A chance to get all dressed up and attend the Exeter University Great Hall, alive with lights, jazzy tunes and spectacular dance numbers – what more could you want from a Monday evening? The Exeter University Ballroom and Latin Society and Jazz Orchestra Showcase promised to be “an unforgettable journey through Hollywood classics” and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere was filled with energy and expectation as audience members began to arrive and dancers milled around in their costumes for the opening number. The private bar and black-tie dress code added to the event’s glamour, with some people really committing in their DJs and posh frocks. My housemates and I certainly appreciated the opportunity to get out our classy velvet dresses without a £40 ball ticket usually characteristic of a Uni black-tie event!
Organised as a joint event between the EUBLS and EUJO by Eloise Collins and Louis Brown, Showcase was the first big venture for the newly formed Exeter Ballroom and Latin Society (previously Exeter Ballroom, Latin and Salsa Society). The Great Hall floor was laid out with seating in a U-shape to create a dance space for the first portion of the evening where EUBLS showed off their term’s work, performing a range of dances including a Waltz, Samba and Jive. EUJO then took to the Great Hall stage for the second segment, with a jazz set featuring some of their regular vocalists and solos by multiple band members. The two societies then joined forces in the big finale that combined EUJO’s musical brilliance with EUBLS’s fabulous dancing. More than just being an enjoyable evening, the Showcase also raised money for a worthy cause with £1 from every ticket donated to St Petrock’s, a charity that provide support for the homeless.
From the opening Cha Cha Cha when the stage was flooded with dancers in short school skirts, bopping to ‘Grease is the Word’, a stream of different dance genres and quick changes meant the performance was bursting with vibrance and variety. In their nod to Hollywood, EUBLS’s dances were accompanied by music from a variety of familiar films, including James Bond, Moulin Rouge and Grease, a great way of engaging an audience that I’m sure encompassed all from the avid Strictly fanatics to those who certainly wouldn’t know a Tango from a Rhumba. The choreography was well suited to the different ensembles of dancers and their abilities. The line-up interspersed different genres and groups in such a way that demonstrated the range of technical ability without any sense of hierarchical progression from beginners to advanced dancers. There was a great mix of costumes from the dazzling dresses that became shimmering glitter blurs as they were danced across the ballroom, to the princess gowns that bloomed around the dancers as they waltzed, to the wizard robes that really took the Harry Potter number to Hogwarts (or at least added some light-hearted humour to the number!).
Despite the odd incident, such as a missing James Bond at the start of ‘Skyfall’, the comperes and performers all remained unphased and dealt with them with an air of calm professionalism. Furthermore, the Jive Solo, completely re-choregraphed that afternoon due to one half of the original duo dropping out for personal reasons, was an impressive blur of footwork with slick synchronicity and fun interplay between the pair, especially considering it was pulled together just that afternoon. The comperes of the evening, Eloise Collins and Emily Smith, deserve a shout-out for their excellent hosting of the event. They kept things running smoothly between numbers and swanned on and off stage with an air of glamour, also performing some impressive quick changes and somehow managing to keep completely composed between dancing and introducing numbers.
Although my enthusiasm was definitely heightened by the glass of wine consumed during the interval, EUJO smashed their set. They performed a great mix of well-known tunes such as ‘Feeling Good’ that people could sing along to and jazz charts that allowed their instrumentalists to shine. James McGregor on lead Alto and Emily Olive on lead Tenor particularly left their mark, with lots of big solos to impress the audience and encourage us all to get into the jazz groove. Their attempt to encourage some audience participation in the dancing didn’t have such a big take-up, perhaps the pressure too great after the high standard of dancing already displayed by EUBLS. However, from our seats we were still able to have a good bop along and appreciate the performance under the expert supervision of Musical Director, Chris Coveney. Again, there were a few unexpected incidents, this time in the form of technical difficulties with microphone levels, but these were dealt with and accommodated for by the performers with a high level of professionalism.
Both groups had a great stage presence and when they came together it was difficult to know where to look. The final showstopper featured a medley of Latin music and a return of James Bond with ‘Live and Let Die’ that had everyone on their feet clapping along. It was the perfect way to round off the evening, combining the talent of both societies in a collaboration that should definitely not end with the departure of the audience from the Great Hall. I definitely hope to see more from EUJO and EUBLS in the future.