Flawless and English National Ballet presents Against Time, a collaboration featuring street dance and ballet. “Two worlds collide,” as the tagline for StreetDance 3D put it two years ago, which also featured Flawless, and ballet, and it’s quite a collision considering some similarities.
When seeing ballet one should dress up to suit the occasion. With the razzle dazzle and bright lights of London’s theatreland one would hope for a sensational night out, sipping vintage and sampling caviar. Sadly most of us don’t live that lifestyle – that’s where Flawless and English National Ballet present their classical crossover, or the urban packaging of ballet presented for a mainstream audience, but with lager and crisps available at the bar. The first Against Time show was at Hammersmith Apollo, a music venue, not a theatre. No dress code here. With prices as low as £10 to watch ballet who would want to miss the opportunity to see ballet on a very reasonable budget?
Against Time takes place at the Academy of Excellence, a school where an horologist (a watch maker) played by Christian Alozie (Bounce) turned evil plans to stop time and eliminate dancing forever. Mixing street dance and ballet together with multimedia projections and a basic set with commercial pop music, Against Time was… what it was.
You have to look at it a certain way, especially in my position: Don’t see it as a street dance show, or as a night at the ballet, just see it as ‘a show.’ Touring the UK in concert halls, a vast difference from the plush intimate interiors of theatres, the show presents classical dance to a mass audience. Call this a ballet show and you’ll feel short changed when walking across the beer soaked carpet to take your seat, so for argument’s sake it’s best to place it in the middle.
This collaboration has one of the UK’s best dance crews with one of England’s most prestigious ballet schools. On one side Marlon ‘Swoosh’ Wallen from Flawless choreographed the street, and Jenna Lee of ENB handled the ballet.
Considering the high standard of Flawless that their dancing has improved since their last feature length show. Routines are stronger, formations are better, concepts have become more daring and each of the dancers seems better versed in styles that weren’t their primary discipline. The ballerinas had a good crack at street too benefiting under Wallen’s guidance: They managed tutting (surprisingly the arms worked well creating angles), attempted breaking to a certain degree (the intention was there, the attitude was not), and they didn’t take it too far into the dodgy territory of stiff mannequin popping.
Conversely the English National Ballet could also be likened to to the ‘Flawless equivalent of ballet,’ refined, in time, and to the lay person’s eyes and ears, also work well to the thumping beat of dance music considering the average person isn’t an expert in noting a ballerina’s musicality to classical piano.
But throwing together street and ballet results in a tug of war between Against Time being neither one or the other, not always binding perfectly in the middle. The first half felt street heavy while the second half was more balanced out with tutus and bunches, finally allowing Swarovski some product placement and appeasing the ballet crowd.
Against Time draws obvious parallels between the first Street Dance movie – street dancers thrown together with ballerinas that have a quasi rivalry, cue dance offs and role reversals, light humour and a lot of pretty faces and toned bodies. There’s plenty here to keep the masses entertained, but owing its similarities to a corny teenage movie and timing after the theatrical release of said movie, while it is entertaining it does nothing to push the dance forward.
‘High art,’ as ballet is seen to some, is a preserve of the rich and intelligent upper classes. Does it need to be dumbed down to reach a wider audience? Not at all, so leave in the piano solos and pointe performances.
In knowing that each of the dancers has their own strengths in disciplines outside hip hop dance, to say they can’t all handle ballet lifts, lunges and challenging arm lines as professional male dancers would be patronising to their obvious talents. Technically their turn outs might have been questionable if they did cross over, but if the ballerinas had to learn to tut then why could we not see more classical from the boys? As a result it feels underwhelming to not see more subversions of roles and pushing dancers from both parties to their limits. I’ll raise my hand and say it would have been nice to see a Flawless/ENB contemporary duet in the proceedings.
Either way it’s nice to see so-called ‘high art’ meet street dance again. Royal Opera House had Miss Fortune, and opera with b-boys that was frankly abysmal, included a possibly racist casting call a skewed look at the world from the upper echelons of society. Here everyone looked like they got alone and left their prejudices at the door.
It was all there, from falling in love duet to masquerade ball scene – but because it was all there it felt like it was dont already. The love between a ballet and street dancer was Street Dance 3D in reverse; the masquerade ball scene was Into the Hoods. But they were thrown in for good measure and not to nudge the story along. Against Time took a long time to cut to the chase and seemed extended for the purpose of placing an interval rather than telling a story quicker or to allow for set and costume changes.
Had Against Time stayed true to hip hop by not using pop music the street dance would have more credibility, but we now live in an era where decisions have to make dance ‘accessible to all’ the songs were all predicable choices, a mix of family friendly urban pop songs (except maybe Niggas In Paris, which was appropriately a radio version). The argument being that is if the street dance crowd has to watch ballet to ballet music, why would you not dance street dance to street music in an attempt to culturally cross-pollinatate?
The fact that Against Time is also a crude pun on how the show was pulled together in only a few months is possibly why it shows weakness. Whether it was timed to capitalise off Street Dance 2, which incidentally flopped in the UK box office (read the Street Dance 2 review here), we won’t know, and it remains to be seen how critically acclaimed it will be in the future.
This was no Chase the Dream show. But like Chase the Dream hopefully it will be tightened up in later shows. I feel street dancers will appreciate it – but it won’t massively enlighten their minds. Ballet regulars will foam at the mouth at how their 400 year old art form has been bastardised (because like most ballet afficionados they live in the past with narrow points of view) with a story that seems typically ballet but poorly told, but for the average person, Britain’s Got Talent fan or someone looking for an entertaining evening that isn’t necessarily culturally educative will enjoy this.