Show Dance: Misplaced

A French troupe performing at the Main Hall of the Cairo Opera House did not give 2011 the best of starts in a forgiving venue

Published on Thursday 6 Jan 2011 in Ahram Online and Al Ahram Weekly

Artistic fulfillment depends on many factors: a specific cultural landscape shared by performers and audience, said performers’ experience and skill… Likewise, the venue at which a performance is held can seriously disappoint the audience’s expectations.

No doubt the Cairo Opera House is the most prestigious location for artists performing in Egypt. Accordingly it is there that the audience – including critics – expect to attend the most refined events. In 2010 many, perhaps most events held there deserved such pride of place, but some – being not entirely top notch in terms of what one expects of opera house performances – would have done better in venues other than the main and Small Hall.

Such was the case with Show Dance – France, performed at the Cairo Opera House Main Hall between 3 and 9 January. A heavily publicized show, Show Dance, fell pray to its choice of venue. As in Take the Floow (2009) and the Rat Pack Tribute show, the French troupe of dancers presented a variety of Western music: “Bamboleo” by the Gipsy Kings, “Sex Bomb” by Tom Jones, “Coming Back to Me” by Celine Dion, “My Baby Just Cares for Me” by Nina Simone… The program included songs spanning the 1950s to 2000s.

Yet the troupe remains more or less unknown. Marc Barbieri, the choreographer and director of Show Dance, created the show a few years ago in collaboration with Agnes Morin. A handful pairs of dancers had since joined the show, between 2006 and 2009; the troupe now performing consisted of five pairs with experience in ballroom dance.

Troupe members come from Marseille, France. “Some of them are dance teachers,” Albert Peirat, the technical manager stated. Even though the dancers’ biographies feature major achievements at prestigious competitions, no such achievement or competition is cited by name. “Marc Barbieri and his wife Agnes Morin are surrounded by 8 dancers very energetic” is all it says. Peirat added that the troupe does not have a fixed home in Marseille, and the dancers perform in a variety of locations.

Such lack of information is among the main drawbacks of the show. The mixing and matching of well-known music, what is more, could have given the troupe the chance to present an interesting collage of different dance styles. Instead the dancers’ obvious ballroom background echoed throughout; it was convenient in some numbers, like “Samba Brazil”, but destroyed others, notably the Michael Jackson moves in “Smooth Criminal”. Michael Jackson’s choreography impresses dancers and non-dancers alike; the Show Dance version was a terrible disappointment by comparison.

Another number, “Les Danseurs de Tango”, lacked passion. The energy intrinsic to tango – sharp and soft movements, unexpected turns – was replaced by a series of incomprehensible leg kicks to the music. Equally the energy of “El Tango de Roxanne” (remix of The Police’s 1878 “Roxanne” used in Moulin Rouge) was limited to music. Show Dance also included the Elton John hit “Your Song” sung by Evan McGregor in the same; and the journeyinh in time also features an Edith Piaf collage: “Mon Dieu”, “Non, je ne regrette rien” and “Millord” followed by a complete “L’Hymne à l’amour”. They would have had more of a nostalgic effect had they not been lost in the salad of the show. Other numbers included “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner, “Natalie” by G. Becaud, as well as Vanessa Mae’s version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, among many others.

Each song used in the show stands perfectly on its own, yet their combination resulted in cumulative chaos. Marc Barbieri is a very dedicated dancer and his love of stage is obvious in every move. However, how can this be enough to build and artistically fulfilling show? In Barbieri’s basic choreography there is much room for visual stylization and artistic development.

Many details could have been taken care of effortlessly, such as the many uncontrolled movements of the dancers’ hands as well as the constantly breaking the unity between the pairs in group dances. Coralie Anfray and Christophe Licata, who won the vice championship in France in 2009 in Latin dances, are evidently masters of the Latin dance genre.

What made the first evening even more unfortunate was the extremely poor technical side of the show with the recorded music repeatedly cut several times during the performance. On the other hand, interesting scenography with good projections on the backdrop could not make up for serious lighting failures. Hopefully the tropue will deal with such inconveniences in future performances.

Show Dance was not a very successful opening of the 2011 music scene, but many of its shortcomings would have been acceptable in a different venue. With a large number of great performances, the Cairo Opera House is not the place to host a show of such artistic deficiency. Performances such as Show Dance attract a large audience who do not attend opera events regularly and it is important to introduce them to the best so as to develop taste and a sense of artistic judgment. We do not do so with a performance like Show Dance.

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