Posted on October 1, 2010
“Ballroom. Reinvented” is the strapline for Burn The Floor, the much-hyped steamy spectacular that was first conceived at Elton John’s 50th birthday celebration in 1997 before it made its world premiere in the UK two years later.
The show, now in London’s Shaftesbury Theatre until September 4, also captures a moment in the story of “Strictly”, since stars from the show’s past – Ali Bastian and Brian Fortuna – and its future – Artem Chigvintsev and Robin Windsor – dance side by side on stage, though the absence of Windsor on stage on July 26 was disappointing.
The performance opens with the most creative “No photos and turn off your mobiles” instruction I’ve ever seen, which I don’t want to spoil, but suffice to say phone or camera, or possibly both, disappear down the cleavage of a nubile young dancer, thus setting the sizzling tone for “Ballroom Beat”, the first number in which the performers come sashaying out of the audience to a deep tribal rhythm.
They are a photogenic lot. Clothed, or barely clothed, in skimpy, black outfits, they move to the opening cha cha cha with a charged eroticism that brought to mind the sweaty club roots of Latin dance. Sarah Hives caught my eye – pinging around the body of her partner Jeremy Garner like elastic. Their chemistry was so electric that I couldn’t take my eyes off them, and later they made a rumba – “Burn For You” – that in the hands of others might have looked hammy or clichéd look exquisite.
At times, then, Burn The Floor does seem to reinvent ballroom – or, more accurately, Latin, since it is the latter, slick and high octane, that dominates the show. At one point, in a clever visual joke three formally dressed male dancers dance samba no pé – the solo impromptu samba that is normally associated with the scantily clad passistas (girls with big feathered headdresses) at Carnival.
Elsewhere, I felt we were on tired ground such as when a blindfolded Karen Hauer danced a sultry rumba with six half-naked sweaty male dancers surrounding her and partnering her in turn. Supposedly a piece exploring trust, it felt dated and exploitative.
An interesting contrast was “Fishies”, a jive that followed, but this time with a single male dancer with multiple female partners. This was cheeky and fun, though I think it may have been an interesting twist to have the woman playing the field and the male dancer vulnerable and blindfolded.
As for Ali and Brian, their dances appeared more as an add-on, which was understandable since they only joined the cast in London. In the first half, they played to Bastian’s strengths with a butter-wouldn’t-melt Viennese waltz, which was as pink and fluffy as her outfit, and “Nights in White Satin”, eh, another Viennese waltz.
Elsewhere, in the company of such professionals at the peak of their game, Bastian seemed to come a little bit unstuck, particularly with the Latin, but bearing in mind that this time last year nobody associated her name with dancing, she does pretty well, and watching her and Brian together is enough to soften the hardest of hearts.
Photograph © Joan Marcus