United Kingdom SOMNIUM – A DANCER’S DREAM: Neil and Katya Jones, Charles Venn and company of dancers. Sadler’s Wells, London, 20.6.2019. (JPr)
Director and Choreographer – Neil Jones
Costume designer and Musical arrangements – Katya Jones
Lighting designer – Elliot Griggs
Assistant to the director and choreographer – Ian Banham
Dancers: Neil Jones, Katya Jones, Chris Arias, Renato Barros Nobre, Jeremy Basile, Kate Basile, Emile Beacock, Michael Danilczuk, Kerri Ann Donaldson, Domenico Palmisano, Luke Miller, Jowita Przystal, Korina Travis, members of Vale Dance and Dance Connection (with Charles Venn as Richard Porter)
Nicola Rayner introduces Somnium: A Dancer’s Dream in the programme by writing: ‘Performing a show with a narrative was really important to them [Neil and Katya Jones] and they first experimented with telling their own story through dance at their wedding party in Hong Kong for their family, friends and students. “We were at one of those points in life where you think, ‘We’ve gone through so much together, how can we show it?’” says Katya. “We came up with the idea of a three-minute routine that showed how we met, how we got together, how we got married. It was a tiny little dance routine, but it had all these different bits in it. We thought well, we can actually do it big and make the whole story into a theatre piece.’ Earlier Katya made the point that ‘For people who are not familiar with the ballroom world, it’s quite interesting for them to see … the coaches, the dress designs, the relationship between couples, the fact that we have numbers on our backs. People don’t know things like that – it’s so weird to us.’
This is the umpteenth dance extravaganza inspired by Strictly Come Dancing featuring dancers past and present from the BBC’s autumn staple of Saturday night entertainment. Halfway through what is a rather short show – only a little over an hour if you exclude the interval – I was contemplating my title as ‘Strictly For Fans of Neil and Katya Jones Only’. However, the second half was much better and showed how overall Somnium: A Dancer’s Dream could have been much better than it eventually was.
The premise is that Charles Vann (himself a recent non-professional alumnus of Strictly) portrays rather a flamboyant, somewhat urbane, yet louche, version (I hope?) of Richard Porter, the Joneses’ coach and mentor during their competitive days. Amongst the pair’s many successes was winning the World Amateur Latin Championships a total of three times. We meet Porter as he interrupts a World Championship competition, cue a wonderful dance rewind that must be seen to be believed. The pre-recorded music is an eclectic mix of – often mashed up – genres from Frank Sinatra to electronic dance music and everything in between. (My up-to-date knowledge of modern pop music ended with the demise of Top of the Pops in 2006 and there were no artists credited in the programme!) For Act I the music never settles on one piece for any great length of time in what soon becomes a frantic display of high-energy dance from a large and talented multidisciplinary company taking us though Neil and Katya’s formative years, first meeting, their falling in love (to Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight), and the subsequent wedding of a British boy to a Russian girl.
Standout moments is the sampling of Abba’s I Do I Do I Do as Katya answers when Vann (as the priest officiating at their marriage) asks her if she will marry Neil, and a very ‘theatrical’ – to say the least – ‘Usher Dance’. However, everything is a bit frantic and we learn very little of Neil and Katya as ‘real’ people and certainly at no point during this Somnium do they talk other than through their movement. It was only during a first real extended dance to their wedding song – that could only have been and was – Michael Bublé’s Me and Mrs Jones to close the first half that I began to believe in their relationship.
Things improve in Act II as we initially enter a novelty world of illusion. This is after an amusing skit featuring Vann/Porter who is rather disdainful and more interested in taking money off his students than helping them. (I hope this isn’t a true representation of some dance teachers?) There follows a quick dress change routine for Katya and then a UV number titled ‘Dream’ with multiple contorting glowing arms. Both are familiar from old- and new-style variety shows, as well as, circuses. Somnium is of course Latin for ‘dream’ and it suggests Neil and Katya are now living their dream but the road to success often has potholes along the way. Lack of success is seen to put a strain on the Joneses’ relationship as Katya won’t accept coming second in anything (we have been told) and through ‘Depression’, ‘Self Discovery’, ‘Heart Break’ and ‘Forgiveness’ we move very winningly into the area of contemporary dance.
First there is some combative choreography that finds the pair parting angrily, both then get moody self-absorbed sequences which in the case of Neil becomes revelatory when he encounters the B-boying Chris Arias (here as a caretaker). Arias has continually caught the eye as he meanders in and out of the show displaying his amazing ‘tricks’. Finally, Neil and Katya reconcile and win their first World Championship and the rest – in that hackneyed phrase – is history. I know it is the (dancing) elephant in the room but it is hard not to see this captivating series of vignettes as reflective of the more recent well-publicised turmoil in the Joneses’ professional and private lives.
It is left to Vann/Porter to utter the last of his homilies: ‘It is better to lose and be remembered than to win and be forgotten’. A very upbeat ending brought the first night audience – many of whom had been whooping and hollering the whole evening – to their feet for a standing ovation.
Ticket sales for these four performances have not been brisk and I would suggest that this is not this feelgood show’s fault rather than a poor choice of venue. Sadler’s Wells is far off the beaten track for the audience Somnium: A Dancer’s Dream wanted to attract. Nobody around me seemed ever to have been to Sadler’s Wells before and, apparently, this is the first – and possibly last? – time it has ever staged any Latin and ballroom.
For more about Neil and Katya Jones click here.