Debbie Allen’s Freeze Frame is a touching celebration of the life and the stories of a range of young people from the African American, Hispanic, and other culturally marginalised communities who live in the city of Los Angeles. Written, directed and choreographed by Debbie Allen, this inspiring piece of dance theatre packs a poignant punch. In its world premiere performance for The Brisbane Festival at QPAC, the opening night Brisbane audience gave the cast and creatives a standing ovation.
Freeze Frame takes the audience on a rollercoaster ride through the streets of LA where gangs, poverty, violence, drugs, and more are an everyday reality. We meet a vibrant mix of characters who share their story through dance, song and drama. The story grabs your attention from the beginning as gun fire rings out across the theatre. Video footage of an armed robbery at a convenient store has us witnessing a young and disenfranchised African American man take the life of the Hispanic shop attendant, all for a fistful of cash. The film footage dissolves into the background and the action on stage takes over with The Collector, played by William Wingfield, fleeing from the scene of the crime with the police in pursuit. On the street a crowd of local youths are dancing joyously in the moment, ariels tricks, hip hop moves, singing, men and women flirtatiously moving to the music move the focus onto the community. It’s at this point in the show that you wonder how dance will be the vehicle for where this narrative is going to take the audience. However, you never doubt it again as one by one interwoven with a fantastic blend of song, dramatic scenes, monologue and dance we are introduced to the colourful characters that share their dreams, despair and disillusionment as they go about their lives in the city of angles.
What makes Freeze Frame so engaging is the way the stories are told. Once you get past the initial introduction and the slightly B grade feeling of the film footage the scenes flow effortlessly. It’s a journey that takes you from a lyrical rap to an infectious gospel singing and dance number, from a contemporary dance piece accompanied by an R&B ballad to the brief history of how dance and musical expression evolved through the African America perspective (tribal rhythms transitioning into soul and funk).
The cast of highly talented performers that comprise of a mix of seasoned professionals including Debbie Allen and the students, past and present, from her Dance Academy never fail to surprise and delight. Matthew Johnson’s vocal and dance performances as David, aka Moon, will have the ladies in the audience swooning. Clinton Derricks-Carroll’s performance as Bishop Washington is so spirited you can’t help but be carried away the contagious church music. Stellar performances are also given by Vivian Nixon, as Ertha, her poise and grace on stage is compelling and her monologue is very moving, and Olivia-Diane Joseph’s duet with Matthew Johnson, Stand In The Light, is guaranteed to give you goosebumps. Joshua Horton plays Eleo, a delicate and traumatised soul, and when he in full hip hop mode it’s hard not to take your eyes off him. Last but not least is Debbie Allen, she plays multiple roles and is an absolute delight to watch on stage. Her presence and ability to connect to with the audience is something you rarely get to see on stage and the fact that she can dance, sing and act makes her all the more mesmerising.
Freeze Frame has been the result of so many inspiring and creative talents coming together over last 5 years that to name them all would turn this review into a thesis paper. As you read over the program notes you can’t help but be drawn to some of the composers whose work make this show so special, such as James Ingram and Stevie Wonder. Their work is wonderfully showcased under the musical direction of Rickey Minor.
Debbie Allen’s Freeze Frame is a landmark production for The Brisbane Festival and The Debbie Allen Dance Academy. To witness the glorious variety of dance, vocal and acting talents that have travelled from across the pacific is a precious gift. To be able to connect and be touched by the stories of the youth of Los Angeles (that are stories that also parallel the experiences in our own cities) as told through this unique and superbly crafted piece of dance and musical theatre is a rare and heartening event. Freeze Frame is world class dance theatre, a highlight of The Brisbane Festival not to be missed.
2013 Brisbane Festival
Written, directed and choreographed by Debbie Allen
Venue: QPAC Playhouse | Cnr of Grey & Melbourne Sts, South Bank QLD
Dates: 19 – 22 Sep, 2013
Tickets: $70 – $40