Director and Choreographer: Gareth Walker
Last year’s series of Strictly Come Dancing, its eighteenth, was recorded under the most trying of circumstances, with ever-changing rules on public assembly meaning that most of its episodes had a minimal studio audience.
And while the quality of the dances seemed to be unaffected, there is little doubt that the professional performers feed off the energy that a live audience can give. So it’s pleasing that, as audiences are able to return to theatres, there is a Strictly-infused dance show to give some of the professionals a chance to shine once again.
As the name of the show suggests, Here Come the Boys concentrates on the male pro dancers. Current Strictly professionals Graziano di Prima and Aljaž Škorjanec are joined by former stars Pasha Kovalev and Robin Windsor for a trip through the Latin and Ballroom repertoire, with plenty of street dance thrown in for good measure.
TV presenter Karim Zeroual, a runner up in the 2019 series, hosts the evening with relentless energy, alternating between MC duties and dancing with the same determination and gusto that earned him his fans during his time on the competition. True, even when dancing with backup dancers George Michealides and Mick Scott, it is a little obvious who are the professionals and who is the highly gifted amateur, but there is something infectiously winning about Zeroual’s relentless drive nonetheless.
But it is the four main dancers – and the principal female, fellow Strictly alumna Nadiya Bychkova – whose moves rightly dominate. The show progresses through various different genres, some set up as “battles” where each of the men, along with their regular partners for the show, attempt to one-up each other in a particular dance style, from jive to rhumba. While set up with a “random” wheel (which miraculously chooses dance styles in the order in which they appear in the glossy programme), the dances are as entertaining as they are unsurprising. The biggest shock about the routines is when, in one Latin sequence, the normally bare-chested di Prima seems to finally understand how shirt buttons work.
Windsor, who retired from performing two years ago, professes how much he is enjoying his comeback, and certainly his trademark exuberance tallies with the renewed pleasure he says he has found in dance. In comparison, Kovalev’s usual boyish exuberance seems disappointingly muted.
Both are outshone by their male castmates, though. Di Prima and his partner Giada Lini perform lifts and spins as if Lini were truly weightless, each one as thrilling as the last. And whether Bychkova is dancing solo or partnering Škorjanec, she brings an elegance and precision that is a joy to watch.
It cannot be denied, though, that Škorjanec is the star of the show. For others, the size of the Palladium stage dwarfs them: for him, the sheer force of his personality makes it feel like a postage stamp. Škorjanec’s dance performances are so full of confident precision that the performer has no trouble adding flourishes and flirtatious winks to the audience.
Dancewise, Škorjanec excels in the ballroom repertoire, so it is perhaps disappointing that half of the Strictly disciplines are relegated to a single segment of the show, leaving Latin and hip-hop dancing to dominate.
And while Zeroual’s hosting duties involve numerous mentions of the reopening of theatres and how everyone is happy to be back, Škorjanec builds on that theme. Returning to live performance is a battle won, indeed; but, he notes, the last year has been one of battles lost, with performers and technicians unable to work, and their freelance work not qualifying them for the same level of furlough assistance as salaried workers.
It is a salient point, that sitting in auditoria watching dancers on stage does not eliminate all the problems the industry has faced over the last eighteen months. But it is an effective salve, and an important step on the path to healing. Here Come the Boys may not be perfect, but it is good fun. And we’ve needed that.
Continues until June 9, then tours