Review: Opera Come Strictly, Aylesbury Waterside

Opera Come Strictly, which performed at Aylesbury Waterside on Saturday evening, does at least do what it says on the tin. It is an evening of operatic arias, some of which are accompanied by ballroom dancing. And as such, it’s perfectly serviceable. The 15-piece orchestra, playing arrangements by musical director Stephen Higgins, give accomplished renditions that form a solid backbone to the evening.

There are, however, some severe shortcomings which prevent this from being as enjoyable an evening as it could be.

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Burn the Floor, Shaftesbury Theatre

Since it brought ballroom dancing back to Saturday night telly, Strictly Come Dancing has taken many a celebrity and attempted to get them to learn to dance. And while that education process has always been an enthralling watch in itself, I have always thought that the exhibition dances from the professionals were a much more exciting form of entertainment.

Strictly has produced its own live shows, of course, but the public appetite for ballroom dancing is extending beyond the BBC’s own brand. Burn the Floor, which is returning to the West End for a limited run, capitalises on the appetite for Strictly spin-offs by headlining Brian Fortuna and his 2009 celebrity dance partner, Ali Bastian.

While it’s an understandable stance in terms of marketing the show, anybody who turns up expecting this to be the Ali and Brian show are in for a surprise. Bastian & Fortuna pop up infrequently, allowing instead the troupe of highly trained, foot perfect professionals from around the world to exhibit some blistering displays of dancing prowess.

There’s a relaxed attitude from the off, as two of the dancers engage in some light flirting with the front row of the stalls before jokily demonstrating that cameras and phones are not acceptable. Throughout, the action frequently moves offstage and into the aisles of the stalls. At one point, one of the male dancers manages to perform a spectacular somersault from the stage into the central aisle with hair-raising precision.

Most of the repertoire focusses on the more showy, Latin dances in the ballroom repertoire. By comparison, the elegance of performing beautiful waltzes in full evening dress feels out of place in a show that’s a lot less buttoned-up (quite literally — in the first act especially, it seems the male dancers are either topless or wearing unbuttoned shirts for most of the time).

It’s during the ballroom sequence that Ali Bastian and Brian Fortuna make one of their brief appearances. It does serve to highlight that although Bastian achieved a high standard of dance compared with her fellow celebrities, she has still some way to go if she ever hopes to reach the quality of performance of the professionals with which she shares a stage.

That said, her performances in Act II are excellent. Unlike her Strictly Come Dancing, where she showed an aptitude for the ballroom disciplines and struggled with Latin dances, here it’s the other way around — during the high octane party dances, she shimmies, cha chas and Charlestons like she was born to it. It’s still obvious that, of all the performers on stage, she is the one who has been dancing for less than a year, but with the standard of those around her it’s completely understandable.

At a little under two hours including an interval, Burn the Floor runs much longer than Tap Dogs, which I saw a couple of weeks ago. But with a greater variety of dances, far better music (including some superb live vocals from Ricky Rojas), the evening flies by.

I attended the July 21 opening performance with complimentary tickets provided by Burn the Floor’s marketing agency, AKA. Official press night is Monday, July 26.

Anton & Erin – Cheek to Cheek, London Coliseum

Audiences new to the world of ballroom dancing thanks to the success of Strictly Come Dancing are comfortably catered for by this show, devised by two of the series’ professional dancers.

Stars Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag have been dancing together for more than 12 years, serving for half that time on the BBC show. This live spectacular plays to their strengths as defined on television. In Du Beke’s case, that means he is often more comfortable exchanging a nod and a wink with the audience than he is engaging with Boag, whose flowing lines and sure-footedness present a much more traditional view of ballroom.

With the principals’ expertise in the ballroom discipline on display throughout, the Latin dances in the repertoire are showcased more effectively by Chris Marques and Jaclyn Spencer, who add real heat to Du Beke and Boag’s warmth. All four dancers, along with a highly impressive ensemble, perform in front of the mighty big band sound of the London Concert Orchestra, with some songs also benefitting from a fine vocal performance from Richard Shelton.

Unfortunately, some of Shelton’s solo spots do sap the whole evening of its momentum somewhat. Any dance show which builds in breaks for a sung number takes a risk and Shelton struggles to make his presence felt while alone upstage under the Coliseum’s enormous proscenium. He works much better when performing alongside the dancers, but the net effect is a first act which feels choppy.

Thankfully, the pacing of the post-interval repertoire is much improved, with Marques’ and Spencer’s salsa to Take Five marking the point at which the show moves from very good to superb, with a tango arrangement of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana song cycle a particular highlight, Du Beke’s obvious struggles with some ambitious lifts notwithstanding.

* _Reviewed for [The Stage](

**London Coliseum**, April 22-26
**Producers:** Askonas Holt, Raymond Gubbay and Sadler’s Wells
**Cast & choreographers:** Anton du Beke, Erin Boag, Chris Marques, Jaclyn Spencer
**Director:** Alan Harding

And the BAFTA for Best Supporting Programme goes to…

I can’t believe that [Strictly Come Dancing]( hasn’t been setting the blogging world alight. It’s one of those love-it-or-hate-it shows that denies people the opportunity of ambivalence. I have to admit that, in the last couple of weeks, it’s promoted itself to “unmissable” in our household.

Whether it’s the public’s unfailing saving of Chris Parker despite his being by far the weakest dancer, or the rumoured (and occasionally hinted at on screen) rivalry between some of the female celebrity contestants, there’s always been something worth tuning in for. And recently, the quality of the dancing has jumped to new levels — just brilliant. Even Parker, normally content to play the fool and ride on public sympathy, actually put in the effort this week and produced two competent, if not particularly professional, dances. If only he’d given that commitment at the start of the series, he’d have deserved his place in the final.

And as for Strictly Come Dancing on THREE – if BAFTA decided to create an award for Best Supporting Programme on a Digital Channel, SCDOT has taken the BBLB format and kicked it up a gear. I hated Justin Lee Collins when I first heard him on [Xfm]( — mainly because he had four hours on a Saturday afternoon talking about women’s “norks” when Kevin Greening only had two (with, thankfully, norks not being the subject of his shows). Now, though, I love him. He may be the bastard child of Silent Bob and Jennifer Aniston, but that doesn’t stop him from being one of the most watchable presenters on British television at the moment. Tonight’s samba with Paul ‘Killer’ Killick had me in sheer hysterics, topped only by JLC’s attempt to conduct an interview immediately afterwards while still hyperventilating.

SCDOT’s weekday shows, which I normally miss due to my commuting tendencies, will be hitting the Sky+ box in this, its final week. Next week’s final on BBC1 should prove unmissable…