Sometimes not too often fortunately you find yourself sitting in a theatre wondering how on earth a production got to the point where it was presented to the public without somebody’s quality control alarm going off like an air raid siren. I am truly at a loss to understand how a show with so little value or impact has managed to make it to the West End.
Divas is the latest dance piece by Peter Schaufuss, the retired dancer and choreographer who staged the Rolling Stones-inspired Satisfaction at the Apollo Theatre last year. This new piece is inspired by three iconic performers: Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland.
It is split into three equal sections (with two intervals), one for each ‘diva.’ Each piece is performed to recordings of the women’s music with each of the singers matched with a principal dancer: Caroline Petter leads the Edith Piaf section, and Zara Deakin and Irina Kolesnikova feature in the Dietrich and Garland sections respectively. But with no overall connecting theme or any attempt at narrative, the piece flops all over the place and fails to be anything more than the sum of its parts.
The Piaf section has, unsurprisingly, a French feel to it with much of the dance reflecting pre-war stereotypes, with can-can and Moulin Rouge-style costumes and movements. The dancers do their best and there were the seeds of some interesting ideas on display, but much of the choreography was flat and uninspired.
But while the Piaf section was merely disappointing, the Dietrich segment took things to a whole new low. By far the weakest of the three parts, it was packed with horrendous stereotypes. Every time you thought it had dropped as far as it could go, it found a new hole to fall into. The funny thing was that, even a stage full of pert blondes in raunchy Cabaret-style outfits, lederhosen and full storm trooper get up, not too mention a downpour of rose petals, could not detract from the distinct dullness of the dancing. Songs such as Where Have All The Flowers Gone? which are already laden down with saccharine, were made even more unpalatable by the appearance of three tomb stones and a blonde German girl with flowers in her hair wafting about with a mournful expression on her face.
Perhaps the only glimmer of hope in this whole mess, was the Judy Garland sequence featuring Irina Kolesnikova, though this had little to do with the choreography and everything to do with Kolesnikova’s grace and skill as a dancer. Despite everything she managed to convey a real sense of emotion when dancing to That Old Black Magic. She really managed to get across a sense of the feelings that Garland was singing about.
While the choreography has a lot to answer for, the problems of the piece are compounded by its staging in such an inappropriate venue. The shabby Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue has neither the layout nor stage space for a production of this nature. It often looked as if the dancers were struggling to get on and off stage, and, when dancing, they seemed cramped and restricted.
It is hard to fathom how this ended up on a West End stage or who would actually want to see it. Sometimes things are bad in a way that is endearing, camp, and knowing, but this? This is simply bad, with the presence of the radiant Kolesnikova striking the sole redeeming note.