Review – Dance to the Music, The Cresset, Peterborough, 2nd March 2020

88189364_1401628980017619_5250849449256681472_nThis was my first ever visit to the Cresset in Peterborough, even though it’s barely an hour’s drive away from where we live. On the plus side: there’s plenty of free parking, a useful bar/restaurant area, and friendly staff. On the minus side: it feels a bit like a sports centre and when you enter the Sovereign Hall for the show, it’s like someone’s quickly erected a makeshift stage at one end of an aircraft hangar. We were in row E and the seats are not particularly comfortable, there’s no rake until you get to row AA and the place doesn’t have much of an atmosphere. As a result, any show you see there is going to have to work really hard to get its entertainment value across. Fortunately, the cast of Dance to the Music do indeed work really hard!

Kristina RihanoffPerhaps I should come clean here, gentle reader, and explain (if you didn’t already know from my blog about Soo Yoga) that Strictly Come Dancing’s Kristina Rihanoff, who has masterminded (mistressminded?) this show also happens to be my yoga instructor, which made us want even more to come and see it. Added to which, a couple of weeks before the tour started, two of the dancers, plus host Jake Quickenden, joined us for a yoga session. So I almost feel part of the company!

Jake QuickendenBack to the show. It’s an informative, entertaining and spectacular journey through a century of dance, from the Charlestons of the 1920s to the shapes people throw on the dance floor today. Choreographed and devised by Kristina Rihanoff, it consists of a series of retrospectives celebrating various famous dance styles decade by decade, with a great choice of contemporary music and lavish costumes. Some of the music is pre-recorded, but much is also performed by the aforementioned host and singer Jake Quickenden; he of the jungle, X-Factor and Dancing on Ice – and he’s never going to let us forget it. Jake has a charming, likeable, relaxed style that quickly wins the audience over and he narrates the show with great humour and abundant cheekiness. He also gives us some great musical performances.

Jo BaiaoA fantastic highlight was Jake’s singing I Heard it through the Grapevine to a seductive rumba (I think it was a rumba – I’m not an expert!) by Kristina with lead dancer Jo Baiao. There’s also a terrific sequence to the music of the Andrews Sisters, with the whole cast throwing themselves into a jive/lindy hop routine. And I really enjoyed the disco section, and much appreciated the fact that they featured one of my favourite 70s tunes, Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry. I’m not sure how often Peterborough swings to that particular soundtrack.

Aaron BrownOf course, there’s always that moment that everyone dreads, the audience participation section. Kristina reminds us of her Strictly Paso Doble triumph with John Sergeant, where her celebrity partner dragged the poor woman across the floor like a burglar with his swag. Jake scours the crowd for a chap willing to give it a go on stage with Kristina. Fortunately for us all, as this was the last night, he picked on a willing guy in the front row to whirl the cape onstage – and it was none other than Ben Cohen, Kristina’s dance- and life-partner! Whilst all the other guys in the audience breathed a sigh of relief, Ben promenaded a few classic Paso poses, much to everyone’s amusement.

Marcella Solimeo and Dylon DanielsIn addition to Kristina and Jo, we were also treated to the dance artistry of Aaron Brown, Angelina Anastasia, James Davies-Williams and guest stars Marcella Solimeo and Dylon Daniels. I must say I thought Marcella was especially enjoyable to watch, with great dancing mixed with a huge personality. There were also two local bonuses: local youth theatre Kindred gave us a great dance routine, including a very funny let’s make Jake look too old for this sequence; and then we also had the pleasure of Kristina’s young Bespoke Ballroom company, showcasing their talents. Both teams of young performers did themselves proud.

Angelina AnastasiaThis was – allegedly – the last time Kristina will dance her way around a stage; and was definitely the last night of this particular tour. Not sure if I believe it; once a performer, always a performer. Time will tell. If this did turn out to be the very last Dance to the Music, then I’m sorry you missed a treat.

Five alive, let dance thrive!

Soo Yoga, Sol Centre, Northampton – A New Wellbeing Centre for the Town

Soo YogaAbout a year ago, gentle reader, Mrs Chrisparkle and I dipped our tentative toes into the world of yoga, when we had an hour’s session during the Edinburgh Fringe with part time yoga teacher and full-time funny lady Abigoliah Schamaun. We enjoyed it and promised ourselves that we would take it up on our return. Then we went home and forgot all about it.

SY Ben and Kristina 2Then in January this year, I answered a local advert for a ten-week yoga course here in Northampton. The timing and the price were right, and, as a big bonus, the sessions would be led by none other than Strictly Come Dancing alumna Kristina Rihanoff. We took the plunge. It was in a cold little dance studio in a town centre back street. And, although we were absolutely awful at it, we still enjoyed it.

