Stage Review: Speakeasy by Southpaw Dance Company @ Dance City (18.03.22) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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A dance enthusiast’s dream and a nostalgic tribute to the golden era of Hollywood, Southpaw Dance Company’s Speakeasy is a rousing rhapsody whose exuberance is infectious.

The energised and enthused audience were literally swept off their feet by this visually intoxicating interpretation of Christopher Marlowe’s 16th Century morality play, Doctor Faustus. The famous fable follows Faust’s decadent and depraved descent into hell as his disillusionment with mankind’s possibilities lead him to the dark art of magic.

Dressed in Naomi Daley’s costume creations that would not look out of place on a Peaky Blinder’s set, a fleetfooted cast of six skilful dancers deliver a masterful fusion of swing, lindy hop and charleston alongside contemporary, ballet, jazz, hip hop and break dancing.

Southpaw Dance Company’s trademark strong, physical movement vocabulary demands its dancers to lip-sync to a vocal soundtrack and visual backdrop that proves not only effective but mesmeric and intensely hypnotic.

Packed full of toe-tapping tunes so synonymous with the swing era, from Count Basie to Cole Porter, director Robby Graham also chooses to include more recent inspiration such as Tom Waits’ guttural sound and a frenzied nod to film composer Clint Mansell.

Southpaw pushes the boundaries with an ingenious and dazzling use of projected mapping so a special mention must be made of lighting designer John Rainsforth, Italian TouchDesigner developer, Davide Santini for his projection mapping in collaboration with Newcastle based video design specialists Novak, as well as Germany’s interactive video designer, Frieder Weiss and AV programmer for interactive visual arts applications, Matthias Hartig. Consequently, Speakeasy is an animated coruscating kaleidoscope of colours.

At a post-show talk, Graham said: “This is a very ambitious piece of work created here in the North East but designed to go anywhere. I am very proud of what we have created and I think we have discovered something pretty special that I want to hold on to.”

Speaking of special, it is hard to take your eyes off Marta Swierczynska’s Mephistopheles whose sultry and alluring performance certainly surpasses the expectation anticipated from this being her first ever professional contract.

Marta said: “The vocal soundtrack and lip-syncing did not hinder me. It helped me feel loose to explore and I mouthed the words as doing so helped me express myself.” The results are emphatically entrancing.

Dzikamai Wilson Mudamburi’s virtuosity is evidenced in his distinctive delivery of an all-absorbing portrayal of Lucifer. He graduated from Dance City in 2021 with a Master of Arts in Dance Performance and transfixed the audience throughout with his riveting rendition and humour infused animated aura. Mudamburi states his aim is to use his talent to bring joy and he certainly succeeded with this assured and persuasive performance.

Long Ago and Far Away Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin’s haunting melody was used alongside trick photography in Columbia Pictures’ 1944 movie Cover Girl so that Gene Kelly could dance with his own ghostly reflection.

Thanks to further technological advancements, Christian Paul as Faust skilfully achieves such a feat live on stage with his slick and nimble dance moves. His freestyle vibrancy hones his agile contemporary and hoppin’ skills into a polished performance.

Despite warnings from the demon, Mephistopheles, Faust trades his soul to the Devil and is lured into the hedonistic world of prohibition bars littered with the excesses of lust, gambling and the demon drink itself. Thus, his demise is doomed from the outset.

However, in director Robby Graham’s enthralling adaptation it is good that triumphs over evil. The main characters are ably assisted throughout by their fellow dancers including Gavin Vincent whose edgy and powerful breakdancing skills are highlighted within this performance to the delight of the audience. His years of experience from London’s Zoonation, The Soul Mavericks and the Royal Academy of Dance are utilised to great effect.

The cast’s solid and fast-paced tandem turns, rock steps and swivelling Susie Q’s interspersed with their charleston swingouts certainly make for an invigorating expression against the scintillating soundtrack of swing music.

Opening to a rapturous round of applause, Southpaw’s irreproachable artistry ensure its ascendancy to success. The devil really is in the detail.

The production returns to the region at The Fire Station in Sunderland on Friday 8th April.

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