Dance Better At Parties

Dance Better res
Elizabeth Nabben & Steve Rodgers. Photo: Brett Boardman.

Wharf 2, April 9, 2013

Don’t be put off by the reality-TV title: Dance Better At Parties is much better than its name suggests. The premise carries echoes of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks in which Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney charmed Sydney audiences half a dozen years ago. Here the gender roles are reversed in another two-hander about one-on-one dance instruction and the pair’s evolving interaction.

Steve Rodgers plays Dave, who is sick of feeling a dork when the music starts thumping and the girls are dying for a dance. He seeks out Rachel (Elizabeth Nabben) whose purported carefully customised dance classes turn out to be a one-size-fits-all 10-week course with the contractual rigidity of a gymnasium.

This, the first play by the acclaimed choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, had its roots in research for a documentary about men for whom dancing is even more appalling than public speaking. Dave is such a one: two wrong feet, the grace of a pregnant hippo and the self-consciousness of a teenaged boy obliged to be seen with his mother.

Rachel, by contrast, is all lithe-limbed sexuality, which only makes Dave feel more confronted. When he has to touch her it is as tentatively as if she might break. So grotesquely mismatched is their dancing ability that we encounter the improbable pleasure of tango as a comedy routine.

There is an air of inevitability about all this: his stuttering improvement; the eventual exposition of the trauma that lies behind his diffidence. What was not inevitable was that Obarzanek (who also directs, with choreography by Jessica Prince) should trap such nuances within his ostensibly predictable characters, and that these have been sufficiently amplified by two convincing performances to make us care.

Although we learn what troubles Dave, Rachel’s demons are barely hinted at, leading to an enigmatic ending. Not that the loose ends need tying, but we could at least glimpse more of the fraying.

Until May 11.