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Beke in the saddle

Posted on January 23, 2019

Ballroom dancer Anton du Beke talks to Nicola Rayner about his new touring show and the most recent series of Strictly Come Dancing. Photographs courtesy of Raymond Gubbay

This week, on January 25, ballroom stalwarts Anton du Beke and Erin Boag return for an impressive 11th year with their spring touring show. This year’s edition, Anton and Erin: Dance Those Magical Musicals, returns to a theme close to their hearts, with new material but a familiar format for loyal fans, including the accompaniment of the London Concert Orchestra, with conductor Richard Balcombe and vocalists Lance Ellington and Laura Emmitt, a West End dance ensemble, a Q&A section for the audience and sparkling costumes by DSI London.

“It’s a new show,” explains Anton on the phone from a car on the way to a Strictly rehearsal in late November. “The music and choreography have changed and there’s a lot of preproduction, of course. The concept of the show changes every year, so there’s costuming to be done and arranging, too, because we have an orchestra and then the last thing we do is get into the studio and choreograph the show.”

In preparation, Anton and Erin are working with a director-choreographer, Nikki Woollaston, who comes from the musical theatre world. “We’ve been working with her for five years now,” explains Anton. “Ours is about the biggest show that tours. We don’t have a set because the orchestra is the set, if you know what I mean; they’re on stage. It’s about the biggest show that goes on the rounds.”

Has the format improved over the years? “Like all these things, it becomes more and more slick. You become better at it, the stagecraft becomes better, so all those things are learned through experience. I’ve always… This might sound surprising, really, but I don’t really have any ego when I’m on stage. I don’t think it always needs to be me on stage all the time, but what I do want, if I’m not on stage, is for it to be top quality, so the dancers are great and if Lance is out there doing a song, and we’re changing, we know it’s going to be really great, too.”

Why did they decide on a West End ensemble? “If you go with ballroom and Latin dancers, you could, especially after 11 years, find yourself a bit limited on repertoire,” he notes. “When you go with musical theatre, you’ve got lots of different dances you can choose from – our dancers can tap, they can do a bit of commercial, they can do jazz, they can do contemporary. It’s a different style,” he continues, explaining, “I didn’t want anything that conflicted with Erin and me – I didn’t want it to be a pure ballroom show.

“After the first year, pure ballroom and Latin weren’t what we wanted to do every year. I knew it wouldn’t just be ballroom fans coming to the show – it would be fans of Strictly and people coming out for a good night. If people were going to come again and again, I wanted to be sure we gave them enough variety.”

The show will feature songs from Phantom of the Opera, Mary Poppins, 42nd Street, Wicked, Top Hat, Hairspray and Jersey Boys. “They’re West End musicals rather than Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris,” explains Anton. “We’ve done Hollywood musicals before, so this time we thought we’d take on a different feel, some new musicals and new scores, such as the Jersey Boys. I think we’ve got a Hairspray medley in there too, as a bit of fun, and our dancers will be great at that.”

The costumes will be supplied by DSI London, “who have always been wonderfully generous to us”, says Anton. “They used to sponsor us when we were competitors. Gerald Schwanzer and his team are just tremendous with us. They’ve always been very supportive over the years and, of course, they do great work on Strictly, too. Vicky Gill, the costume designer, has got a great eye.”

Anton often talks about his love for classic Hollywood musicals – which is his favourite? “It’s The Band Wagon with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse,” he says, without hesitation. “There’s a scene – ‘Dancing in the Dark’ – when they walk through the park and they break into dance. He’s wearing a light-coloured suit and she’s simply dressed; they’ve had a bit of a row and they go for a walk. You can hear the band on the bandstand, people are dancing and as they’re walking through they slowly begin to break into dance. It’s just the best.”

Fred Astaire has had a huge influence on Anton. “I’ve been influenced by a lot of different people but my go-to is Fred,” he confirms. “Gene Kelly is equally wonderful at creating clever routines. I love great, wonderfully put together numbers. There’s a great one in White Christmas, too, with Danny Kaye called ‘Choreography’ – you can see how he’s talking about how everything’s changing from one school of thought to a new style, and he’s obviously old school. It’s just so clever and funny.”

Of the original team of pro dancers that appeared in the first series of Strictly Come Dancing in 2004, Anton is now the only one left, the last man standing. Does he miss Erin on the show? “I certainly did at the beginning,” he muses. “It’s been a while now. I sometimes miss ballroom on Strictly, if I’m honest with you,” he says candidly. “Traditional ballroom dancing, certainly in the group numbers, has not gone completely but…” He pauses, adding: “I don’t mind the musical theatre numbers but I think there may be a bit too much of the commercial stuff.”

Like Len Goodman, it’s no secret that Anton favours traditional ballroom. “People wearing nice frocks and swirling around the floor – I think it looks beautiful,” he says. “One of the most straightforward numbers this year has been Luba [Mushtuk] and me doing a Viennese waltz to Andrea and Matteo Bocelli,” he says proudly.

A longer version of this interview is available in the January 2019 issue of Dancing Times. Click here to purchase a copy.

 

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, is out now as an ebook and available on Amazon, with the paperback following on August 22.

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