A Harlem Dream Electrifies

By BelindaL Last edited 51 months ago
A Harlem Dream Electrifies

Sock it to 'em. Harlem Dream is an electrifying night of lindy, Charleston and hip hop (Photo: Chris Nash)

Hip hop and lindy hop: two of the world's most incredible dances, both born out of Harlem and the Bronx. In A Harlem Dream — a tale of greed and betrayal set in 1930s separatist America — these two awesome styles are beautifully blended. The resulting experience is electrifying, and we mean just that. The energy on stage is palpably positive. At other times it's brutal and destructive, as if someone's jammed two live plug sockets together.

The backstory to the sensational dancing — slick, expert and with mouth-opening skill — is a good one, ushering us into a seedy world of gangster empowerment and dirty cash. Gold skulls sit atop speakers, the altar from which proprietor Mr Deville (Jared Garfield) runs his cruel night club empire, Déjà Blues — a moody Art Deco den where dancers get paid in depravity rather than wages. One thing leads to another, giving us betrayal, death and broken hearts.

We love the modern twist on the lindy hop and Charleston moves, which makes everything feel as fresh as a newly-minted dance movement — rather than a straightforward step back in time. But this is more than a fusion of two styles, which, considering their shared urban origin (despite the outrage of one reviewer we dared suggest this to), might well have shared elements that warrant a platform together. Rather, this is an unleashing of the idea of human experience and endeavour as brokenness, of the life force as one step short of tragedy to make the wires trip and everything get short-circuited.

When Constance (Robia Milliner Brown) is raped, Mo (Ivan Blackstock) is like a shell-shocked soldier, stumbling in his attempts even to pick up his lover's dress. Blink and you'd miss the move, but it's powerful and an example of what makes this night so unique. Soweto Kinch's soundtrack underscores the fizzing brokenness; a needle stuck on a record, a production line going on the blink, and the fuzzy tailing-off of a gramophone conveying how things are somehow awry.

The programme will tell you A Harlem Dream is "a timeless story told through popping, locking and burlesque." But it's so much more interesting than that —whisking you into the heart of dark 1930s Harlem. It's an all-too-short yet breathtaking night of dance.

Harlem Dream, part of Dance Umbrella London, is at the Young Vic until 1 November. Tickets £10-£19.50 Londonist saw the show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 24 October 2014