Twenty feverish, hot bodies take to the stage in “Burn the Floor”. The convulsive energy that goes into their performances is as erotic as anything you can find in Times Square these days. (Entertainment that sexy was supposed to have been outlawed years ago.)
Still, this is the stuff of pop culture. The Broadway season’s first show, arriving at the peak of tourism, is aimed to please audiences groomed on reality television’s “Dancing With The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance”. And to capitalize on the media craze, the first few weeks of the show star Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy.
But don’t expect anything too ingenious about Jason Gilkison’s choreography. By comparison, the versatility of the dancers and dance styles in “SYTYCD” are exceptional. That show requires amazing improvisational skill and ease in genres as different as the ballet is from hip-hop. And it proves how versatile and adept its competing dancers can be.
While the program notes to “Burn the Floor” delineate more than a dozen different types of performance (Cha Cha, Samba, Jive and Quickstep) most of the numbers blend into a sameness of style and a repetition of moves. What ignites here is how fast these dancers move; the heat and pulsing energy they generate. This is where their vibrancy speaks an international language.
But you won’t need to look beyond it. While physically hot, the production is tepid when it comes to dramatic intensity. Gestures are large at jutting the air, but bereft at communicating thought. Blank stares often pass for a passionate gaze. And no matter what, most of the dancers have a pasted smile on their face.
In fact, there are moments when mime and mimicry verge on the farcical as in “Matador” in which the heroic lives of the bullfighters portrayed fall short of the mythology that’s evoked. There are a few exceptions, the best being “Fishies”. Here Kevin Clifton feverishly chases a series of four women, creating a narrative through his exacting mimicry and emotional fluidity.
While a few numbers recall the choreography of Fosse, there’s no comparison with the original. “Chicago”, for instance, still running on Broadway, illustrates his iconic style and proves how compelling it can be to see dance that tells an emotionally charged story that is also very sexy.
“Burn the Floor”, on the other hand, takes shape through the veracity of its performers. And Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkosvskiy from “Dancing With the Stars” are the strongest among them. While Chmerkosvskiy’s size and virility make for a commanding presence, Smirnoff is more impressive as she demonstrates both strength and grace. When necessary, as in the numbers influenced by modern dance, her moves are genuinely fluid. It sets her apart in this production where dancing takes a more rigid form, one that is physically adamant rather than self-expressive.
Similarly, the music from ballad to samba, performed by violin, guitar, piano and horns, ultimately falls back to the heavy beat of the percussion. While the conductor Henry Soriano is an outstanding drummer, the tunes performed morph into a medley of predictable pop standards with the second act devoted to Latin rhythms. Rebecca Tapia and Ricky Rojas, the two vocalists, croon the audience in karaoke-like fashion.
Janet Hine’s costumes, based on John Van Gastel’s original designs, use the rainbow of pastels to contrast with the revealing costumes in basic black. Nonetheless they are well suited to the genre.
The show, which has played in 30 countries, has been twirling the globe since 1999. It certainly won’t stop on Broadway. If you ask me, that’s just as well.
By Isa Goldberg
“Burn The Floor”
Longacre Theatre 220 West 48th Street
1 212 239-6200