Swing Man

If Damian Callinan hadn’t already created a show about dancing you would call ‘Swing Man’ his mid life crisis. But Callinan, who still performs an abridged version of his award winning show ‘The Cave To The Rave’ won’t admit it’s a crisis until the 3rd in the trilogy.

Having harboured a desire to learn how to Swing Dance in actual life, he realised that after 2 years of staring at a swing dance pamphlet on his fridge, that the easiest way to fit dance lessons into his busy schedule was to create a show about the process. So after contacting the ever helpful folk at ‘Swing Patrol Melbourne,’ he got started on lessons and never looked back. He charted the progress of his lessons, private tuition with Genevieve Wallis and practice sessions with his swing buddy Jeanne Clare Storace in a blog which began to form the framework of what would become ‘Swing Man.’

The World Premiere Season in 2016 was also part of the Malthouse Theatre’s first ever curated Melbourne Comedy Festival Season. The show was a hit with Callinan’s existing fan base, particularly those with a soft spot for his trademark 80’s dance moves. However the show also attracted a cult following amongst Melbourne’s Swing Dance Community eager to see what the new interloper had made of their world.

The show’s success has ensured that it will be seen on the dance floors of the Australian Fringe Festival Circuit in 2018 to be followed by a funded regional tour to Queensland, Victoria & Tasmania

Damian Callinan, renowned character and stand-up comedian, confirms what many had already suspected: he suffers from OTTDs [Over The Top Dance Syndrome] After years of eschewing partner dancing and cutting up dance floors on his own he discovers that the only cure is to learn how to Swing Dance. ‘Swing Man’ sends Callinan back to the incidents in his adolescence that set him on his path – A fracas at a Bush Dance, unrequited love at Ballroom Dancing and the revelation that as a 17 year old he was abducted by Swing era obsessed aliens who set him an ultimatum to learn how to Swing Dance by the time he is 51. Mixing storytelling, stand-up, sketches and choreography Callinan takes the audience on a journey from his nervous teens to middle age where, having procrastinated for 34 years, he attempts to learn how to swing dance in 4 months. Can he tick off the only thing on his bucket list before its too late? Callinan is joined on stage by renowned swing dancers, Genevieve Wallis & Jeanne-Clare Storace [alternating] helping to create ‘a completely and utterly charming hour’.

2016 – Melbourne Comedy Festival @ Malthouse Theatre
2018 – Bunbury Fringe
2018 – Perth Fringeworld @ The Pleasure Garden
2018 – Adelaide Fringe @ Royal Croquet Club
2018 – RAV Tour – Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania

Review 1 – Herald Sun – James Wigney – 3.5 stars

LIKE Celia Pacquola’s hilarious show from a few years ago, in which she set herself the task of learning the piano solo from the Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited, Damian Callinan has found that self-improvement and comedy can make strangely effective bedfellows.

The Melbourne comedian’s new show, Swing Man, has also done double duty, ticking off his bucket list item of learning how to swing dance by the age of 50 and forming the basis of a freewheeling, time-travelling show that will especially appeal to aspiring soft-shoe shufflers and anyone who ever busted a move on a dancefloor in the ’80s.

It’s basic premise is that the comedian has been abducted by aliens and must learn how to master the much-maligned dance form or risk having the nether regions of his body probed in a way that hopefully never occurred to ET.

What follows is an affectionate insight not only into Callinan’s own past — his Catholic country upbringing and penchant for embarrassingly accurate ’80s dancing — but also the strange world of swing dance and some of the hipsters, misfits, nerds and occasional downright losers it seems to attract.

Joined by his dance instructor Genevieve Wallis — who also doubles as an improv-ing alien droid — the nattily attired Callinan shows he has learned his lessons well, he’s really rather fleet of foot as he careens through Lindy Hops, Charlestons (apparently danceable to anything from the Chills to Hanson!) and boogie-woogies. And if a comedian can’t get a laugh out of a dance called the Shag, well, he’s just not trying hard enough.

