Review: Pure Dance 2014 ★★★★☆

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The amount of people who turned up on Friday for the opening night of Pure Dance is testament to how well thought of this show has become. This year’s show lived up to the buzz, proving itself to be a celebration of talent, diversity, opportunity, achievement, creativity and commitment.

The annual performance showcases all levels of talent from novices to advanced dancers, from the 10 different dance societies at the university. Following a shaky beginning featuring the SUSUPA Dance committee members, it was clear that several of the dancers were getting the expected first-show jitters, but for the most part throughout the show, these were concealed under believable grins. The majority of the performers seemed confident and proud of what they were doing, which was reassuring and more pleasurable for the audience.

The most refreshing of the societies which performed was the Bhangra society. An early performance really shone by using sapps to develop a captivating, colourful and sensational show, presenting a snapshot of a changing culture by melding traditional Indian influences with more contemporary western music including ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ and Drake’s ‘Started From The Bottom’. Likewise, the Belly dance acts were intriguing in their use of fan veils throughout their performance, including an ocean action which was particularly effective.

The jazz advanced squad received what was easily the biggest round of applause of the first half. The piece had hints of various other dance styles including bhangra, but it was the combination of these moves into a sensual dance with attitude which transfixed the audience. The salsa, and ballroom and latin dances were mostly well-executed, but at times, some of the dancers seemed a bit unsure and timid on stage in comparison to the other performers.

The showgirl inspired intermediate tap dance was one of the more visually impressive routines due to the theme, but the penultimate advanced squad put on a high-energy, in-time performance which was a spectacle to watch and to hear. It was also good to see the novice tap dancers being challenged by using cups and clapping to add extra dimensions to their dance.

The breakdancing on offer also provided several visually mesmerising performances throughout, to an enjoyable range of suitable music. Particularly entertaining was the battle which happened towards the end of the second act, with each member showcasing their skills on a case by case basis. There was some crossover with the street-dance and fusion teams who were able to further develop electric atmosphere in the room.

In an entirely different dance genre, the intermediate ballet team proved themselves to be worthy of the title. The volume of dancers created a presence, and the repeated exiting and entering of the stage from each side was simple yet effective choreography. Later, the advanced ballet squad gave a high-spirited performance with several split leaps and swirling choreography leading to a climactic end to the first act.

Elsewhere, there was more of an obvious story throughout the dances. The advanced contemporary dance squad performed a routine based around themes of justice and power, with half being prisoners of Guantanamo Bay, and the other half being the guards. Expressing such tough issues through the medium of dance was an effective way of dealing with a difficult subject.

The whole evening wasn’t solely dances lined up one after another though. The touch of intersecting dances with videos was insightful in telling the story of the prizes they have collected over the last 12 months, the process of creating the show, and the camaraderie and friendships formed through these societies. These videos also meant that the show got broken up a bit which helped in engaging with the audience.

What let the show down was it’s start-stop nature, with tracks being badly cut at the end of each performance, the lights going off, and the audience sitting in darkness for 30 seconds before the next act was ready. A mixing of the tracks in the transition between dances would have kept the energy levels high, which was needed in a three-hour long show. Talking about mixing, I was disappointed not to see a dance which brought more of the dance styles together into one, although this may not have been possible on a stage that was relatively small for the number of dancers performing in total.

Special recognition should go to Sammi Gardiner who did a fantastic job of bringing the production together, but also to Josh Chan who is clearly one of the most accomplished dancers in the show, contributing to a variety of routines but excelling in the break and street dance acts.

Pure Dance, however, should be praised for its smooth running. It is certainly an enormous accomplishment to even get 10 societies in the same room, let alone have them all perform together for three days in a row, and practise together for weeks beforehand. The 314 dancers demonstrating several types of dance to a broad spectrum of music must make this a logistical nightmare, and with the whole event being organised and run by students, it’s no surprise that Pure Dance 2013 won the EVA for Collaboration.

Pure Dance 2014 is a celebratory spectacle, not to be missed.

Further performances of Pure Dance will take place at 1pm and 7pm on Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd March at Turner Sims Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased here.

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