Ben and KristinaFast forward to June, and the opening of the new Soo Yoga suite on the first floor of the Sol Centre in Northampton. Kristina, and partner and local rugby hero Ben Cohen, have realised their dream of creating a first-class, swish, state-of-the-art wellbeing centre – and Mrs C and I are completely hooked. First things first; it’s not a gym. If it was, I’m sure I wouldn’t like it. If you know either of us IRL (as the young people of today say) you’ll know that we’re adamantly NOT gym bunnies. When it comes to pumping iron, I have all the skills of King Henry VIII’s marriage guidance counsellor.

Restful wallSo, not a gym but a wellbeing and family fitness centre. As a result, it’s a welcoming place, where you are met with friendly smiles and personal greetings on arrival. This is not the kind of place where someone is going to laugh at your puny abs and condemn you to a hundred press-ups on the spot like at school. I can’t speak for the ladies’ changing room, obviously, but the guys’ room isn’t full of muscly men dripping testosterone, making you feel inadequate in every aspect. We’re much more likely to be saying to each other “God I’m unfit, that was knackering!” – creating a nicely informal self-help group.

Hot Yoga studioThe activity spaces are smart, new, clean and bright. The highlight room is the Hot Yoga studio, which is heated to 38° Celsius and with 50% humidity, to recreate the atmosphere in India where yoga originated. We go for a weekly session there on Monday nights, led by Kristina, but they have many other classes all through the week, for all abilities in many different yoga styles. We’ve also taken up the spin classes on Friday lunchtimes, in a terrific cycling room with about fifteen exercise bikes in it. Once you’ve warmed up a little, you pedal your heart out to a cracking, motivational musical soundtrack and expert guidance from the inspirational Megan Hosken. No point hiding it; the first time I tried it, it killed me. The second time – I loved it! We also do a 25-minute exercise session with Megan on Wednesday mornings – Soo Fit HIIT – which is fifteen minutes of interval training followed by ten minutes of resistance training. Listen to me, all technical. What have I become?!

Kristina wallThere’s a meditation suite too, where we go for two classes on a Wednesday – Soo Zen and Chakra Yoga – hosted by Chinmayi Dore, who’s incredibly enthusiastic in giving people some “me time” where they can relax, renew and reinvigorate themselves. After my first session, I was so relaxed I could – literally – barely walk. It was an amazing feeling. The other regular class we attend is Kristina Rihanoff’s Strictly Dancing in the dance studio, where you can learn the basic steps of salsa, jive, cha-cha-cha, lindy hop and so on, which actually turns out to be a good exercise workout too. We’re thoroughly useless but it’s enormous fun. The new Anton and Erin we are not.

Ben CohenBut there are so many other classes on offer that we haven’t tried yet; Pilates, TRX, Box-fit, Barre… you name it, they got it. I am tempted to try Ben Cohen’s Soo Strong Beginners’ Class because I really ought to convert some fat to muscle… ok, a lot of fat to muscle… and I can’t think of a safer opportunity to get introduced to that kind of activity by a true expert without intimidation. You may have guessed that me and exercise had a very poor relationship when I was young; when I left school at 17 I was only too happy to end that relationship, and it’s taken over 40 years for us to get on good terms again! If you’re like me, then I really recommend Soo Yoga for providing a welcoming, non-judgmental route to regaining fitness.

Free Taster WeekendThere are often a variety of offers on; next week, for example, from 6th – 8th September, they are holding a Free Taster Weekend where you can try lots of classes for free to see how you get on with them. There’s really nothing to lose. In any case, you can buy an introductory month’s pass for £39 which gives you unlimited access to all the classes, and if you like it, you can progress to an annual membership; or continue to attend classes on a pay-as-you-go basis. We’ve bought an annual membership as a couple. It’s £1835 for the pair of us, which may seem a little steep at first but think; we attend on average five classes a week – sometimes more – and when you divide that over the year it’s the equivalent of about £3.50 per person per class. That’s a steal. And the more classes you do, the better value it becomes!

Bespoke BallroomI haven’t even mentioned the café, or the crèche, or the physio/massages, or a wealth of other options they can offer. They have a whole range of kids’ classes too, and I think are introducing some junior drama lessons as well. They have a very useful app for your phone, but the website tells you everything you need to know. It’s certainly changed the way Mrs C and I keep fit, because it’s fun, fascinating, and friendly, and you can’t beat that! Give them a try – contact them using the app or the website or just drop in at the Sol Centre. You won’t regret it!