Monday, July 10, 2006

REVIEW: Queen at the Ballet

Well, it’s not quite as camp as you might imagine. Then again, you might easily have imagined that the Cape Town Ballet dancing to the music of Freddy Mercury might be as camp as a camping site on Mount Camp to which only members of the Camp family are ever admitted, and then only when dressed in nothing but a velvet and ermine robe. Falling short by that measure was always more than an outside chance.

Queen at the Ballet, the creation of choreographer, Sean Bovim, premiered in Cape Town several years ago and has been having regular seasons there ever since. It is – in African ballet terns – a big hit. Bovim’s recipe is certainly interesting enough, with the swooning theatricality of Mercury’s music almost demanding an energetic choreographic response. In Queen at the Ballet it gets that, but misses out on a degree of finesse that might also, oddly enough, have made it more enjoyably camp.

For the show, Mercury’s vocals are shared between two singers (helpful in reproducing some of the inhuman studio trickery that crops up in Queen records) while an electric guitar-assisted orchestra provides backing. As they march through the greatest hits, the dancers mix up the solos, the odd romantic pas de deux and plenty of big corps de ballet numbers, mashing together ballet and contemporary shapes, rocky poses and a touch of opera (Barcelona, as you might expect, gets a lavish treatment).

The music is almost always enjoyable, but the lines in the dancing are occasionally a little rough, with synchronisation somewhat intermittent. While the company has some good soloists, ability overall appeared unexpectedly mixed.

A giant radio wheeled on for Radio Ga-Ga, and a tamdem which appeared for Bicycle Race were, thankfully, two rare lurches into over-literalism. Everything worked best when the dancing moved – as it usually did – in abstract, parallel to Mercury’s very descriptive lyrics. And if sections of the choreography for Bohemian Rhapsody seemed to owe as much to Wayne’s World as to the world of ballet, that certainly kept things lively.


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