SWAY had such a wonderful response, I hope and believe the production will continue at such times when schedules of the headliners, celebrity guests, and featured performers permit. While it’s almost impossible to improve on the December version of SWAY: A Dance Trilogy, the production team at Dance With Me USA, never, ever rest on their laurels. Knowing it is highly likely there will be changes to SWAY for the June 2015 production run, I and several friends have discussed wish list items, expressed with hope in this post.
In the latest production of SWAY in December 2014, Meryl Davis and Maksim Chmkerovsky (forever known now as MnM) were limited to one day of performances, requiring enormous effort and scheduling adjustments as written about previously. Due to the aforementioned time constraints, the pair performed of two of their most popular and visually stunning performances from their Season 18 DWTS experience: a Rumba to ’Read All About It’ and Argentine Tango to ‘Montserrat.’ In the June 2015 SWAY production run, Meryl Davis has been announced as the featured Special Guest!
One near universal comment from past SWAY attendees was a desire for more Meryl and Maks dancing and some new choreography for this pair, including Meryl’s participation in some pieces with the cast. Looking forward to the next SWAY production, with more time to plan and rehearse, I anticipate, hope, and actually pray, Meryl and Maks will add in new performances and/or expand a list of reprisal performances, in collaboration with production choreographers David Thomas Moore and Joao Tiago Fernandes working Maks’ creations for MnM smoothly into the unique storyline. A storyline which distinguishes SWAY: A Dance Trilogy from other dance intense productions.
MnM’s Argentine Tango to ‘Montserrat’, is so powerful and thematically appropriate, I’d like to see it woven into the narrative of the current third scene*, set in a 1950’s era Miami club. Perhaps it could be inserted as the the first or last piece? Although, the first scene, in particular, is supremely cohesive, with a secondary storyline of a cheating Lothario and the girl who triumphs, along with another blossoming romance of the two principal characters in this scene is very worthy of remaining intact.
The lights dim, and the club scene members start to fade away as MnM take the floor, with directed, suffused lighting focused on them. I’d like to see some additional minor changes to the lighting of that number and, while I’m at it, their AT lengthened. Regardless of the length, it will never seem long enough. They’re that good. Envision the ending to that scene: a moment of stillness, lights fade and the theme of Passion is underscored through movement as the curtain comes down. Then, after wild applause, the curtain comes up and the full cast starts to emerge on the stage for the final SWAY encore number, if it’s the last piece in the show.
*As an alternative, since the AT became popular at the end of the 19th century, spreading internationally from it’s origins in Buenos Aires (and also Uruguay), it could be inserted into the first (or second, surprise! Keep reading for details.) scene, especially if there is an interest in placing MnM performances through each era in the production. Ideally, it would be placed at the end of the scene, after the drama plays out with the romance and intrigue Tony Dovolani created as the scenes story line. Picture it: the club crowd is thinner as the evening wanes, lights go down, and another couple who had been sitting on opposite sides of the room, take to the floor. I believe the audience would enjoy seeing MnM in all of the eras depicted in the production, and it would also lend another unifying element to SWAY; highlighting and following the characters MnM portray as an ageless, passionate dance partnership through history.
With Meryl appearing in the full run of SWAY in June, I also want to see Peta Murgatroyd do her full compliment of dances. For the day of Meryl’s performances in December, Peta’s Rumba and another dance with Maks were cut, keeping the production length consistent. She’s such a stunning dancer and nails those Latin dances, I want to see all of her performances!
Peta is a joy to watch every time she dances, and in particular, I loved the ‘El Watusi/Ran Kan Kan’ number. When the crowd parts and she emerges from the back… WOW! Then she and Maks are off with a dance of explosive energy and joy of being in the moment. What Peta brings to these numbers with Maks, is a key component to the energy and theme of the high-energy scene set in a Miami Club.
Dance elements of the Jive showed up in all scenes, although more noticeable to me, in the first SWAY back in July 2014. Meryl can NAIL a Jive. A Latin competitive dance, it also is a style useful in dancing to some American pop, R&B, and Rock and Roll music, thus, a MnM Jive would be thematically appropriate and undoubtedly a fantastic number for them.
The dance to Elvis’ ‘Hound Dog’ they performed in Week 9 of their Dancing With the Stars season, is representative of the larger cultural influences of that era.** Let’s face it: Maks was so absolutely perfect as Elvis, I am sure I am not alone in wanting to see it live! Meryl, though, pulled attention as well, not an easy accomplishment while Maks is dancing impeccably as the ‘King.’ Barring a reprisal of their Elvis Jive, employing another piece of music that fits the scene, to which they could incorporate Jive elements, would be a fantastic addition to the show.
