REVIEW: Pure Dance 2013

I feel slightly daunted by the task of writing a simultaneous review of ten different dance societies, balancing my opinions with constructive criticism without incurring the wrath of hundreds of […]


I feel slightly daunted by the task of writing a simultaneous review of ten different dance societies, balancing my opinions with constructive criticism without incurring the wrath of hundreds of angry dancers who might feel offended. Let’s get this out the way first if you don’t feel like reading the whole article. TL;DR: Pure Dance 2013 was good. Good fun, good atmosphere, and guaranteed to get you interested in dance in one of its many many forms. My advice is to keep an eye out for any upcoming performances from the various societies and check them out.

Partly to justify the fact that my article will clearly show no knowledge of any technique, I’ll mention now I know very little about dancing. I am a beginner in Ballroom and Latin: but beyond that I can pretty much just about differentiate between ballet and breakdancing. I’m going to try and focus on overall impressions so if I annoy any performers through my ignorant underappreciation of skill, please don’t take it personally or take revenge by urinating through my letterbox. If you have any other complaints write them on a postcard and kindly throw them in the nearest bin.

To be brutally honest, ballet’s the kind of dance I would normally find a little dull. It bodes well then, that I found the performances from the various levels largely entertaining. None of them were earth-shatteringly exciting, but there was clearly a good deal of skill from the advanced groups; the Squad in particular had an almost superhuman level of synchronisation. Even the beginner routine, which I was forewarned might prove uninteresting on account of the slow pace of movements taught in lessons, was far from boring: although it strikes me as very odd that with the dramatic ‘warrior’ music and costumes they seemed desperate to disguise the fact that the dance was actually ballet.

Ballroom and Latin
Or “Latin”- since any ballroom dancing was missing largely on account of the small performance area. The biggest problem with this style is it was never meant to be danced on a stage, so some creative choreography and synchronisation were required for this to work. With that in mind, the dancing was suitably impressive. A sizzling Samba was a definite highlight, but both routines were very watchable and upbeat. Having seen what the ladies pull off in a really quick Jive, I don’t think any female can ever complain about just walking in high heals anymore…

While the costumes were very impressive and the style of dance was a little out-of-the-ordinary, I found it a little disappointing that there was a lack of excitement in this routine. There seemed to be very little of the energetic hip-wiggling people might imagine, although the undulating belly movements were weirdly hypnotic. Clearly there was a lot of talent here, and the dance work looked very precise. Faster tempos and a little more life would have made it really special.

Wow. With vivid exciting costumes and a huge amount of flair, Bhangra (a blanket term for several Punjabi dance styles) was perhaps the single most cheerful performance in the show. The dancers looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves, and this clearly had a positive impact on the experience of the audience. Combine that attitude with the spectacle and energy of the dance itself and this was immensely good fun. Best bit of the show? Quite probably.

Break Dance
I feel sorry for these guys. Everyone knows Breakdancing involves gravity (and bruise) defying feats of flipping and spinning around on your head. With that massive expectation placed on them, Breakdance did a decent job of keeping the adrenaline up, and even made me forget the terrible music they used. Possibly a victim of their own success, any points where we weren’t treated to impossible acrobatics felt a little hollow: almost like a warm up or a time filler. When the action really kicked in though, it was difficult not to gape like an amazed fish.

If I’m going to appear diplomatic, I should probably phrase this carefully. I don’t think I really “get” Contemporary dance. I can appreciate the talent, and I understand that the routines are probably designed to convey some deep emotion or message that I couldn’t pick up. In the end though, the routines weren’t quite enough to convert me. They appeared a little slow, in places a little pretentious, and in a few cases it wasn’t clear if dancers were meant to be doing things at the same time or separately. Still, as I mentioned earlier I’m largely ignorant on such things so take this paragraph with a generous heap of salt.

If you don’t already know what Jazz dancing is, you’re not alone. The best I’ve heard it explained is “dancing like they do in musicals”: which is a pretty broad playing field. It’s fitting then that the Jazz segments were nicely varied (including something closely resembling line-dancing); although my interest in them varied just as much. I found the advanced group immensely good fun but a few other performances suffered from glum looking dancers and a slight sense of apathy: as if a few of them really didn’t want to be on the stage waving their legs around. All in all though, still nicely colourful.

Salsa came in two distinct flavours; LA and Cuban; leading to two particularly enjoyable performances. The dancers moved around effortlessly: swapping partners and darting under their own arms without losing that Latin-American swagger. While both styles produced really snappy performances with some very smooth looking lifts and spins, Cuban definitely stood out as being exceptionally sharp and entertaining.

A mixed bag this one. Once again a few performances lacked the energy and edge audiences have come to expect thanks to the likes of Diversity, while in other places the sudden shift from one music track to the next interrupted the flow of the performance with an almost audible CLUNK. Most of the time though there was real entertainment and the Halloween-themed Squad performance with a little-girl character dealing with a forest of dancing monsters was unashamedly brilliant.

Last but by no-means least was Tap. I think this was one of the most consistent dances, with a good standard across all the skill levels. The novice’s dance to the obscenely catchy ‘Candy Man’ was immense fun, while the punchy military theme of the advance group was particularly memorable . The only real let down was that on occasion the music drowned out some of the tapping from the dancers. In our far-forward seats we were able to make it out, but I imagine those further back had a bit of trouble. Indeed, the part in the aforementioned military performance where there was no music at all was arguably the best bit. Lots of talent here.

Anything else?
So that about covers it. A few more nit-picks before I sum up. The intermittent video segments detailing various dancers’ stories and motivations felt token and dull; hearing a series of people say essentially the same thing (“I’ve been doing it since I was 9 seconds old”/”It’s amazing! Such good fun!”/”It’s not like the other dances) but about different dance styles becomes tedious quickly (although I do appreciate these were largely for the benefit of dancers having to change outfits quickly between routines). Finally the message to the performers about whether or not to smile seemed to have been a bit mixed, with a few groups displaying an odd mix of genuine grins, bored grimaces, and uncomfortable looking forced smiles; as if someone had demanded they appear happy while having a toenail pulled out.

Final word though, is that I had tremendously good fun and you could tell the rest of the audience did too. Huge well-done to the performers, choreographers and crew and I really look forward to future shows.