SWAY: A Dance Trilogy Review
Cultural Legacy Narrated Through Artistic Athleticism
By: Sharon Knapik
America, the ‘great experiment’, has long interested cultural historians due to the highly diverse influences from various waves of migrants to its shores. Told through movement and music, Dance With Me USA’s brilliant theatrical production portrays the cultural evolution of American Social Dance due to the unique confluence of migration, music, and technological developments. A substantive and ambitious project, SWAY: A Dance Trilogy, is a visual and aural time capsule, depicting Social Dance’s European-American and African-American roots to the present ‘melting pot’ of influences in three movements of Golden Age, Urban Influences, and Latin Passion.
Business partners and principal performers, Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Val Chmerkovskiy, and Tony Dovolani are joined by two very special celebrity guests. Olympic Gold Ice Dance Medalist and DWTS Mirror Ball Trophy winner Meryl Davis and Actress/Singer Zendaya, reunite with their DWTS partners, Maksim and Valentin, respectively. Additional headliners include: Peta Murgatroyd, Sharna Burgess, Artem Chigvintsev, Henry Byalikov, Jenna Johnson, and Serge Onik. Notably, Maks, Peta, Sharna, Artem and Henry performed together in the critically acclaimed 2009-10 Broadway run of Burn the Floor. Maksim Chmerkovskiy was nominated for the 2010 Fred Astaire Award for Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show for BTF. Completing the cast are fantastic Dance With Me USA professionals, with laudable competitive dance credentials.
The first scene, evoking the Golden Age, conjures up memories of Fred and Ginger swirling across the screen in Hollywood classics such as ‘Top Hat’, during a politically and economically tumultuous era, when popular escapism included film, hot clubs in Harlem, and ten cent admission dance halls in every town, where young people danced away their worries. The glamor of the 1930’s-40’s, marvelously delivered by headliners Tony and Sharna, displayed powerful and graceful elegance coupled with musical selections perfect for showcasing elements of the Foxtrot, Waltz, and Quickstep. The quality of dance was stunning with many notable performances by all of the principal dancers including Henry Bialykov, Artem Chigvintsev and Serge Onik. One theater-goer observed, “Sharna Burgess embodies intention of movement when she dances,” with every gesture fully expressed. More formalized and structured than later Acts, it is also the most theatrical with requisite ballroom expressions and spectacular costuming by Doré Designs. It’s beautiful, splendid, and transports the audience to a magical era, whilst telling a secondary story of love and betrayal as old as time.
The distinctly Urban feel of the next scene illustrates the unique cultural melting pot and creative incubator of Brooklyn, the first home for the newly immigrated Chmerkovskiy family. Val sets the narrative, rapping about their journey and ‘family over everything.’ Dancing with verve, headliners Val and Jenna Johnson aptly capture the spontaneous street vibe, enhanced with apparel by Valentín and impressive movements both sharp and sinuous. Especially noteworthy was a Paso Doble infused contemporary; an interesting juxtaposition which worked well. Living in Brooklyn, the brothers expanded formalized Latin and Ballroom knowledge with earthier, spontaneous club and street dancing, represented by an Afro-Caribbean influenced Jamaican Dance Hall Salsa number to ‘Watch Out for This’ and a distinctly American Hip Hop piece to ‘Apache (Jump On It)’. The latter traces the evolution and wider acceptance of the genre in American culture, adding some impeccably timed comedic notes in a dance-off between suburban Lyrca and lamé clad ‘Aerobicize’ team, led by Henry Byalikov and urban chic hip hop krew led by Alex Samusevich. Both gentlemen were spectacular in this and many other scenes during the production and in particular, the Urban scenes.
As the 20th century progressed, social mores became less restrictive, permitting closer dance contact between partners. Presented a club scene, reminiscent of Miami in the 1950’s and highlighted boldly with Carnival inspired costuming, the Rumba, Samba, Cha Cha, and Argentine Tango commemorate the initiation of the American public to expressive, more emotionally raw and intimate Caribbean/Latin dance and music, including the memorable Bossa Nova style. The passion and drama of Latin dance displays this cultural evolution in the final portion of the show headlined by the mesmerizing pairing of Maks and Olympic Gold Medalist and DWTS Mirror Ball Trophy winner, Meryl Davis, whose smoldering Argentine Tango danced to ‘Montserrat’ and Rumba to ‘Read All About It’ left the audience begging for more. The playfully flirty and sensual Samba/Mambo fusion to ‘El Watusi/Ran Kan Kan’ performed by Maks and Peta Murgatroyd, backed by the cast, illustrated the unfettered joy exhibited within this genre. Henry Bialykov and Artem Chigvintsev continued to impress during these scenes. They, along with Serge Onik, were a visual backbone in the ‘Havanna Jazz Dance’ number and in many scenes throughout the production.
Some of the same dance styles are performed in each Scene, but they present very differently based upon the musical selections and choreography. For example, each iteration of the Jive is completely different in feel, yet recognizable via signature kicks and flicks. An offshoot of American swing dances, particularly the Jitterbug popularized by the legendary Cab Calloway, the Jive emerged via African-American dance, eventually spreading to the broader population and internationally. Danced to a wide variety of music, SWAY’s choreography superbly illustrates the ‘language’ of the Jive and other dance styles can be performed with different ‘dialects’.
In conclusion, SWAY: A Dance Trilogy is brilliant, seamlessly fusing the artistry and athleticism of dance movement within the diverse and uniquely American cultural and societal historical context, with secondary stories woven throughout the production. The audience was entranced by superb performances, quality production values, and dazzling, unspoken narrative choreographed by Joao Tiago Fernandes and David Thomas Moore. SWAY: A Dance Trilogy, rewards the audience from beginning to end, with ‘must see’ theater worthy of a residency or touring production.
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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
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