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The celebrity chorus line

A scene from Flash Mob at the Peacock Theatre. Photo: David Nelson
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I used to work as a showbiz reporter, being sent on red carpet missions to get the dirt on the celeb du jour. Make Angelina Jolie talk about her babies! Tick. Find out if Vince Vaughn is really ragging Jennifer Aniston! Tick. Get Juliette Lewis to talk about Scientology! Fail. See if Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson totally hated each other when they made that film together! Tick and tick. So when I was invited to the VIP showing of Flash Mob at the Peacock Theatre in town last week, I was in my element.

Besides the usual Strictly Come Dancing crew that strutted along the red carpet (Iveta Lukosiute, Vincent Simone, Nancy Dell’olio, Mark Foster) – the show after all, is a TV style format, showcasing past winners of Got To Dance/So You Think You Can Dance/America’s Best Dance Crew etc – I was interested to see which other ‘slebs fancied partaking in a spot of the old shimmy shimmy.

I spotted actress Camilla Rutherford in the audience, Olivia Hallinan from Lark Rise To Candleford, Jenna Randall the synchronized swimmer and a bunch of chicks from some programme about Chelsea. I had a chat with Andrew Stone, who seemed to be enjoying the show.

[pullquote]I sat next to James May at Sadler’s Wells He was pretty much the last person I would’ve expected to see[/pullquote]

But star spotting at dance events is a very different affair. Here, at the VIP night for Flash Mob, yes, people are having their picture taken in front of a branded board, but no-one’s asking them for the latest gossip. We’re all more interested in what they thought of the show – and their opinion is no more or less worthy than Joe Regular sat a few rows behind.

I once sat next to James May at a super contemporary performance at the Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre at Sadler’s Wells. He was pretty much the last person I would’ve expected to see at that show, which was less about dancing and more about sitting down and clapping. I asked him if he was “that guy from Top Gear” and he said “no”. It was a strange situation, I’m not going to lie. If it hadn’t been for the hair, and his enormous mechanics hands still covered in engine oil, I’d be confused to this day. He muttered something about being the arty one of the three and professed to really enjoy the show, despite it being “a bit weird”. I was suddenly his number one fan for having an open mind that extended further than the latest range-topping engine.

Ralph Fiennes sat behind me at a Rosemary Butcher piece at Riverside Studios once too, with no fanfare. I’m pretty sure no-one recognised him, even though it was one of those where the audience had to get up and move around and sit behind a chalk line and whatnot. I wasn’t excited that he was a celebrity, I was intrigued at his immersion in a world of performance art that went beyond the silver screen. And I secretly respected him more for it.

I remember Kylie Minogue being in the auditorium at Sadler’s Wells and everyone being all, “yeah? So what? What does Kylie know about contemporary dance?” Quite a lot, actually, one of Matthew Bourne’s first swans Jason Piper danced for her world tour

Rambert’s Rafael Bonachela choreographed Can’t Get You Out of My Head

and Akram Khan her Showgirl tour – but no one was interested in her, as a superstar (probably because she is a superstar) as that, darling, is not what the art of dance is all about.

Sure, we have the same grim fascination whenever we see a famous face, but actually, the questions we ask the ones that go and see the dance are: what did you think of the show? We don’t care who they’re getting jiggy with or what they’re wearing, but which part of the dance they connected with and why. Just as dance subverts our ideas and ideals, so the very nature of being a celebrity at a dance event is turned on its head – it’s not a case of what we think of them but what they think of what they saw. It is a paradox I luxuriate in.

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