Hogwarts Academy of Poppin’ and Pointework

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The youthful audience at Oxford’s New Theatre cheered as the cult street dance group Flawless bounced onto the stage to perform in Against Time, a two-act tale of a students’ quest to foil the demonic Professor’s plan to alter the course of time. Their partners for the evening were a selection of bare-legged ‘schoolgirls’ dressed in pleated navy skirts, ties, crisp white shirts and monogrammed cardies. If it hadn’t been for the pointe shoes they could have stepped straight out of a Harry Potter film set.

Photo by Laurent Liotardo photography

Consciously or not, choreographers Marlon ‘Swoosh’ Wallen of Flawless, and English National Ballet First Artist Jenna Lee, have alluded to many of the features of J K Rowling’s school-is-cool series in this pacy and light-hearted show: the magical hat,  the ancient library, the mystical maze, the towering doors of the great hall with its guttering candles.

Ballet and break dancing have been featured alongside each other before, but what makes this show unusual is the two-act narrative ballet format, fused with a 21st century take on a music hall bill.  Flawless’ heart-pounding acrobatics and English National Ballet’s classical artistry are interspersed with crowd-pleasing comedy: the facebooking jester (Paul ‘Steady’ Steadman), Michael Jackson and Chicago-meets-Strictly dance sequences, and hits from the charts that clearly delighted the audience.

However, Against Time wasn’t just one long party.   Alison McWhinney and Leroy Dias dos Santos were genuinely moving as teenage ‘Pyramus’ & ‘Thisbe’ in the mystical maze. Separated initially by a box hedge, they came together in a supported pas de deux, duetting lyrically with supreme technical finesse, within their own dance disciplines.

Photo by Laurent Liotardo photography

 

Towering over the evening was the Professor himself, a genuinely menacing, huge and muscular, Christian ‘bounce’ Alonzie. Clad in swishing frock-coat and Clockwork Orange bowler he partnered Kerry Birkett at the Masquerade Ball with the sinister allure of Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom, and held the audience in the palm of his white-gloved hand.

Against Time is great entertainment, but is it a ballet/street dance fusion…Flawless had a larky go at the barre, and the English National Ballet girls swapped their pointe shoes for trainers. Street dance and classical ballet both require great strength and musicality, but Hip-Hop is characterized by the sharp articulation of every joint in a jerky, robotic style and classical ballet by seamlessly flowing sequences of graceful shapes. Against Time explores this counterpoint.

Fiona Fraser