Director Paul Hack has chosen a trendy theme for this colourful circus extravaganza and Neil Kagan has given Urdang’s Grade II-listed grand hall a big top feel with swathes of suspended blue and pink fabric.
Urdang aims for each student to appear in at least four numbers, so ensembles predominate, making it hard for individuals to stand out. However, a handful of men have clearly got star quality.
One of these is the charismatic David Olaniyi, who - adorned with feathers, tiny burlesque hat and mirror ball-topped cane -makes the most flamboyant of ringmasters. Sparks fly whenever he appears. Along with Robert Nerantzoulis, as the Jester, he leads the opening charivari-type number, Enter the Circus. With everyone dressed to the nines - sequins, glitter, feathers and frills contrasting with street clothes - they party to music ranging from Christina Aguilera to RuPaul.
On two low platforms, human cannonball Ashley-Jake Trow and strongman Mark Parton perform their own choreography in a fast tap routine, the percussive sounds creating the only music.
Simon Smith, who danced at the Beijing Paralympics, presents Dysfunkstional Human. Again self-choreographed, his solo demonstrates a cool range of moves from popping and locking to handstands and flips, showing why he’s already been scouted by Cirque du Soleil.
Tame the Lion choreographed by Dean Lee - set to Female of the Species Chase and Janet Jackson’s Black Cat - is another clever circus idea, effectively executed under pink and mauve lighting. The girls - their hair messed into huge manes - slink around in black body suits and high heels and turn into sexy felines. Kevin Reddington as the MC has the whip hand.
In James Collins’ self-choreographed solo, Mr Mysterio Psycho, the backing swings from classic circus music to Britney Spears’ Circus. He shows just how fit, flexible and strong he is and exactly why he won last year’s Dirty Dancing: The Time of Your Life on Living TV. Another male student headed for the bright lights.
Highwire - choreographed by Craig Phillips - is one of the most attractive numbers, with Rachel Sweeney, Nikita Mitchell and Alix Muldoon looking lovely in pale tiger-striped bodysuits, orange knickerbockers and little bird masks, all demonstrate great flexibility in their splits.
If I Were a Weapon is another of Hack’s stand-out numbers and involves a troupe of knife-throwing girls, their chic blades sparkling with glitter. The way they flick the knives at their victim, Ender Ozenturk, and hit the target is ingeniously realised.
Alison Earley, as Ragamuffin Girl, beautifully combines ballet and acrobatics in her routine on a gold bent-wood chair, before Join the Circus closes the first half. It is a huge medley - set to music from Barnum - mixing ringmasters, clowns, majorettes and a wonderful brass band with flat cut-out instruments.
After the interval and some brilliant acrobatics from Olaniyi, the circus theme falls slightly away, but it starts with another strong idea in Crazy Carousel. An energetic team of girls - decked out in coloured acrylic tails and little plaited manes - get horsey with Hack’s stylised equine steps and kicks.
Dr Cornelius and His Amazing Automations has another large group of girls in pretty tutus as clockwork dolls who dance to The Tiger Lilies’ version of Send in the Clowns.
Great-looking and personable, Regan Shepherd has real stage presence and must be destined for the top. His barefoot Charlie Chaplin sports a tattered tail suit plus glittery cane and bowler hat. Hack’s routine gives him the chance to show off some amazing head-skimming kicks and elegant leaps.
Sassy and confident Sade Edwards performs Womanizer in a gold bustier, tiny black shorts and feathered head-dress. Lee’s moves - including robotics - show her strong and sexy side.
She is followed by another large ensemble in a well-drilled tap dance piece, the costumes and make-up having an evocative Marcel Marceau look.
Then Shelley Kyne, Steph Furness and Alice Miles strut out from a dry-ice haze for Hat Pop, wearing glittering tailcoats with feathered shoulders, they use their top hats to the max.
The whole company finales while Olaniyi encourages them to ‘be themselves’. And that’s the idea behind the whole show. They have expressed their funky personalities and played to their strengths. No surprise then that the ensembles look geared towards musical theatre and that overall it’s as much about theatrics as about dance. But it’s pure entertainment.
Caroline Aslett - Cavat Agency
Danny Pellerini - DP Management