When Oti Mabuse was paired with Bill Bailey in 2020, I remember thinking that it would be quite an achievement for her to win Strictly for the second year running. Of course, Oti and Bill did win the series! Now Oti has produced another remarkable achievement with her new show “I Am Here”. The show traces Oti’s story in dance from the present day back to her childhood in South Africa. It features ten superb dancers (I was delighted to recognize Sasha Woodward, who has been a remarkable junior dancer with the Dane Bates Collective), four musicians and two excellent singers in Nic Vani and Natalia Brown. As expected, the dancing, choreography and costumes were all first class. The show is also punctuated with insights from Oti who believes, correctly in my view, that the best dancers are to be found in Britain.
(A strength that should be recognized and acted upon by the powers that be). After an explosive and colourful opening number, the remaining first half of the show depicts Oti’s time with Strictly, through dancing in Germany, to
leaving South Africa at the age of 21.
Oti began to feel that “life was really changing for her in 2016” when she was partnered with Danny Mac. Although they didn’t win, there were some incredible performances and Oti recreates the electrifying samba routine with
Stephen Woods stepping in for Danny. We are then taken across to Germany where Oti was a professional dancer on
its equivalent of Strictly and met a fellow dancer called Marius. (I was confused for a moment when Oti said that she was about to bring on stage “the man who takes half of my money”. Why would you invite the tax man on
stage? But of course Oti was referring to Marius who is now her husband). The pair of them, who were sensational together throughout the evening proceeded to dance a romantic tango to Nina’s classic “Red Balloons”.
Oti is passionate about musicals and hopes one day to produce her own. (She has indeed taken the first step by recently choreographing “The Cher Show”). This fact introduced a high-powered dance medley to classic songs from
“Hairspray”, “West Side Story”, “Singing in the Rain” and some “Fosse”. It was great to see the girls dancing to so many numbers throughout the show free of crippling heels.
The second part of “I Am Here” is even more personal and centred around South Africa. It combines traditional African song and dance with some familiar western pieces. The dark history of apartheid is illuminated by Oti and Marius trying, but not being allowed, to dance together. Traditional African dances such as the Pantsula and hope-giving Gumboot song are performed joyously by the dancers.
There is a strong feminist theme running throughout the show, or as Oti referred to it “a celebration of women”. One of the most striking dances of the evening, to Alicia Key’s anthem “Girl is on Fire”, is dedicated to Oti’s mother
and two sisters. All three made tremendous sacrifices to allow Oti to pursue her dream of dancing.
The finale is purely a celebration of dance and of life itself, with Oti performing in a multi-layered gold costume and crown, to songs like “Conga” and “Lets get Loud”. “I Am Here” is both a fantastic show and also Oti’s name in Setswana. Hopefully Oti will remain here, producing wonderful entertainment like this, for many years to come.