Syncopation - 2012 Tour

Syncopation - 2012 Tour
By Alan Knee. The Follies Company. Director: Stephen Lloyd Helper. The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre. 27 March – 5 April, 2012, then touring Eastern Australia.

Syncopation is one of those magical theatre experiences that leaves you feeling on top of the world. Joy, yearning, the ugly duckling fable, class and social issues, women’s suffrage, feminism—Alan Knee’s script could almost be seen to represent the 20thCentury shaking off of the dowdy 1800s. Does that make it sound too academic? Because it’s also a love story, has lightning-quick New York wit, a Ragtime soundtrack and the sort of dancing that makes you want to leap out of your seat and join in. Set in the context of Lower Manhattan, the characters are working class second-generation new Americans stifled by their economic and working conditions. Italian-American Anna Bianchi is a meek seamstress engaged to the respectable owner of a chain of shops. Not quite understanding why, she finds herself beguiled by an ad for a dance partner, seduced by the idea of dancing for Royalty. When she arrives she finds Jewish meat-packer Henry Rigalow, ragged and sweaty in a dirty rented room, she is immediately repelled. But something about Henry draws her back, and they begin an unlikely dance partnership.

This Follies Company production of Syncopation got great reviews in Melbourne in 2010, and is now touring Eastern Australia. A few of the creatives have changed since 2010, most notably the role of Henry Rigalow which is now filled by NIDA graduate and musician Justin Cotta. Cotta’s Henry comes off as almost unhinged in his passion for ballroom dancing. You’d expect Anna as a nice Italian girl to run the proverbial mile. But Anna, as played by Emma Palmer, is revealed to have depth and spirit she is not aware of at the outset. The slow evolution of the couple from awkward parallel steps through to accomplished ballroom dancers, all set to Gershwin and Joplin ragtime tunes, is simply a joy to watch. Palmer has great style and grace—she is a lovely dancer, which perhaps helps her to act with her whole body, carrying her timidity and later confidence as much in her posture as her expressions. Cotta imbues Henry with an infectious enthusiasm using his marvellously expressive face and very intense eyes. The set has a few whimsical elements and the use of a translucent screen and clever lighting to create dream sequences was quite beautifully done. The costuming was particularly clever, with her lovely period 1912 clothing changing to mirror Anna’s character arc.

If this show comes to a centre near you, do catch it. You’ll find yourself dancing out of the theatre.

Cathy Bannister

Syncopation is an easy going, happy and uplifting show. This play doesn’t overly challenge, confront or offend and maybe that’s good. Maybe our theatre experiences don’t always need to move and change us. The dialogue is obvious and fairly early on we know where this play is going to take us. The journey isn’t overly interesting but it’s very easy to watch, it’s feel good and funny.

This play is slightly reminiscent of ‘Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks’ which also stars two characters who learn to dance and develop and change throughout the course of the lessons. It is stated on the website that “Syncopation is the only truly integrated play with dance in the world.” I think that could be challenged, but nonetheless it’s a great night out of dialogue and dance.

The play revolves around two characters Anna played by Emma Palmer and Henry played by Justin Stewart Cotta, these two actors were extremely well cast and the parts suited them superbly. We feel for Henry who yearns for Anna to notice him, to appreciate him for more than just a dance partner and we watch as Anna progresses into a sensual woman who wants to be loved by a man she admires and lusts after only to discover all is not as it seems and who she really needs is Henry.

The play’s opening hook is initially quite intriguing, Henry posts an ad in the local newspaper looking for a ballroom dance partner and Anna answers the ad, the play has a fairly classic rom-com storyline, boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl in the end.

The main issue I had with this play was it was too long, I felt we got the course of where the story and the characters were going in the first half and the second half was relaying or laboring the point. This of course is the writing, but maybe direction wise there could have been a change of set or something to maintain engagement.

What I did love about this show was that it had a lot of dance in it. It said it was about ballroom dance and it gave us ballroom dance! It’s lovely to watch the two characters develop as people as they develop as dance partners. It’s a predictable play but absolutely delightful and well worth a watch.

Emma Bell

See for tour details

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