A welcome alternative to football presented itself on Friday night with the appearance of FLASHMOB – Where Dance Worlds Collide at Oxford’s New Theatre. Fresh from an opening season at London’s Peacock Theatre, and at the start of an intensive nationwide tour of mainly one night stands, this dance show brings together a range of popular dancers known from TV shows: headlined by Kevin “from Grimsby” Clifton and Karen Hauer from BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing, with Irish dancing duo Brosena and lyrical duo Alleviate from Sky’s Got to Dance, versatile street dancer Tommy Franzen (Runner-up in BBC1’s So You Think You Can Dance 2010), and last but not least, street dance ensemble Flawless who came to fame in Britain’s Got Talent 2009.

Choreographer Nick Winston directs, providing ensembles and a narrative thread to frame numbers in a range of dance genres arranged by the featured artists themselves which allow their particular and often spectacular skills to shine. A digital screen and banks of lights across the back of a darkened stage provide a flexibly shifting environment with some indicative furniture; chairs, a bed, a door, barstools, for different scenes which establish the dancers as a group of loosely connected friends. Tweets and texts flash up across the screen summoning us and the dancers to congregate for a flashmob; later it provides a commentary of the subtext of unspoken thoughts as Nicolette Whitley and Renako McDonald of Alleviate come together in a gently flirtatious encounter. The first half tracks their developing relationship through romance, engagement, and tragedy.

The second half has one major narrative section reminiscent of the bar scene from the murder mystery ballet from The Band Wagon; with Hauer as the green sheathed vamp surrounded by Flawless in menacing gangster mode, and Clifton as a brown suited and unwelcome intruder The Man With No Name. Brief spotlit interventions by the inventive Franzen meditating on the meanings of “Flash” and “Mob” provide transitions between a fiery pasodoble and a romantic barefoot rumba by Clifton and Hauer, and two dazzlingly precise showpieces of Irish stepdancing by Brosena with crackling rhythm, and sharp arm gestures to give this traditional form a more contemporary twist. A final solo by Franzen as a “demobbed” soldier, stumbling and conflicted, provided a note of seriousness and sensitivity before all came together for an infectiously lively finale, which eventually had the whole audience on their feet in a dance routine.

Lots to enjoy in this slick, high energy show set to a wide ranging recorded mix of music familiar and unfamiliar, celebrating the power of confident skilful dancers; expert in their diverse styles, but able to come together in fast moving fusion in playful ensemble numbers. Clifton and Hauer are well matched in generous dynamism, sense of fun and commitment; an electrifying moment of simple undulating response in their rumba also revealed a depth of expression which suggested that less might sometimes be more. Flawless in their two contrasted show pieces managed once again to convey both the characterful personalities of individual members of the group and clever, incisively coordinated teamwork. Despite the lithe leaping of McDonald and his strong partnering of fearless Whitley, I was less convinced by Alleviate’s pick and mix dance language, at times too strident and lacking in clarity of line.

This enjoyable entertainment by an engaging company got a rapturous audience response and suggests an interesting commercial alternative to major dance companies. It was good to see a show primarily about dancing, needing no compere, songs or script beyond the flashing of tweeted dialogue to structure or explain its action, its incorporation of different dance genres giving rich variety. At times there was a tension between the impulse to sell it to the audience and the needs of developing a convincing narrative or arresting spatial design; but the show successfully moves beyond its roots in reality and variety television to create a workable theatre format very much of now, with exciting potential to draw in new audiences for live dance performance.

Susie Crow

14th June 2014