As many know, the overarching concept of SWAY portrays the evolution of American social dance, through the influences of our ‘melting pot’ culture and relaxing of social mores. Passion is another unifying theme between all scenes, individuals in society creating and moving and loving. Passion doesn’t just apply to romance or joy of movement, however. Therefore, I’d like to see the narrative fleshed out more, without cutting into the dancing. Which means lengthening SWAY. Hey, it works for me! The themes are fascinating to me and what sets SWAY apart from other dance orientated productions. The following segments to this piece explains the primary influences seen in SWAY, a summary of my Wish List inclusions for SWAY, and some thoughts on how to make it work.
Main Cultural Influences in SWAY and on American Social Dance:
- The NY club scene from the mid-20’s-40’s has influences from the then segregated black community in both the music and dances, on a culture of primarily European ancestry. The Cotton Club is the most iconic of the period, interestingly, it was a ‘whites only’ club, although many, if not most, performers were not white. The cultural influence is especially well-represented by a dance to ‘Blues in the Night.’ Considered part of the ‘Great American Songbook’, the lyrics also assist with the storyline in this scene.
- The Urban second scene set in Brooklyn from the 80’s-21st century, offer a fantastic tribute to early black American Hip Hop music and is also reflective of waves of Puerto Rican and Caribbean Hispanic, and Black Caribbean migrants to the area in the late 20th century. A fusion of the influences from these various origins is evident in much of the creative product of the era. The addition of the Jamaican Dance Hall infused number in the December SWAY production, to Major Lazar’s ‘Watch Out for This‘ highlighted the cultural aspects beautifully. Additionally, with the advent of popular dance shows on TV, there has been a trend to insert lyrical, contemporary or balletic dance into other dance styles, expressed in the Serge Onik choreographed piece to ‘Twenty-Eight’
- The third scene set in a late 50’s/early 60’s Miami club coincides with a wave of Cuban migrants, in particular, fleeing upheaval in their home country to South Florida. It was a time of great social change reflected in shorter hemlines, relaxing of acceptable social behavior, and political change. A fantastic new number in December was the Joao Tiago Fernandes choreographed piece to ‘Havana Jazz Dance.’ The 50’s-60’s era was also the time of significant musical evolution with Rock and Roll, Soul, and Motown breaking into the music charts and shows like American Bandstand and later, Soul Train introducing young Americans to new music and dancing styles.
- **Missing is the post-WWII transition, with blues and R & B music leading to the iconic Rock ‘n Roll music of the 1950’s. An era which ushered in changes in music, popular dance, social behavior, and winds of political change.
**In addition to ideas expressed above in this post, an additional segment, a Post WWII phase, and more specifically, the late 50’s through the 60’s era, after the current first scene, would be of interest. This period, marked by the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Act, and ‘Free Love’ movement (Remember Woodstock?), extends through the 70’s. The latter decade is less noted for iconic music (other than Led Zeppelin, and I can’t think how they’d dance to one of their numbers!) and rapid social change as the 60’s, although, working in a Funk piece would be a lot of fun.
- Inclusion of iconic Rock and Roll, Soul, Motown and possibly 70’s Funk or Disco numbers into the production. ‘Hound Dog’ as previously noted, is a top pick. Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ is another Rock and Roll classic. Sam, Dave’s ‘Soul Man’, and/or Isley Brothers ‘Twist and Shout’ would be fantastic additions to the hypothetical scene representing the Soul/R&B musical of the era! Oooh, Rufus Thomas’ ‘Boom Boom’ from his 1963 ‘Walking the Dog’ album is another good one.
- Addition of a Salsa piece, for example, this one! (Although with the Jamaican Dance Hall influenced Major Lazer piece which is great, and a keeper, might be too similar?)
- With the addition of a couple of numbers, there will likely be some which will need to be removed, lest the production run too long. While it’s tough to think about what to take away, one unanimous vote amongst friends who attended SWAY, was to remove the dance to, ‘O Gente da Minha Terra.’ All agree it’s an incredibly beautifully choreographed and performed piece. Clearly created with love. However, thematically, it stood out and took away from the story line. As a Fado, the mournful tone is a marked contrast to the other musical selections and isn’t a significant musical style in the US. Love the piece, just not in SWAY. Milonga Tres, would be another possibility, should time need to be made up for new inclusions.
