Graziano Di Prima: Believe – Peacock Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer and Director: Paul Morrissey

Choreographer: Arduino Bertoncello

It’s become a familiar sight for some of the professionals who perform weekly on Strictly Come Dancing to headline their own tour in the TV series’ down months. These shows typically showcase several of the Ballroom and Latin disciplines the professionals have become known for, providing the same sense of showy variation on competition dances for which the BBC competition has become known.

The latest to join this subgenre of populist dance shows is Graziano Di Prima, a Sicilian-born dancer who joined Strictly in 2018. In the six seasons since, he has competed four times, and although he has yet to reach the finals in the regular series (he won the Christmas special in 2021), he has become a popular member of the professional troupe.

For this tour, entitled Believe: My Life on Stage, Di Prima and his director Paul Morrissey (who also takes writing credits) have chosen to use the dancer’s own life, up to the point where he gets the call to join Strictly, as the narrative spine to their production. That doesn’t provide much material, given that Di Prima joined the show at 24 (and still has to turn 30), but that hardly seems to matter. It is the dance scenes that count, and although this show runs shorter than many of its ilk, the company of eight dancers still packs in many a fun routine.

The sense of fun is evident throughout, from Di Prima recalling getting the dancing bug from watching films like Billy Elliot; a routine in which he switches between the freewheeling Jive of T-Rex’s I Like to Boogie (as featured in the film) and the more traditional waltz tempo of That’s Amore gets across that sense of youthful exuberance before the rigours of competitive dancing kick in.

There is self-doubt and contemplation in there, too. Di Prima’s prerecorded voiceover talks about having been born prematurely as one of twins; his brother did not survive, but Graziano (whose name, understandably, means “grateful”) has felt his presence since. That’s expressed in a beautiful pas de deux to Sarah McLachlan’s Angel, which when combined with Billie Eilish’s What Was I Made For, is the rawest display of emotion in a type of dance show that tends to favour glitz and glamour.

And to be fair, that’s exactly what Believe delivers after that point. After sojourns on the competitive circuit, and scenes depicting Di Prima holding dance classes in Sicily to cover the costs of competing, attention turns to what would turn out to be the first step to fame: the long-running Italian talent show Amici.

This sequence, which mixes stalwart numbers Mambo Italiano and Tu Vuò Fa’L’Americano with a jazzy version of Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love to form a dazzling array of Argentine Tango-based move, also introduces Di Prima to a fleeting glimpse of professional dancer Giada Lini (who performs, playing herself).

The meeting with Lini – to whom Di Prima is now married – triggers a parallel B-plot to the story of the dancer’s ascendancy to fame. An Act II reunion sees Di Prima fabricate a dream sequence in which he proposes, she accepts, and they marry instantly. It’s a frothy, fun sequence that encapsulates the joie de vivre for which Di Prima has become known.

It is a shame that the romance becomes sidelined as Di Prima joins an international tour of Burn the Floor. A series of international vignettes – from the predictable New York, New York to an attempt to give a ballroom glow-up to Psy’s Gangnam Style that should, one hopes, extinguish all memory of Strictly contestant Ed Balls attempting to do the same – ends with Di Prima and Lini reunited at the airport. Given the chemistry between the pair, and both the joy and the spectacular lifts and leaps the two perform when dancing together, Believe would certainly gain from foregrounding their romance even further.

When it comes to emotional storytelling, the show is certainly not lacking. But the strongest moments come not from the dances, but from the videos projected onto the set. As Graziano and his stage family celebrate his joining the pro dancers on Strictly Come Dancing, video messages from his real-life mother and father play out. Their message of love and pride to their son articulates the sense of gratitude that their son is in their lives; it’s a hard heart which could not feel it, too.

The show’s brisk pace may make Believe feel a little slighter than one would like. Such feelings are countered by the sense of intimacy and openness with which Di Prima shares his life, and with choreography by Arduino Bertoncello that delights throughout. As Di Prima continues his professional career beyond the age of 30, there is space for this glitzy autobiographical show to grow with him.

Reviewed on 30 March 2024 and continues to tour until 12 April 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Autobiographical glitz

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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