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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Longacre


  Rebecca and Damon Sugden/Ph: Mark Kitaoka

Burn the Floor, a Latin and ballroom dance farrago, has been attracting droves of new dance aficionados to Broadway’s Longacre Theater, where it’s been playing successfully since mid-summer. Ticket sales have been so robust that the show, originally scheduled to end October 18 has been extended into January of next year.
These new dance devotees, that seem to be the mainstay of its audience, have come to Burn the Floor, not by any conventional dance-theater route, but rather by the new media phenomenon of television reality dance shows—So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing with the Stars, both of which are immensely popular. It was only a matter of time before a consortium of producers would find a way to bring the entertainment world’s newest cash cow to Broadway. One of the show’s producers, Carrie Ann Inaba, is even a judge on Dancing with the Stars. The fact that both the television shows and Burn the Floor have little to do with traditional dancing is beside the point; this new hybrid, referred to by many as “dancesport,” fits right in to show business’s main mantra, which has always been more about the business of Broadway than a show’s artistic merit.
Burn the Floor’s origins began in a remarkably low-keyed way in 1997 as part of a 50th birthday celebration for Elton John. The reception for the simple 20-minute dance presentation was so well received that one of the guests, producer Harley Medcalf, decided that it should be expanded into a full evening’s entertainment, employing champion dancers from around the world. He hired Australian Jason Gilkinson, an international ballroom prize-winner, as the show’s creator, director and choreographer. Many people feel that Australia was where the ballroom dance craze was reborn with the l992 release of the Baz Luhrmann film Strictly Ballroom.
Over the last decade, Burn the Floor has been presented in over 30 countries. For the Broadway engagement, star power was added. During the show’s opening weeks, Dancing with the Stars Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy performed. They have now been replaced by Anya and Pasha from So You Think You Can Dance.
Mr. Gilkinson’s concept for the show is simple. He has brought to the stage the 10 basic disciplines of ballroom dancing—waltz, foxtrot, tango, etc. His direction can be summed up in two words: fast and faster. There is more perspiration—literally and figuratively—in Burn the Floor’s choreography than inspiration. The repetition of steps, whether the dance is the samba or the pasa doble, is so frenetic that it’s hard to tell one dance variation from another. There is very little subtlety to the evening, and an exhausting sameness that ends up ultimately being not really dancing, but a tawdry parody of the art form.
Burn the Floor has none of the slick entertainment value of, say, a Bob Fosse’s 1978 vaudeville Dancin’ or the elegance and genius of the Argentinian duo Claudio Segovia and Hector Orezzoli, who in the late 1980’s and 90’s created such dance masterpieces as Tango Argentino, Flamenco Puro, and Black and Blue for Broadway audiences. This is not to imply that Mr. Gilkinson’s dance troupe is not skilled and trained, but their dancing does come off a little robotic and a little less spontaneous and inspired than I would have liked.
There are exceptions. Ms. Smirnoff and Mr. Chmerkovskiy, known to their cheering TV fans as Karina and Maks, do deliver some individual dancing style and have great personal charisma. Two slightly older members of the cast, the Australian couple of Damon Sugden and his wife Rebecca Sugden, perform a nicely stylized Fred-and-Ginger waltz rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” The fact that their number slows down the show’s rapid pace for a few moments and lets the audience catch its breath is also a plus.
The show has two good band singers, Rebecca Tapia and Ricky Rojas. The music is as you might expect, heavy on the percussion, though there is an excellent horn player, David Mann, and on violin and guitar the impressive Earl Maneein. The show’s scenery is minimal, the lighting effects dramatic, but the costumes are pure kitsch, whether formal wear for the ballroom scenes or skimpy Latin dancing attire that seems more suitable for the beach or Vegas.
I must add that the audience on this night loved every minute of Burn the Floor and were literally dancing up the aisles at the end. I guess that’s entertainment on Broadway these days.

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