United Kingdom Burn the Floor: Robin Windsor, Kristina Rihanoff, Karen Hauer and 15 dancers; Peter Saul Blewden and Vonzell Solomon (vocals); Will Fry (percussion), Torquil Munro (keyboards) Andy Jones (guitar) / Joe Malone (musical director & drums); Jason Gilkison (director and choreographer). Shaftesbury Theatre, London 11.3.2013. (JPr)
Burn the Floor is like an unremitting two-hour dancercise DVD performed live: I’m sure you can lose a substantial amount of weight just by sitting there in the Shaftesbury Theatre and watching it. As a show it began long before the BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing and the various international spin-off shows that has made the ballroom and Latin styles of dancing popular again with people of all ages. The world première of Burn the Floor was in July 1999 in Bournemouth (why there I’m not entirely sure?) subsequently touring the world and being performed in over 300 cities. In 2009 it reached Broadway and previously had a West End season at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2010. Most of the dancers are dance champions and the show quickly became a training ground for Strictly Come Dancing, Dancing With The Stars, So You Think Can Dance and any number of their other international versions. Currently it features Robin Windsor, Kristina Rihanoff and Karen Hauer, all instantly familiar to Strictly’s faithful fans.
According to the lavish souvenir brochure the style danced in Burn the Floor is called ‘International style’ and this has been danced in competition since 1920. It further adds: ‘International style ballroom dances consists of 10 dances that are split into 5 Latin American dances [Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Quickstep and Tango], and 5 ballroom dances (standard) [Cha Cha, Samba, Paso Doble, Rumba and Jive]. Burn the Floor dancers have spent a lifetime training to compete against other dancers; this show allows the dancers to show their love and passion for their art form without being judged.’
That they certainly do in a fast-and-furious show (directed and choreographed by Jason Gilkison) with rapid costume-changes that still often seemed one long Rumba ‘dance off’ with only the occasional romantic Waltz to provide a little respite from its overall raunchiness. Throughout there are loads of Samba hip shakes, intricate lifts and legs kicking upwards or flying akimbo. Thankfully, there is a short interval for the audience – and the dancers – to catch its collective breath because otherwise it all seems so relentless in a way that by the end actually becomes quite irresistible. Truth-be-told, there is a feeling you have seen many of the routines before – and some earlier the same evening – but the dancers are so talented and full of ‘their love and passion’ that Burn the Floor becomes totally engrossing.
There is no plot to speak of – and ultimately it probably doesn’t need one – because each dance is seamlessly integrated into the following routine. The dancing itself sets the mood and takes you on an individual journey, though it often relies a bit too much on macho, often bare-chested, posturing amongst the men or a competitive one-upwomanship, including hair swishing, amongst the girls.
Burn the Floor is a mixture of Latin and ballroom, featuring solos, duets and high-energy group routines. The staging is basically black and employs atmospheric lighting effects (by Scott Rogers), with the musicians to the rear of the stage. The music, that seemed occasionally to employ a backing track, was mostly played live and was as typically eclectic as usual for these dance shows, spanning the generations. Like the dancing, it was performed flat out and often a little too loudly and sometimes drowned the enthusiastic and versatile vocalists, Peter Saul Blewden and Vonzell Solomon.
Often a few tables and chairs are scattered around to create the ambiance of a club but you could be sure that as soon as a chair appeared it wouldn’t be long before someone straddled it. Really good was when the vocalists, dancers and musicians interacted as this added to a sense of real enjoyment in what we were seeing.
There were very few standout moments but I especially liked when the lithe Karen Hauer danced the Rumba blindfold, one girl among six men with their torsos bare and glistening. It seemed so effortless that it really was beautiful to watch. The long-limbed Faye Huddleston was another fine performer as she swept through some well-executed ballroom numbers including an ethereal Waltz in Act I and a suitably fleet-footed Quickstep in Act II, excellently partnered by Aljaž Skorjanec. Early in the show I thought I had spotted an eye-catching ‘pocket dynamo’ of a dancer in Gillian Peacock. She went on to steal the show with all her subsequent routines after being centre-stage for a potent Paso Doble near the start of the second half. Strictly Come Dancing should sign her up as soon as possible as she danced Kristina Rihanoff off the stage when they were side-by-side. Together with her accomplished regular partner, the muscular Robin Windsor, these veterans of Strictly are Burn the Floor’s headline dancers but in this ensemble entertainment, to their credit, they are just as content to leave the spotlight to others so that they can seize their chance to shine.
It all ended on a high with two wonderful group dances, rampant Jives to firstly ‘Proud Mary’, and as an encore, to ‘Ballroom Blitz’ that was as full-on and upbeat as could be hoped for and the summation of the whole enjoyable evening.
Despite the dancers coming onto the stage – or stepping off it – through the auditorium there was no real audience participation and this was a highlight of Brendan Cole’s recent Licence To Thrill – a similar, if less ambitious, show. Before the curtain went up a sexy, flirtatious, female dancer prowled around the stalls seeking victims to dance with or kiss her. Someone who said that they only ‘kiss boys’ was humorously rebuffed. These were the only moments of real fun the whole evening – from then on all the dancers were working so hard throughout this slick entertainment that there was no time for any more.