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Burn the Floor

Sensation Without Substance

Growing up I was utterly mesmerized by the relaxed and easy grace with which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers swept through a ballroom. Watching them made me want to swirl across the floor in a fluid satin dress and chic heels with a dashing young man in top hat and tails, as I imagine my grandmother might have done.

Unfortunately, as evidenced in "Dancing with the Stars", sensationalism has overtaken ballroom dancing. Outrageous costumes and gravity-defying, body-distorting gymnastic feats seem to have replaced substance with spectacle, and emphasize the athletic prowess of the dancers rather than the simple elegance of two bodies moving together in smooth, sinuous rhythm. Burn the Floor, produced by Harley Medcalf and choreographed by Jason Gilkison, is a dance phenomenon akin to "Dancing With the Stars" that provides a sensational, sensuous spectacle for audiences, but lacks the graceful style and elegance of the Fred-and-Ginger days.

Originally conceived after witnessing a dance performance in honor of Sir Elton John’s birthday, Burn the Floor is cast as a modernization of traditional ballroom dancing, a re-presenting of the standard dance moves in an edgy, sexy production. The show combines an interesting mix of dance styles (such as waltz, tango, hip hop, and the Charleston) with sparkly, body-baring costumes and, unfortunately, some rather stale music, climaxing with frenetic, sweat-flinging dance moves to “Rollin’ on a River” and “Turn the Beat Around".

While both the dancers and singers are incredibly talented, some unfortunate choices in music, costuming, and choreography resulted in a production that was difficult to enjoy -- it was as though Baz Lurhmann’s Strictly Ballroom had tried to take itself too seriously. What Strictly Ballroom does do, however, is to show what happens when the soul of dance is lost, and the emphasis is placed instead on the exhibitionism inherent in competition. As it does in this production.

Like the characters in the film, the dancers in Burn the Floor have athletic, perfectly honed bodies adorned by flashing, garishly colored costumes, which, in many cases, seemed like cheap reinterpretations of the originals. For example, in one of the waltz sequences the female dancer wears what should be a gorgeous white satin dress with a plunging V-neck and a swathe of black across the waist -- quite appropriate for this type of dance – but it was ill-fitted and poorly designed for her body type, detracting from the graceful aesthetic of the dance itself.

Another sequence sought to portray something like a 1920s speakeasy complete with men in spats and bowler hats. In this case, the frenzied athleticism of modern dancing actually takes up the Charleston beautifully, presenting an electrifying performance. Yet, the female dancers’ attire consisted of body-baring ruffles more appropriate to the cha cha cha than the pared-down, desexualized sensibilities of the flappers. In this production, the costuming seemed many times to be at odds with the flavor of the dance or the music and thus gave a sense of glaring inconsistency, as if you decided to wear a ball gown to a company picnic.

Yet, behind the exhibitionism lies true talent. The international cast of dancers has mastered an inconceivable number of dance styles, and their versatility is admirable, while the two vocalists, Kieron Kulik and Jessica Lingotti, have gorgeous voices. It is the presentation of this talent that is lacking; sometimes a little simplicity and consistency goes much farther than sensationalism and spectacle.

At the Post Street Theatre
Runs through March 15th
Tickets: $30- 100