The backdrops and projections in Heartbeat of Home, of which there are many, recalled to my mind a line from the opening scene of the Thornton Wilder play Our Town: “There’s some scenery for those who think they have to have scenery”. Likewise, there’s a story for those who would prefer dance and music shows like this one to have some narrative structure: in short, it’s about the exploration of new lands and cultures from which a rich mutual learning experience takes place.
For me, the plotlines aren’t as pertinent to a dance performance as the quality of the dancing itself. That said, the audience is taken, proverbially speaking, on an international tour. But just like there’s an Irish pub in most parts of the world, there’s always a certain degree of Irishness that permeates practically every scene, whether it’s in Africa, Spain, the Caribbean or the United States.
It’s being promoted as a show ‘from the producers of Riverdance’, which gives the impression, at face value at least, that it involves the kind of Irish dancing lampooned (albeit lovingly) in Legally Blonde The Musical, where one character says of another, “He can dance without moving his arms”.
While the expected tap-a-tap-a-tap footwork continues to be highly impressive when witnessed live, the different settings and contexts means that there is a variety of dancing styles to enjoy throughout the evening, and some of them require almost as much upper body flexibility compared with the lower.
The use of videos is extensive, and while not all of them were strictly necessary (I didn’t really see the need for “cinematic visions of the high-lonesome places, the symphony of wide open wilderness”, especially as that scene had zero dancing in it), overall, they contributed significantly to the audience’s understanding of a given scene’s setting.
The whole package is put together very well – high energy dances are interspersed with slower ones, and the on-stage band, led by Mark Alfred, is given opportunities to shine both with and without dancers. Cathal Croke performs a rather poignant number using Uilleann pipes, and Alfred impresses with some sterling work on a bodhran – a duet with principal dancer Bobby Hodges is a highlight, with drum and tap dancing producing remarkably similar sounds.
Lauren Azania brims with confidence whenever she sings – ‘The Night I Danced With You’, performed with dancer Onyemachi Ejimofor, pulled on the emotional heartstrings. In the second half, a re-enactment of Lunch atop a Skyscraper (New York Construction Workers Lunching on a Crossbeam), a 1932 photograph taken during the construction of the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, works brilliantly. A good rapport with the audience was established early on but seemed to come into its own when one of the dancers seems to be lacking in self-confidence, perhaps because of the (supposed) height from which he was expected to dance on a beam.
Elsewhere, contemporary street dancing combines with more traditional styles in a multicultural fusion that on paper seems a little far-fetched but is extraordinarily effective. There’s never a dull moment in this show, which gradually builds to a suitably celebratory finale, deservedly bringing much of the London press night audience to its feet. An enthusiastic and energetic production from start to finish.
Review by Chris Omaweng
From the producers of Riverdance, Heartbeat of Home is a spine-tingling, tantalizing, high octane, sexy, dance and music extravaganza. It is a heart–stopping tour de force that features the dynamic, vibrant components of traditional Irish, Latin, Hip-Hop, Afro-Cuban and Contemporary music and dance, uniting performers and audiences on journeys to find a home, wherever that may be.
Heartbeat of Home
16 Denman St, Soho, London W1D 7DY
Booking to 13th October 2019
Running Time: Approx. 1hr 50mins (incl. interval)