- I’d also change the order of the current second and third scene. Commencing with the with the onset of the post-WWII era: rock and roll, and soul/R&B, running concurrent with the highly influential mid-20th c. migration from the Caribbean and South America, with Latin influenced selections. Following segments would feature American Urban music, fusion pieces with lyrical dance styles incorporated into dance, and transitioning music and dance influenced by the late 20th, early 21st century migration from the Caribbean. In other words, I’d force a chronological order, over a Headliner appearance order, which may never happen, but to me, and others who have attended SWAY, the storyline is key and worthy of pushing to the fullest. Illustrating and defining each era of SWAY, in addition to the elements already mentioned, is the history of MUSIC in the US. It all ties together and putting it in chronological order makes sense on so many levels.
- For the above, from a scenery/props perspective, it wouldn’t be difficult. The club scene props in Scene 1 can remain, change the chandelier to the mod piece at the push of a button, switch the down lighting on the tables to the Miami Club palette, and push a button to switch the backdrop from the NY skyline to the Miami palm tree view. Very quick, easy, and no additional cost. Something similar could be done post-intermission with a change of backdrop to represent a park concert or American Bandstand type of setting, prior to the Brooklyn street backdrop.
- I’d love to see an expanded narrative to transition into each scene or era, going beyond describing passion, to verbally illustrate HOW that passion, as represented through differentiated dance styles, evolved. Besides making history and cultural anthropology lovers hearts swell with joy, it would provide additional richness to the production. Passion as an overarching unifying theme, is presented currently as an interpersonal dynamic of romance and the joy of movement in dance. However, passion isn’t limited to these areas. It’s present in the creative process as seen in the musical evolution. Also, passion is surely essential for many who migrate, whether running from something, or to something, or both. Those who come with little or nothing, in particular, to a new land and through dint of their own industry, rise to success, must have passion for a better life, right? Passion for a full life of opportunity is THE story of the Chmerkovskiy family, which to so many who have attended SWAY, find a fascinating representation of the story of so many immigrants to the US, including most audience members or their ancestors. This aspect is most apparent in Valentin Chmerkovskiy’s ‘Concrete Jungle’ rap. The Chmerkovskiy family story is a great one representing the quintessential immigrant story, and deserves additional emphasis.
If I were to get my wish on the last point above, how then, would this transpire?
- Expansion of the existing voice-over narrative in some scene transitions to explain the migration patterns, changing social mores, and cultural evolution of a particular era, would be of appeal and enhance the production. Even including a video montage of iconic moments in history from each scenes era on a front screen, during the voice-over, whilst scene changes commence, would be fantastic!
- Barring expansion on the production side of a voice-over transition exploring the cultural and social evolution theme, or in addition to doing so, using the written word in the Playbill is worthy of consideration. An expository introduction to SWAY, prior to the Scene listings, outlining how passion and cultural evolution are woven into our society would aid the audience in more fully understanding and appreciation of the productions thematic nuances.
- As each scenes dance, music, and culture feature a particular era, additional short written segments inserted into the Playbill, prior to and to introduce each scene, would be appealing. This would be an interesting, informative means of providing the audience with a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics of each era represented in the production, in terms of key historical moments, iconic musical styles, and popular dance trends.
Of course, this is just one SWAY enthusiasts opinion, with input from other supportive SWAY audience members. I simply love SWAY and all it represents, spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about the production. Regardless of what the upcoming SWAY production team presents to the audience, it will be utterly brilliant, fantastic theater. Learn more about ticketing, including fantastic VIP packages, here.
*Steps off soap box*
For those who love music and history, check out Stax Records. They’ve re-released their Soul, R&B, and proto-Funk classics. Based in Memphis, it was said if Motown was Hit Town, then Memphis was Soul Town. Stax Records also put together Wattstax, dubbed the ‘black answer to Woodstock’ There is also a great documentary of Wattstax, featuring many of the musical performances from this event. Wattstax is also available as a soundtrack.
Wondering what are some of the iconic Soul/R&B/Funk songs are? Here’s a list which spans inclusions from 1950-1979.
Want to read or see more?
Past SWAY reviews of the 2014 performances: 12/18 with Meryl Davis, 12/19 performance without Meryl Davis, and the first run of SWAY on 7/26. Info on ticketing and VIP benefits for the June 2015 SWAY production run. There are additional posts listed elsewhere on this page.
For more details on SWAY, including a series of delightful ‘Making of SWAY’ videos, go to: SWAYshow.com
Follow SWAY: A Dance Trilogy:
To learn more about Dance With Me dance studios and how to learn to dance, go to: Dance With Me USA
There’s something about moving, something about interpreting yourself to the music, that’s attractive, that’s interesting, that’s intriguing, and everyone wishes they could do that. ~ Maksim Chmerkovskiy