Shoes: a glamorous show dedicated to women’s footwear, sponsored by a woman’s magazine. It’s definitely not a review you would expect to see on TooMuchFlavour. It’s more high heels than hip hop. But the hook, the big sell, with Shoes is that Zoonation’s Kate Prince was responsible for several routines in the show while reuniting as choreographer with several contestants from this year’s So You Think You Can Dance and one of the dancers from Streetdance 3D. Unexpected, or just defying the far-reaching boundaries of street dance?
Shoes are of galactic importance. This is an indisputable fact known to women everywhere. And at Sadler’s Wells last night there were women everywhere.
We are firmly in the land of musical theatre with this show, director and choreographer Stephen Mear having choreographed female favourites including the recent Menier production of Sweet Charity, Gigi, Hello Dolly, The Witches of Eastwick and Stepping Out and writer and composer Richard Thomas, best known for Jerry Springer The Opera.
The hook for the dancer in street is more subtle – Mears was a choreographer on last year’s So You Think You Can Dance, and two dancers from that series, the bubbly Chloe Campbell and sparkling Drew McOnie are amongst the cast alongside ZooNation’s Teneisha Bonner showcasing Kate Prince’s trademark contemporary hip hop choreography.
The opening number, A Brief History of Shoes, introduces a barefoot chorus of black clad perormers down stage from a band who play for the entire show on a podium behind a gauze, onto which various pairs of shoes are projected. A fine voiced witty quip lets us know “It’s going to be a very long evening,” there is certainly a breathtaking pace to the show that covers so much ground of the complexity of our relationship to footwear.It is no surprise to learn that the production has its own shoemaker and assistant.
Quickly we are launched into Kate Prince’s Sneaker Addict 1. A box fresh pair of Adidas leap out of a box and enchant Teneisha Bonner in Prince’s unmistakeable style. It is a comic piece that expresses the dedication of the sneaker freaker and quite brief, but the programme promises two more parts to follow.
There are also scattered short songs that play on colloquial sayings about shoes, with Richard Thomas’s signature wit the first number concludes that “if you walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes – you’re a thief.” These compliment short dance pieces that play with the balance, weight and momentum of footwear from flippers to clown shoes to waders, all neatly made with quirky humour by Aletta Collins who fittingly has worked across contemporary, musical theatre and opera.
The Psychology of Purchase in the Temple of Retail is contemporary cabaret, with the stage dressed by a fashionistas delight of shoes from Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Rupert Sanderson. Our female dancers celebrate retail therapy in joyous leaps reminiscent of the Rite of Spring, whilst a male counterpoint protests “You don’t need them! Buy something cheaper that looks as good!” The feisty females feint before retorting “He just doesn’t get it!” although this show does explore men’s relationship to shoes with a striking act two number entitled Footish Fetish in which Louboutin’s with their sexy red soles are strapped to dancers faces like masks as a besuited male writhes in bed. A less sexual male perspective comes from Drew McOnie’s delightfully unexpected tap piece Your Mum, a parents admonishment to a 70’s glam-rock platform booted teenager. The second tap number Violently Come Dancing is again unashamedly musical theatre tap with gleeful energy and sequins galore.
The cool, if you were looking for it, comes via Kate Prince in Hush Puppies, a trip-hop accompanied contemporary based tale of a faithless soft shoed lothario. His three lovers centre their movements on their respective beds, capturing the intensity of the magnetic bad boy whom, no matter how he throws them or flings them away, they find difficult to leave. This is where Teneisha Bonner excels, her expressive long limbs reaching out to her lover and body turning in with equal measure of vulnerability and strength.
Prince’s Sneaker Addict 2 is prefaced by The Flip Flop Paradigm with trunks, bathing caps and giant beach ball props bringing shades of Esther Williams to the stage. For the second Sneaker Addict piece the stage is scattered with boxes of brand new kicks, gathered up hungrily by Bonner until she is stopped in awe at a male dancer atop a veritable hill of trainers. The ensuing duet is sweet and Bonner emerges victorious.
Behind the scenes: the making of Shoes
If you didn’t quite get the theme by now Act One closes with Desire: The Brand, a chorus of nuns making it perfectly clear that shoes are indeed a religious experience for many, intoning Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo and Louboutin whilst Mark Smith cleverly choreographed dancers tempt them from their devotions before a crescendo of Vivienne Westwood sends us towards the interval.
“Next time you borrow my shoes I will end you” threatens an angry sister in Act Two’s Vex In The City, a Fosse influenced jazz number that utilizes the giant shoe in the centre of the set and Imelda Argues With The Nation is the number that I double dare Andrew Lloyd Webber to slot into Evita. It all emphasizes the inevitable West End transfer and surely Broadway future of this slick production.
The final Sneaker Addict piece showcases more of Teneisha’s light-footed funk as black clad animators make her shelves of sneaks dance with her in the magical street style audiences enjoyed so much in Prince’s Into The Hoods (click here to read our review of the last run of Into the Hoods). There is plenty more to delight taking in gospel, jigs and skis before we reach the final iconic Red Shoes Breakdown, a glorious combination of pointe shoes, Doc Martins, loafers and more for an all-singing all-dancing feel-good finale that celebrates more than just shoes.
The show, like shoes, is uplifting, artisan, imbued with meaning to those can find it, frivolous to others, detailed and diverse and universally understood on some level at least regardless of personal taste.