid for these and one will find these short items on youtube any time soon.
There seems to be a problem whenever artists try to embark on any kind of comment regarding fashion and brands. One expects some kind of social comment on the stupidity of it all, and yet, once the great names become part of the shows or movies by donating some of their garments or pieces, things seem to follow a different route which has more to do with a PR exercise than artistic endevour.
And even if we leave the artistic endevour apart and we concentrate on the entertainment values, I am not sure I would be willing to pay for a show that acts as a long commercial for the items it is seeking to depict without providing in exchange some kind of antidote in terms of good choreography.
Yes, it was all ironic and highly humorous, but there was no unity, no underlying connection or direction towards some kind of aim. At the end of the show, what do we get? Glimpses of what seems to be an irrational obsession with shoes that does not even ring true with many women. (I commented the show with many women who had no idea who Blahnik, Choo, Birkenstocks, Ferragano, etc were).
Some of the best parts were those in which a dancer would simply cross the stage wearing impossible shoes. My favourite one was the dancer trying to ski through a contemporary dance routine. Perhaps more choreographic invention would have helped the show, rather than having the different numbers quote so literally the music and lyrics.
Do not take me wrong, the show is good entertainment, but once you leave the theatre there is little you remember in terms of what you have seen.
The dancers were fine, but with few exceptions - I would highlight Drew McOnie and Teneisha Bonner-, there was no first class dancing, which again might have hindered the choreographers' intentions. And there was also the problem of shoes... there was little exploration of what different shoes could bring to the different dance numbers. In fact, it seemed the choreography was created before the shoes were overimposed and at times you got the feeling that the dancers were actually struggling to get some tap moves out of Jagger's boots!
An entertaining evening, but one that left you wondering if an overall eye supervising the whole production could have been brought along. As with other Sadler's Wells commissions to well established artists, you get the feeling that each artist presents an idea that may or may not go with the others'. There is never the feeling that the creative team is actually working towards achieving a set and common agenda. Instead you get individualities working to their own abilities, in their own territory, within their limits and without trespassing their aspirations. True collaboration demands more intersection, more daring and definitely more coherence in the discourse that it articulates.