With its zero percent body fat and four-alarm sizzle, "Burn the Floor" is the stage equivalent of a fast, frisky beach read. With legs. Twenty pulsating pairs.
Now gyrating at the Longacre on Broadway, the ballroom extravaganza, which has toured the world over the last decade, has shimmied its way to New York before. An earlier version played briefly at Radio City in 2000.
Since then, dancing has become an American fixation, from TV reality shows to viral videos. In the last week, a routine on "So You Think You Can Dance" brought people to tears, while a boogieing online bridal party made folks beam.
Dance can do that — really grab you and move you.
"Burn the Floor" does as it celebrates the foxtrot, samba, cha-cha, jive, waltz, tango and swing. The music is taped and enhanced by four onstage musicians and two singers. Choreographer and director Jason Gilkison has packed the two-hour show with moves that are athletic, sensual and rocket-fueled (except the waltz, which, though elegant, is less than a thrill).
He has polished his cast of award-winning international dance duos to a high sheen. That includes guest stars Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, who appear through Aug. 16.
That these popular "Dancing With the Stars" pros fit in seamlessly with the well-oiled and charismatic cast is one thing. That Maks manages to stand out amid so many fierce dancers speaks to his megawatt magnetism. More than his partner and fiancée, he communicates that dance is made up of not just feet and hips — it's in the face.
While Karina is buried under heaps of hair, Maks looks like he's having a blast and is always connected. For the same reason, I was drawn to Jeremy Garner and Sarah Hives, whose relationship with each other and the audience stood out.
As much as I love "SYTYCD" (and I do, right down to the hot tamale train), the need to often explain what routines are about gets tiresome. So do all the mist effects in "Burn the Floor," but the dance speaks eloquently for itself.
The blond woman (a knockout Peta Murgatroyd) who's blindfolded and passed among three guys — it's about sex. The guy dallying with five girls — sex. Eighteen buff bodies vibrating like jackhammers to "Proud Mary" — sex. It's enough to make you want a drink. Make mine what these sweat-drenched dancers must be downing — Gatorade.
If you've never watched "Dancing With the Stars" and don't know what "SYTYCD" stands for, you have no business being at "Burn the Floor." (It's "So You Think You Can Dance," by the way, and the acronym frequently pops up in the program's bios.)
"Burn the Floor" consists of a breathless, plotless succession of ballroom routines. That's it, and it's either a lot or not very much, depending on your love for this type of dancing.
Directed and choreographed by Australia's Jason Gilkinson, the show has been touring, in one form or another, for a decade. In this Broadway version, 20 hoofers zip through the 10 styles that make up international competitive dancing, including the quickstep, the Viennese waltz, the paso doble and the foxtrot.
Sometimes the performers swirl around in pairs; sometimes they're grouped up in ensemble numbers -- and everybody appears in the high-energy finale, set to "Proud Mary" and "Turn the Beat Around."
The cumulative effect is like gorging on the sugariest cake ever.
Scratch that: There's no cake here, only colorful and sprinkly frosting. And the cherry on top is the presence of Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff, two likable pros from "Dancing With the Stars."
Watching them shimmy along to a cover of Shirley Bassey's brash "History Repeating" in a blur of fast-moving hips, shoulders perpetually on the verge of dislocation, is truly exciting. In fact, the temperature at the Longacre Theatre noticeably rises every time Maks and Karina are onstage.
The duo's booked only through Aug. 16, though, and "Burn the Floor" really needs the pizazz only true ballroom names can bring. (Are Mark Ballas and Cheryl Burke busy this fall?)
Like the show itself, the rest of the cast, while likable, is mostly charisma-free and needs more magnetic oomph. It's not for lack of hard work, that's for sure. If you're sitting on an aisle or in the first two rows, you're likely to be hit by specks of sweat flying off the dancers' manes. At times, the men's glistening pecs look like rows of taut chicken breasts after a spray of Pam.
The Vegas/cruiseship aesthetic is surprisingly tasteful, even when costume designer Janet Hine follows the "Chicago" lead -- if you've got it, flaunt it, preferably in black underwear. Singers Rebecca Tapia and Ricky Rojas move about in the middle of the troupe, backed by a mix of prerecorded elements and live instruments (special props to spectacular drummer Henry Soriano).
Still, too much of a good thing can be . . . too much. I generally can't wait for the numbers in a musical, and yet I found myself craving a book here. If "Burn the Floor" makes one thing clear, it's that the time is now right for Baz Luhrmann to adapt his movie "Strictly Ballroom" for the stage.
