Rock the Ballet, Peacock Theatre, London – review

It is a curious evening. With its yelping publicity – such phrases as “high voltage virtuoso dancers” and “dynamic animated scenery” are the equivalent of the gypsy’s warning – this staging by the American dancer Rasta Thomas proposes The Bad Boys of Dance (and we all have our own candidates for that title) and an encounter between academic dance and rock music. Attended by the eager cries that greet the merest dance step gracing the Peacock’s stage, the event, with its tiresome disco projections and relentlessly loud rock and pop numbers, fails signally to do what its title proposes.

A cast of male dancers, led by the notably agile Thomas, leap, offer the flashier ballet steps in brief bursts, and suffer the irruptions of the only woman in the cast, whose regrettable forte is barefoot scampering, emotion by numbers, and an over-generous desire to dispose herself in attitudes expressive of angst or come-hither eagerness.

The trouble with the show is that its matter is short-breathed, incoherent, trick-orientated, as it responds to two dozen rock and disco recordings. Today’s hip-hop performers, disco addicts, and even contemporary ballet-makers, do the thing much better, with greater verve and panache and, I venture, sense of theatre. The stunning Brazilian performers in the recent Crackz production at Sadler’s Wells; the dazzling Pink Floyd Ballet by Roland Petit (which I saw drive an audience of young people in Beijing into ecstasies); the hip-hop virtuosities we find at Sadler’s Wells every May Day, say more about popular dance’s and ballet’s response to rock than does this predictable collection of energetic clichés straining to seem both classical and modish.

The men fling themselves about the stage in predictable bursts of energy and split-jumps, offer pectorals for the routine eager-screaming admiration that greets any sign of flesh in such events, and register not a single likely emotion other than the rictus more often seen on the faces of the damned in Hieronymus Bosch’s portrayals of Hell. The songs are loud. The design is what you might expect (or fear), and the lighting blatant. The dancers’ academic tricks have a gnat’s life-expectancy, and are as spontaneous as a clock.

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