Ballroom will never be seen as “strictly” ever again. The troupe of 44 championship dancers that kicked off “Burn the Floor’s” first U.S. tour in L.A. Wednesday night have taken the staid, stiff dance syllabus and turned it on its head. The result: A high-energy, heart-pounding display of dance pyrotechnics that should do for the cha-cha and the quickstep what “Riverdance” did for the Irish jig.
The only difference is that these dances — the aforementioned plus the waltz, tango, jitterbug, rhumba and samba — are recognizable onstage and much more accessible to audiences.
“Burn the Floor’s” timing couldn’t be better as ballroom dance is big again — swing is sweeping college campuses and dance enthusiasts are pushing the IOC to include this sport in the 2004 Olympics.
And this being L.A., where you never know who may be watching, a dozen or so couples were inspired by the performance to strut their own stuff in the aisles during intermission. “Burn the Floor,” in short, catches fire.
The performers in “Burn the Floor” are professional ballroom partners from around the world, who while not vying in those syllabus-slavish competitions, clearly relish letting their hair down.
The production team is packed with top-notch creatives, including Aussie impresario Harley Medcalf, who was inspired to mount the show three years ago at Elton John’s 50th birthday party, where ballroom dancers performed for the guests.
Medcalf’s team on “Burn” includes Mark Fisher, who worked on Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” concerts, and top director-choreographer Anthony Van Laast. This team’s involvement lifted the $10 million, two-hour show into the realm of high-energy, well-paced, flawlessly seamed spectacle.
The traditional pivots, voltas, swirls and sways of ballroom dancing have been pulled apart and stitched back together by the “Burn” troupe with sexy, saucy, hip-gyrating abandon.
Per the program notes, the show involves 600 costumes, 61 hats and headdresses, 750 feet of organza, 51 masks, 50 pairs of tights — and 342 pairs of shoes!
The recorded music — whether from Bizet, Berlin or Benny Goodman, salsa or techno — all sounds invigorating and modern.
Costume designer Bonita Bryg clearly had a field day, decking out these slim, athletic bodies in everything from hoop skirts that light up from within, to leather motorcycle gear, to coolly elegant floor-length ball gowns. And yes, there’s plenty of bosom to behold and biceps to admire in this show.
In the first half the dancers take us on a global journey: To a masked Viennese ball, a bullfight and a World War II-inspired jitterbug blowout — complete with headlights from a B1 bomber in the background and Andrews Sisters look-alikes miming “The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy.”
The latter number is a real show-stopper, with the ensemble shuffling and sugar-footing to big-band hits and with the individual talents of certain dancers coming in and out of focus on the two giant screens flanking the stage.
In the second half the most stunning sequence featured foxtrotters gliding in front of smoky mirrors to a medley featuring tunes from old Fred Astaire movies, including “Cheek to Cheek” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance.” Soloists Damon Sugden and Rebecca Walker brought their own graceful interpretation to some old Astaire-Eleanor Parker routines.
After a three-night stand in L.A., “Burn the Floor” goes to New York’s Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday and Thursday and then through a dozen U.S. cities.