The good news about “Burn the Floor,” a ballroom dancing extravaganza that opened Sunday at the Longacre Theater, is that it is every bit as flashy and tacky as you would expect.
Do I need to add that this is also the bad news?
Timing may not be everything in dance, but it is certainly crucial. The arrival on Broadway of this two-hour exhibition of swiveling hips and steamy embraces, directed and choreographed by Jason Gilkison, an Australian former dancing champ, is undoubtedly propitious. “Burn the Floor” has been tangoing around the globe for a decade. It made its debut in 1999 in Bournemouth, England, before touring to more than 20 countries.
Here in the United States the huge popularity of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” in which celebrities skidding toward oblivion attempt to halt the process by hooking up with professional dancers in a prime-time competition, has recently given new gloss to a sport — for it is really more sport than art — once relegated to more obscure regions of the television airwaves.
That show’s success has spawned several similar pop dance competitions, including another big hit, “So You Think You Can Dance,” on which Mr. Gilkison has worked as a guest choreographer. And you would have to be living pretty far off the grid to be unaware of the sensation caused by the YouTube video of that wedding party boogieing down the aisle.
In short, our woe-ridden world suddenly seems to be dance crazed. So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Russian ice skaters have taken to the streets to protest the sudden global shortage of leopard-print Lycra blends. More soberly I should report that “Burn the Floor” will not disappoint the stalwart fans of “dancesport,” as competitive ballroom dancing is sometimes known, according to a program note. Headlined for now by the sexy Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff, regulars on “Dancing With the Stars,” the show features nine more dance couples (as well as a pair of vocalists) in a nonstop display of pop variations on classic ballroom-dancing styles, from relatively sedate waltzes to the lindy, the rumba and the sangria-scented paso doble.
While it has been spruced up for its arrival in New York with new sets and costumes, the production still looks more ripe for Bournemouth than for Broadway. The set consists of little more than a bandstand with steps, some flimsy-looking backdrops and a disco ball. (Maybe in Bournemouth the disco ball was smaller?) The costumes, clingy sequin-spattered and fringe-trimmed dresses for the women and tight black slacks (and the occasional shirt) for the men, sometimes look cheap. Two percussionists and two other musicians perform live, but much of the music is recorded.
A little tacky too is the brevity of Mr. Chmerkovskiy and Ms. Smirnoff’s tenure with the show. They will appear only through Aug. 16 before they cha-cha off to other pursuits. That is a shame, because they provide “Burn the Floor” with a jolt of real charisma and heightened style in their duets. One flashy dance finishes with an electric flourish, as Ms. Smirnoff suddenly kicks up a heel and slings herself upside down over her partner’s arm. And Mr. Chmerkovskiy surfs the high-velocity, intricate choreography with a legato ease that makes it seem effortless.
Amid the general frenzy, his smooth operating comes as a distinct relief. So do the slower-tempo waltzes performed with a debonair sweep by the Australian couple Damon and Rebecca Sugden, although their peculiar facial expressions — his waxen affect and her open-mouthed rapture — can be a little distracting.
Which is not to suggest that all the dancers, who together have collected more than 100 titles on the competition circuit, are anything less than skilled technicians. Hailing from various countries — among them New Zealand, Britain, Italy, Slovenia and Malaysia — they perform with the precision and polish this athletic dancing all but demands. Tight footwork, tight abs and tight smiles are all on resplendent display, although much of the ersatz eroticism requires not smiles but look-ma-I’m-smoldering glares at the audience.
Some of Mr. Gilkison’s attempts to vary the mood are a little dubious. A steamy rumba in the first act, in which the statuesque blonde Peta Murgatroyd cavorts blindfolded with six oily-chested men, seems like a scene from a gay porn movie, only with better music — well, slightly better music — and dry ice (and a woman). Much better is the lively Act I finale, set in a 1940s nightclub, featuring period costumes and bursts of big band brass. It’s an enjoyable romp through World War II styles, and it allows some of the dancers to display a little individuality, the impish Sasha Farber in particular.
But competitive ballroom dancing is more about regimentation than personal expression, both in terms of steps and performance. As a result it can come to feel monotonous and mechanical, at least to this viewer. The accent on high-octane tempos and audience-dazzling athleticism ultimately left me feeling more dazed than elated.
