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Robert Abrams
Performance Reviews
West Coast Swing
White Plains Performing Arts Center
United States
New York
White Plains, NY

Royston Dance Company - StreetSwing! in White Plains

by Robert Abrams
May 6, 2007
White Plains Performing Arts Center
11 City Place
White Plains, NY 10601
(914) 328-1600
Royston Dance Company
StreetSwing! was 18.75% better in White Plains than it was in its original run in Queens. Robert Royston, who did most of the talking during the show, had 16 Ahs in Queens but only 13 Ahs in White Plains. (16-13)/16 = 18.75%.

Of course, the dancing, the costumes and the choreography are more important than the Ahs, but such things are harder to measure.

The show started with an ensemble number set to Fever. The company was slow, cool and precise.

The next number was a history of Swing with Rex Jones, Laureen Baldovi, Arjay Centeno and Melissa Rutz. The presentation was as informative as ever, with some new nuggets not used in the original production. For instance, the form of swing known as "Shag" was named after a waiter whose nickname was Shag at the club where the dance was born. I also think they used more humor in this number than in the original. For instance, at several points the dancers were supposed to freeze while Robert talked. Once in a while they would switch positions behind his back. There were some statements in this number that I would like to see backed up with hard numbers, however. For instance, they claimed that the dance TV shows that have become popular recently have given new life to social dancing. This may be true, but what is the real impact? Can we prove a correlation between the showing of these TV shows and the number of people attending social dance parties or taking lessons? It is equally possible people who watch shows like "Dancing with the Stars" are primarily interested watching the "stars" and less interested in the dancing for its own sake. I have a feeling that if a TV producer could figure out how to make competitive fishing look sexy, people might be just as happy watching "Fishing with the Stars", and just as unlikely to rush out and start buying earthworms. I hope I am wrong.

In Soul Serenade, Ronnie DeBenedetta and Brandi Tobias showed off movement and smiles that were a little more intense than in the Fever number. This was just one example of the way numbers in the show were strung together to build the energy as the show progressed.

One of StreetSwing's strengths is the way it presents West Coast Swing in all of its glorious variety. Whereas Soul Serenade was a classic swing, Proud Mary with Rex Jones and Laureen Baldovi was a showcase number with more than a few dramatic lifts. As Ronnie DeBenedetta, the Royston Dance Company's resident lawyer, might say, "Don't try this at home." Trois, by contrast was a purely theatrical number that appeared in Swango. Future of Swing, with Arjay Centeno and Melissa Rutz, was a hip-hoppy take on West Coast Swing (also with great lifts). Robert and Nicola Royston followed this up with a Country Western style West Coast Swing that was full of enthusiasm and character. Fly Me to the Moon was a Foxtrot-like West Coast Swing with Arjay Centeno and Melissa Rutz. They even slipped in a few non-WCS dances, such as a night club two step with Parker Dearborn and Andrea Scott in Careless Whisper. Four Play was a rueda with Yankees caps this time. The company claims it is a steal dance, but I have to disagree. The interchange of partners was far more elaborate and formalized than one would expect if people were just socially cutting in on each other.

Sometimes artful patterns emerge in social dance that weren't planned that way. One example of this was a section of the swing jam where three couples performed spins in canon, which was then was later echoed in the lead-in to the final number where all couples performed the same spins in sync. The Royston Dance Company should steal this sequence from themselves and use it again.

StreetSwing! doesn't have the formal structure of a show like Swango, but all of the dancers are so good and so accessible that this is a show that deserves repeated productions. I am not sure it would work running night after night for months, but as a staple brought back on a regular basis with variations in repertory with other more structured works I think it will be quite effective for a long time.

But don't just take my word for it. My friend, who has never taken lessons from anyone in the cast, thought the opening was crisp and clear, with the freezes done well. She thought they were completely in sync. She could see the dancers emoting the pieces appropriately. It was a very good blend: half dance, half theatre. She thought the dancers looked like they were having fun. She felt the audience was enjoying it with them. She thought that the show, and especially Arjay and Melissa, did an excellent job of showing the dance adapting to changing music. They danced with youthful exuberance. She thought that Ronnie and Brandi had phenomenal spins and were superb in general. Robert and Nicola were the most theatrical, with a nice blend of dance and theatre. They had a playfulness that drew her in. She felt good watching them. They made her want to go out and dance so she could experience that playfulness herself.

About half of the choreography was by Robert Royston with selected numbers choreographed by the couple who performed them. Rachel Jones was the understudy, who was also given a chance to perform. She was quite good, which shows that the Royston Dance Company has depth.
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