Review: The rhythms of Gershwin relished

Strictly Gershwin London Coliseum ****

Derek Deane’s production of Strictly Gershwin for the English National Ballet was originally created in the round at the Royal Albert Hall but it transfers extremely well to the large proscenium stage at the Coliseum.

This is a crowd-pleasing work if ever there was one: Gershwin’s iconic music of the 20s and 30s plus varying forms of dance – ballet, jazz and tap. How could it miss? It could miss, of course, with a lesser choreographer but Deane is an accomplished practitioner who manages the fusion of different styles with seamless ease.

Success depends, however, on presentation and the ENB dancers, from principals to corps, perform not only with verve and panache but a palpable sense of enjoyment. What is surprising is how well the vocabulary of classical ballet transfers into the syncopated rhythms of Gershwin’s music.

All the company principals dance with exhilarating energy and elan with Shiori Kase and Vadim Muntagirov setting the standard in the opening Overture for the rest to follow. Erina Takahashi and Zdenik Konvalina epitomise the bluesy romance of Someone To Watch Over Me and later take the leads in Rhapsody In Blue which opens the second half, sustaining the long jazzy blues of the piece with admirable style and precision, Jonathan Scott the accomplished pianist.


Another dancer who elevates the evening with his stage presence, fluent dancing and astonishing stamina in another big set piece is Estaban Berlanga in the An American In Paris sequence. Anais Chalendard is the elusive girl he pursues in and out of the Parisian crowd of soldiers, sailors, nursemaids, cyclists and artists. In the second half, Berlanga further reveals his talents in a slick and sexy tango set to It Ain’t Necessarily So with Tamarin Scott his equally sinuous and sensuous partner.

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Daria Klimentova with Muntagirov bring a change of pace and languorous expressiveness to the Summertime ballad from the opera Porgy And Bess and Douglas Mills and Paul Robinson add percussive rhythm with their tap routines to Fascinatin’ Rhythm and Strike Up The Band.

The band is the ENB’s own orchestra enhanced with the addition of brilliant jazz musicians with lead trumpet, trombone, saxaphones and rhythm section directed by the flamboyant Gareth Valentine.

My only niggling criticism of this immensely enjoyable production is of the distracting projections over the on-stage orchestra. Pictures of Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich et al have nothing to do with Gershwin or dance and destroy the focus of what is happening on stage. Otherwise this is a glittering, glamorous antidote to dark winter nights.

Until Sunday (January 15).