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Production

Harlem Hot Shots

Company

The Harlem Hot Shots & Jitterbugs Swingapore

Reviewer

Stephanie Burridge

Date

26/02/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

The University Cultural Centre Theatre

Rating

Unrated

Swingshot

What is a Swedish group with a name like the Harlem Hot Shots that performs American swing period dances doing in Singapore? This eccentric mix underpins the quirky and distinctive character of this dance company that limits itself to performing exclusively within the swing period famous for tap dancing, cakewalks, the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. With a great deal of wit, humour and dancing skill they delivered a show that not only informed and entertained the packed audience of enthusiasts but left them wanting more. After standing ovations and encores, the troupe were on the job in the foyer to pass on the basics of the Lindy Hop to members of the audience. Hard working hoofers indeed.

The show escaped being a standard variety act merely going through the paces of the 20s and 30s dances by using several clever theatrical devices. For example, the dancers themselves introduced each performance with self-deprecating humour, and this was at times a highlight in itself. Who could resist listening to a man speaking about the next dance wearing only the top half of his suit with a green frog protruding from his pocket? The other star of the show was no doubt the archive film footage of the original dances that was constantly projected behind the dancers – this gave the narrative, history, context and a visual backdrop to the performance. It showed stars from the 1920s and 30s, including Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Buck and Bubbles, and Earl "Snake Hips" Tucker – these stars set the style that the Hot Shots aspired to onstage.

The dancers were extremely competent in the styles they performed and delivered a high-energy performance – although their skills would not necessarily cross over to other forms of dance. The ladies in particular epitomised the look of this era. They recreated this look through careful attention to costume, make-up and the way they used the body, emphasising loose body movements with an emphasis on earthy athleticism rather than the ethereal grace of a ballerina. It was a time when Busby Berkeley famously said "a pair of legs and a pretty face" was all a girl needed to get into one of his shows. And, appropriately enough, Fatima Teffahi recreated the famous solo by Ruby Keeler from the Berkeley movie 42nd Street, giving it the original "gawky" quality that made Keeler a star.

The Harlem Hot Shots succeed because of their adherence to a clear artistic vision and the authenticity of their material. They research all of the dances they perform, and recreate them by seeking out film footage of the original performers of the era. At times the projected footage is danced step-for-step below on stage, and this worked well whenever the movement was relatively simple. It was a less successful device when trying to emulate the extraordinary movement and charismatic quality of Josephine Baker and the exemplary tap style of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, for example.

As the Hot Shots dancers explained, the tap style they were using had the simplicity of the era, but their insistence on that simplicity led to a problem in the overall production. In a modern world where dancers learn many styles, the Hot Shots dancers' lack of a wider dance technique showed. Also, their taking such "snapshot views" may be an injustice to the era and to dancers like Robinson and Baker whose unique qualities as performing artists would be recognised in any age: their dancing was versatile and not simply about dance steps; it embodied a unique ability to improvise, to entertain and to communicate through the body.

The group wound up the evening with an exciting, show-stopping Lindy Hop with high throws and good energy. It capped off a most interesting and entertaining evening of dance that also posed intriguing questions about authenticity, recreation and context for dance.

Dr Stephanie Burridge is a choreographer, dance critic, researcher and writer. She has been the Artistic Director of Canberra Dance Theatre (Australia), senior lecturer in Performing Arts at LASALLE-SIA, dance critic for the Business Times, and author of numerous papers on dance, education and creativity.


"A most interesting and entertaining evening of dance that also posed intriguing questions about authenticity, recreation and context for dance"

Credits

Performers: Fatima Teffahi, Mattias Lundmark, Frida Segerdahl, Lennart Westerlund, Åse Palm, Daniel Heedman, Jenny Deurell and Sakarias Larsson

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.