‘The Underground’ delivers dopamine hits

28 January 2022

Fans of TikTok will probably enjoy dance extravaganza The Underground, says Kim Balfour… but she wants more.

The Underground, Elysian Creative and Lyons Productions ·
Studio Underground, 27 January 2022 ·

The Underground is not so much the bar where everyone knows your name, but the bar where everyone has dated everyone or is related.

Billed as a world-class, high energy, Latin club dance extravaganza, featuring a live three-piece band, dancers, singers and specialty acts, The Underground serves up successive waves of fusion dance and singing styles. It’s MCed by a wise-cracking bartender who loves tequila shots and spicy gossip.

The light-hearted concept of The Underground is solid enough, a cavalcade of Latin American dance and vocals hung from a tongue-in-cheek telenovela narrative, and the energy and commitment of the performers is beyond question.

Choreographed and arranged by Rafaela Lico (the Perth-based founder and director of co-presenter Elysian Creative), the range and tone of the show spans dance styles that include traditional flamenco and salsa, in addition to more recent dance trends such as waacking. The dance is interspersed with performances by singers and musical interludes from the three-piece band.

While the different dance styles and fusions are plentiful, they are delivered very much within a club dance framework. In other words, The Underground’s cast of talented dancers present a pastiche of Latin American dances, music-video style.

To take contemporary media analogies even further, The Underground has a lot in common with current social media platforms, especially TikTok. Each act abruptly ends and jarringly staggers to the next, just as we use our phones to randomly scroll from one hit of dopamine-inducing eye candy to the next.

Four male dancers from 'The Underground' performance. Pictured are these men on stage in the middle of acrobatic break dance moves. The stage is dark and lit with pink spots. The men wear black pants and shoes but no shirts.
Cast members of perform a range of dance styles in ‘The Underground’ with swaggering energy. Photo: supplied

While there were many in the audience who were swept away with the swaggering energy of individual performances, the production quality was less impressive and diminished what could otherwise be a much tighter show.

The mix of live and recorded music often suffered synchronicity issues. A flamenco dancer had to compete with a recording that already contained heel stomping. The lighting was often too dark, or appeared disconnected from the onstage action, wasting the efforts of the cast. These are just a few representative examples of production flaws that let the performers down.

Changes to the cast of The Underground, since its premiere 2021 season, work in the program’s favour, with one caveat.

Replacing former MC Dave Callan is flair bartender, vocalist and dancer Cardin Farnham, who performed his important role with appropriate levels of charm.

As Cirque du Soleil’s Regina Slay cannot currently perform as advertised due to injury, she has been replaced by Latin ballroom champions Ruby Gherbaz and Steven Greenwood. The pair’s performance – their technique, precision, and artistry – was such a bright spot that it appeared to confuse the hushed audience.

Perhaps they were left wondering how a show billed as an “explosive world-class production” could be so thoroughly topped.

The Underground continues at the State Theatre’s Studio Underground until 29 January 2022.

Check out The Underground‘s 2021 Sizzle Reel for a glimpse into the extravaganza.

Pictured top are cast members of ‘The Underground’. Photo: supplied

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Author —
Kim Balfour

Kim Balfour is writer and former professional dancer, who has danced with companies such as WA Ballet and Sydney Dance Company. Kim has worked as a freelance writer for over 15 years, including the role of dance writer for The West Australian newspaper. In 2020, Kim was selected as a writer-in-residence at the Centre for Stories, and is currently writing a work of creative nonfiction on gender identity and expression in dance. As a child Kim was sometimes seen sitting on a gently spinning playground carousel, deep in thought, staring at her feet as they dragged along the ground.

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