SIZZLIN’ BALLROOM: BURN THE FLOOR’S CREATIVE FORCE:
By: ELLIS NASSOUR
NYTimes critic Charles Isherwood termed Burn the Floor, the ballroom dancing spectacular now at the Longacre, "every bit as flashy and tacky as you would expect." WOW! Those two qualities, both of which are so alien to Broadway!, are perhaps what’s making the Aussie production such a hit. That and the fact that thanks to smash TV shows such as Dancing with the Stars the world seems dance crazy.
Though it’s been playing around the world for 10 years, it’s just making its NY debut. To a dance novice like me, the majority of dancing you experience to the hot, non-stop rhythms in Burn isn’t ballroom per se – you know, the kind that was formerly regulated to PBS; but, heck, if that’s what they want to call it, fine with me.
The 20 dancers from around the world, all champion competive performers, will stun you with their wiggles, shimmys, speedy footwork, acrobatics, skimpy costumes and beauty and handsomeness. With a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on, the show is also sexyyyyyy!
"Believe it or not," claims director/choreographer Jason Gilkison, "it wasn’t intended that way; but, with the way these gals and guys move to the pounding rhythms, it just is sensual. It can’t be helped."
Though it would be foolhardy to single out one or two of the dancers as "the best," in the company are two extraordinary performers. Frisco native Giselle Peacock, the shortest female dancer, will instantly remind you of a very young Chita Rivera and Rita Moreno. She’s not only good, but she’s slick [watch how she very carefully selects a male audience member to often play to]. Then there’s the company’s striking, statueque 23-year-old Aussie blonde Venus, Petra Murgatroyd, whose dream it was to be a ballerina and only discovered ballroom after breaking an ankle. She’s mesmerizing to watch, and she can act, too.
Gilkison, a former dance champ, reconceived the show four years ago for theatres. "We’d been playing arenas," he reports, "and I wanted to make the show much more up close and personal so the intensity of the dancing could really blow audiences out of their seats."
Portions of the show take place all over the theatre, with some moments very up close and personal. When the dancers spin up and down the aisles, shaking their bods and heads to the Latin and Swing music, the perspiration flies.
"It was my idea to break the fourth wall," Gilkison notes. "Ballroom dancing comes from the people so this is our way of brining our little social history of ballroom back to the people. Thanks to the popularity of dance on TV, people now know the difference between a tango and a waltz. They didn’t 10 years ago."
As much as the company, which includes four seasoned musicians [who play live, mostly on all manner of percussion, alongside music tracks] and two excellent singers, Rebecca Tapia and Ricky Rojas] was looking forward to playing Broadway, there’s been a drawback.
"There’s not a lot of wing space at the Longacre," says Gilkinson, "so with all the speedy entrances and exits and quick costume changes everything is just as choreographed backstage as onstage."
Seeing the dancers, who range in age from 20 to 33, go full steam for two hours, with only a 15-minute intermission, and doing what they do nightly and twice on Wednesday and Saturday, makes you realize how dedicated they are.
Some cast members have been with the show for 10 years. "If you have your heart and soul in it, you can do it forever. Though I don’t dance in the show anymore, I’m still dancing at 43."
With dance partner Peta Roby, a BTF associate producer, they were Australia’s most successful dance couple winning world and British ballroom competitions. In addition, he’s appeared on the Australian and U.S. versions of So You Think You Can Dance and choreographed on the West End and Broadway and the closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympic games.
"Each and every one of them are very passionate about what they do," explains Gilkinson. "They don’t do it just because it’s a job. It’s a lifestyle. Not only do they know technique and how to, well, put their best foot forward, they’re always working, rehearsing." Amazingly, the company has gone for a year without an injury.
Burn the Floor was intending to stay on Broadway through October 18, but, according to Gilkison, with the type of audience response the show is getting, "We’ll be here a while longer."
Guest artists Makism Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff of Dancing with the Stars fame, are just exiting the show. Joining the company are ballroom superstars Pasha Kovalev and Anya Garnis of TV’s So You Think You Can Dance.