In addition to contemporary political references and sly digs at inner-city hipster culture, the voiceover aliens bookend the show beautifully — as do the sporadic interjections from feuding dance instructors Hank and Misty.

And with some truly spectacular farewell footwork from Wallis as well as a life-affirming message about not waiting and getting things done, you’ll leave with a spring in your step (and just maybe a free swing lesson pamphlet in your pocket).

Review 2 – Theatre People – Lyn Zelen – 4 & 1/2 Stars

Swing Man is a comedic Lindy Hop shuffle down memory lane.

The Coopers Malthouse Theatre, as part of The Melbourne International Comedy Festival, features Damian Callinan in his hilarious recollection of learning how to Swing dance.

Damian is living a pleasant middle-aged existence, which is interrupted by alien forces. Luminous green lighting and overhead narrative creates the illusion of abduction.

The aliens are bored with their dance culture. hey seek a Swing Man to teach them the 1930s “Lindy Hop” ways. He needs to complete this request by the year 2016 or suffer an undignified extra terrestrial medical procedure.

To help him succeed in his mission, they leave him a dancing partner in the form of a female Droid, played by Genevieve Wallace. She is void of emotion and has a taste for Australian flora. She is also a kleptomaniac and has a fondness for hardware from Bunning’s stores.

Damian accepts the alien’s request. He has one problem, a fear of partner dancing. He mimes stepping through an imaginary opening into his past and narrates the tale of an embarrassing adolescent crush and rejection.

He transforms the stage with jokes and dance from scenes in his school days, nightclubs and weddings. He animates gutless teenage confrontations with the local mullet hair-styled gang.

In his adult years, he develops hysterical dancing techniques. He dances without regard for others. Damian comes to the conclusion he’s become an over dancer compensating for his lack of social skills.

The year 2016 arrives and he still hasn’t learnt to Swing dance. He is very concerned about another abduction and their threat of a probe.

Callinan and the Droid join the Swing Patrol School of dance. They quickly learn of the marginal personality types Swing dancing attracts. Damo with the help of his accomplished Droid master each style.

Damian and Genevieve clearly have a good grasp of all the aspects of the Lindy Hop. Genevieve as the Droid performs an amazing solo.

The Droid and a fictitious TV skit, add a different pace and entertaining elements. In a mock up of a dummy’s guide to learn the Lindy Hop. Damian and the Droid portray a Southern American couple teaching viewers the dance steps. In their southern drawl, they demonstrate some of the basics and their satirical domestic episodes are amusing.

Damian speaks of his experimentation with the 1930s dance craze. The Droid and himself show the versatility of Swing and dance to backing music from several genres. The dancing and music is infectious.

Callinan retains some of the traditional stand up comedian format of story telling. His impromptu changes in character and accents, heighten his pursuit of the elusive Lindy Hop.

If you’re expecting another stand up comic, behind a mike stand, Swing Man will surprise you. Damian Callinan’s show is a light-hearted dance expose of facing mid life crises and protecting his dignity.

Review 3 – We Know Melbourne – 4 stars

Damian Callinan has been diagnosed with OTTDS – OverThe Top Dancing Syndrome. His show kicks off with an alien abduction sequence during which he displays with ease his fantastic 80’s dancing prowess (stick with us here) but, whilst proficient in almost every other style of dance – the style of dance that alludes him, and that which will ultimately save him from his somewhat friendly alien abductors is Swing.

As they say in the show, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t Swing. From there Damian takes us through the hilarious fabrics of time itself, through his teenage years with lots of ‘growing up in suburban Victoria’ in-jokes which were a hit with everyone in the audience, interval cameos from his improvisational, leaf munching droid – Jean Clauvive, and then ultimately the journey of learning how to Swing.

From Swing Dancing for Morons, to eventually getting his own personal Swing Dancing instructor, the audience is with him the entire way.

Does he eventually master the art of Swing? You’ll have to go along and find out. A man of many talents, this show was fun and high energy, if you aren’t a fan of dance, this show might not be for you. If you are, you’re in for a treat.

Rating: ★★★★