Oti Mabuse – Festival Theatre

Choreography by Oti Mabuse

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I Am Here. Living in the moment, the ballistic energy Mabuse exudes captures the title of her semi-biographic production in droves – a woman who recognises her background influences, with eyes firmly set on the future, without much pause for breath in sight. A direct translation of her name in the language of Setswana, I Am Here, like many of the Strictly stars touring the country, ties the dancer and creative to the root of the show. And where audiences may feel they know the Strictly and Greatest Dancer reigning Queen – this production will offer a personal insight into not only Mabuse’s past inspirations but the continuing injustices, passions and struggles that push her forward.

Growing up in South Africa, with a mother determined as all heaven to see her daughter succeed, I Am Here charts the move from the scorching suns of her birthplace, to following her dreams to Europe – from meeting a special someone in Germany, and finally to the U.K. All, funnily, communicated through a variety of localised dances of the region. The initial act is a light touch, covering Mabuse’s adoration for the Silver Screen musicals and eventual hand in choreographing The Cher Show.

But joined on stage by her Romanian Husband Marius Lepure, the passions are raised to a more authentic level – and there’s a noticeable difference in the intimacy Mabuse strikes with Lepure than the other male dancers of the troupe. From the simmering splendour of a slow waltz, the pace builds with that devilishly familiar tune Roxanne, and with it a more expectant flow of energy.

But this team of eleven dancers carry the show effortlessly under Mabuse’s blessings, with frequent solo pieces enabling quick changes. These performers are at the top of their game, each providing uniqueness and precision with movement, often paired with the aforementioned love of Musicals for troupe routines of West Side Story or Signin’ In The Rain. Not to be outdone, the music is just as important as the visual movements – and a four-strong band aids Mabuse in lifting the Edinburgh crowds to their feet, all under the talented voices of Natalia Brown and Nic Vani – parading the stage, treating audiences to the traditional Xhosa ‘clicks’ associated with the languages of South Africa.

Alexandra Stewart, the costume designer for the show, does a stellar job in replicating iconic outfits but leaves only a little room for true ingenuity. Where this flourishes though is within the more intense nature of the production. In a sublime moment of movement, sound, tonal costume and emotion coming together to both educate and eradicate the lingering concepts of the Apartheid system – the imposed oppression of South Africa, Mabuse reminds audiences of her marriage to a white European man. In stating she wishes to; “take it (dance) to the bare bones” Mabuse steps away from the typical and recognised television role, and into that of a stage choreographer and dancer – and the intensity of the video design, thundering along with the movement, turn it into a welcome, and touching, display.

Now, it’s become a running gag that everyone, including the runners and camera operators of Strictly Come Dancing, is likely to have a touring show. But there’s a significant difference with I Am Here – similarly to the recent tour of fellow dancer Johannes Radebe’s Freedom, the talent is unquestionable but the additional measure of the storytelling and intimacy in which audiences are acquainted with the performer makes for a dance production with a different. 

Oti Mabuse often captures the public’s heart, and though her time with the BBC hit show is over, the ingenuity and resilience shown and displayed through her touring show offer a steady reminder of her determination within the industry. The audience is left breathless, joyful and ready to dance – best dig out a new pair of shoes, you’ll burn through these by the end of Act One.

“Determined, Resilient and Touching”

Oti Mabuse: I Am Here continues touring across the UK.

Please check the website directly to obtain tickets for future shows here.


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