Sunday, July 24, 2011

Burn the Floor - Review for the Sunday Independent - Johannesburg

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McKenna Ink Thesis Editing Service

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Burn the Floor is just too much.   
Reviewer – Neal McKenna
     Burn the Floor is anything but one of those tango shows, heavy on protracted solos or show dancing. The only focus here is on fiery exhibitionism – ensemble and otherwise. When the lights go up, nineteen swiveled-hipped dancers explode with high-kicking energy – enough to give sagging, old Eskom a new and much needed source of electricity. It is a high-energy, heart-pounding display of dance pyrotechnics. It is dizzyingly fast, bedazzling and fairly roiling with sexual energy.
     Burn the Floor is not anything like your granny’s idea of ballroom dancing. It’s pretty-much an all-out Las Vegas extravaganza but on steroids and amphetamines. All steamy, sweaty, slinky, sinewy, scorching, sensuous, seductive, salacious, spinning, shimmying, and scandalous, these dancers move like thunder bolts and change partners faster than George Clooney. The cast has muscles and curves in all the right places and is not the least bit bashful about showing it off.
     During the course of two acts, the dancers perform all the Ballroom and Latin styles, including the Cha-Cha, Samba, Salsa, Rumba, Foxtrot, Quickstep, Mambo, Tango, Swing, Jive, Lindy Hop, Viennese Waltz, and the dramatic Pasodoble. The prerecorded music is eclectic, ranging from Swing and Waltz classics to J-Lo and Creedence Clearwater Revival. However, this perhaps is one of the show’s more obvious weak points.
     The producers have opted to substitute the presence of a live orchestra with lots of canned volume – not the wisest of decisions where a live performance is concerned. Then again, not incurring the expense of having to transport, maintain and pay a full orchestra on the road around the world does make a lot of sense to the bean counters keeping an eye on the bottom line. So, the closest thing to live musicians you’ll get is two percussionists on stage. However, drummers Joseph Malone and Henry Soriano do considerably compensate for the prerecorded music.
     The first half takes the audience on a global journey to a Viennese ball, an after-hours club and a World War II-inspired jitterbug blowout. There’s also a nod to the 1930s with a graceful interpretation to some iconic Astaire-Rogers movie routines. There is a nice bit where it seems the couple channeling Fred and Ginger, are dancing in front of a mirror. It’s only later that it becomes obvious another couple duplicating their every movement in but reverse.
     At first, I thought the set design was a bit of an addendum. But in all fairness, I did have to remind myself this is a travelling show. There’s only so much to be done with a fog machine, strip lights, follow-spots and a mirror ball.  

    However, as the show progressed and the Spartan set evolved to suit the style of music, I changed my mind. It did what it was supposed to do. Less was actually more but there was still one major flaw. The focal point stairway was glaringly under-used and utilised mostly by the vocalists.
     Speaking of the vocalists, they are quite amazing. Peter Saul applies serious amperage to “I’m a Ding-Dong Daddy,” in the first act’s finale. And, Jessica Lingotti, bedecked in silver sequins and faux ermine – well, I hope it’s faux – nearly bursts into flame as a 1940s night club chanteuse when she sings “I Just Wanna Make Love to You.”
     Costumes by Janet Hine are sexy and revealing but not as trashy as one might expect for what is essentially a ballroom dance show. That’s not to say there isn’t a splashy avalanche of ruffles, sequins, spangles, tassels and chiffon. There’s more than enough of that to go around. According to the program, the show involves over 360 costumes, hats and headdresses; 194 pairs of shoes and 250 meters of organza!
     In the second act, the dancers sway and swing in the aisles and then stream back to the stage for a steamy rumba number called “Burn for You.” This by far, was the most outstanding segment and it is entirely due to its stark simplicity as opposed to the majority of the show’s flashiness and frenetic pace. Featuring Santo Costa in a white, muscle shirt and Janette Manrara – well, I think that’s who she was – wearing just a man’s white dress shirt. This routine was sensual and quiet enough to allow the audience to finally connect with the dancers.
     To be honest, following the close of the first act, my head was spinning like the kid’s in “The Exorcist,” and it was still revolving half way through the second act. How was anybody keeping track of who was who? I had a huge case of sensory overload and I suspect I wasn’t alone! All I can say is choreographer and director, Jason Gilkison certainly knows how to keep things moving – on fast forward!
     To be succinct, Burn the Floor is all about the athleticism of the dancers rather than the styles of the dances performed. There is nothing groundbreaking here – it’s Dancing with the Stars squared, cubed and diced. Unfortunately, the feverish pace doesn’t ever slow down long enough to allow the audience to catch its breath. During intermission, I overheard people saying they were exhausted.
     So, Mae West got it wrong. Too much of a good thing isn’t wonderful – it’s just too much. Any of the show’s dynamic routines would have been an effective show-stopper but an entire evening of finales is downright overkill. Just sitting through this show was daunting; and to think, these people do it eight times a week! Obviously, there can’t be a single ounce of excess body fat to be shared among the entire dance troupe!
     To sum up, there’s really nothing wrong with Burn the Floor. Actually, there is a lot that’s right with it. The show is beautifully executed. All the performers are skilled athletes and excruciatingly beautiful. But they’re not an ensemble. They appear to be competing with each other, resorting to blatant up-staging. Background dancers often seem to be doing more interesting things than the featured performers. 
     For these reasons and others I’m at a loss to identify, the show simply did not carry me away to where I hoped it would. Without a doubt, it is not to the Cha Cha what Riverdance is to the Irish jig. Burn the Floor failed to hit the “sweet spot” that would have elevated it from a spectacle to a spectacular.
     Burn the Floor plays on The Mandela Stage at the Joburg Theatre for a limited run, closing on August 14th

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