As the performers stormed the aisles during the finale, spinning and tumbling and twisting their hips ferociously, inches from us aisle-sitters, I felt relieved to have escaped without a sequin in the eye, or a French-tipped fake nail embedded in the forehead. Presumably this sense of stunned relief is what more adventurous people experience after surviving the running of the bulls in Pamplona. I think I will check that off the to-do-before-dying list.
Let's call it "So You Think You Can Step It Up and Dance Your Ass Off With the Stars of America's Best Dance Crew." While ballroom blitz "Burn the Floor" has been touring internationally for 10 years, its arrival on Broadway clearly aims to cash in on the resurgent popularity of dance on television reality shows. But if you're going to invade the turf of Bob Fosse, Jerome Robbins and Michael Bennett, you need to bring something beyond adrenaline and aggressive sizzle. Something like grace, style or wit. While there's only about 15 ounces of collective body fat onstage, there's also about 15 ounces of imagination.
The show's most ostentatious bid to ride the TV wave is its recruitment of "Dancing With the Stars" judge Carrie Ann Inaba as a producer, and of Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, two of that show's regular professional dancers, as special guests for the first three weeks of the 12-week New York engagement. The fact that America is on first-name terms with Karina and Maks, a couple onscreen and off, is some indication of the feverish following dance competitions have generated.
But the duo is both an asset and a burden to "Burn the Floor." They are dazzling to watch, but superior on so many levels to the other robotic performers onstage that you wait impatiently for them to resurface in another routine. Their moves are more defined; they have star quality, a sense of humor and genuine chemistry.
Not that the other nine couples, plucked from the international championship ranks of ballroom dance, aren't impressive. They sweat up a storm, gyrate and vibrate at warp speed throughout the juiced-up production. But even when they're gliding across the floor in a Fred-and-Ginger homage, the dancing is effortful -- more athletic than fluid or expressive. Passion often comes across as hostility, suggesting the kind of crazed determination you're more likely to find in a wrestling match than on a dance floor.
Serenity and poise barely get a look in before sexually charged attitude, whip-pan head moves, hair-tossing and booty-popping take over again with numbing repetitiveness. It's as if the cast is auditioning for "Showgirls: The Musical." (If only.) Dancing on air this is not.
Directed and choreographed by former "Burn" ensemble member Jason Gilkison, the show whirls through the 10 standard disciplines of ballroom, initially in a dance-through-the-ages sequence that segues from "Let's Face the Music and Dance" into Shirley Bassey/Propellerheads number "History Repeating." But those 10 basics -- waltz, foxtrot, Viennese waltz, tango, quickstep, cha cha, samba, paso doble, rumba and jive -- all tend to blur into one when performed with the same hyper-accelerated flamenco intensity. There's so much random cross-pollination among styles, and so many garish theatricalized flourishes, that technique and subtlety disappear along with modulation.
Among the more unfortunate routines is a number featuring a single blindfolded female dancer being tossed around by a group of shirtless guys, a cheesy sex fantasy that plays like camp without irony. Many of the visual correlations are beyond elementary: The paso doble as a bullfight?
Generally, the show is more convincing in exuberant than sultry or dramatic mode. The jive, lindy and swing sequence near the close of act one stirs some excitement and gives the dancers some freedom to express a personality (American Giselle Peacock is a firecracker), as does the infectious cha cha of the finale, "Turn the Beat Around." There's also a frenzied "Proud Mary" that owes much to Tina Turner's shimmy, right down to the fringed mini-dresses.
However, the songs of female vocalist Rebecca Tapia tend to opt for the same overkill as the dances, with everything from "I Just Want to Make Love to You" to "Nights in White Satin" given similar big, growly treatment. Tapia's male counterpart, Ricky Rojas, is a touch more restrained. The show employs two percussionists, a horn player and fiddler/guitarist onstage, augmenting canned music played at maximum volume.
Even louder are Janet Hine's costumes. Based on John Van Gastel's designs for the show's earlier incarnations, they favor a lurid, Donatella Versace/Eurotrash aesthetic, with lots of sheer fabrics, skintight trousers and slutty backless prom dresses.
The production manages to be slick and tacky at the same time -- it's a vulgarized dance marathon as '80s Vegas variety show, lacking only a topless girl in body glitter emerging from a volcano. Still, much of the press-night crowd seemed to eat up every skyward leg extension and death-defying dip. Nobody even appeared to mind the shower of sweat when the dancers hit the aisles. Maybe TV dance fans will flock. Others might require more finesse and less flash in their bend-and-snap.