The Shaftesbury Theatre stage was scorched to a crisp on Monday night as dance sensation Burn The Floor sashayed into London’s West End to a rapturous audience, deserving every moment of the standing ovation that greeted its prolonged curtain call.
Dancers from all over the world – Cuba, Russia, Australia and the US – performed an incredible high energy set, combining fiery Latino beats with the sultry swing of the jazz era, breaking fresh ground in the arena of professional dance. And it’s infectious. I was almost salsa-ing down the office to get my morning tea yesterday, humming Proud Mary as I went.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a powerful display of dance – it’s evolution through the ages, its traditions and the deconstruction of such – ever before on the stage. For any dance fans it’s a no-brainer. But the sex that exudes from each couple and dance group throughout every number (and the general hotness of all the cast members) also guarantee it to be a great date night (boys, take note. You won’t be disappointed).
The history of the show is interesting. Having enjoyed an unexpected extended run on Broadway – a planned 6-week set turned into a 6-month long party – my knowledge of the show stemmed from its New York performance, but as I learned last night the roots of Burn The Floor are actually a lot closer to home.
Bournmouth was its starting point as a dance show, but its inception came about from the birthday party of a certain Sir Elton John. There, a group of dancers took ballroom to a whole new level, breaking down the barriers of tradition and setting new standards of combination dance. Producer Harley Medcalf saw a spark of brilliance in the concept, and Burn the Floor was born.
For me, and for the majority of the folk I spoke to in the bar afterwards, the second half is definitely a great deal stronger than the first, as most good shows should be. It’s faster, tighter and more highly energised. Aside from some cute swing numbers – particularly where one unstoppable fellow bites off more than he can chew, aiming to woo several women at the same time with his incredible dance moves – all my highlights fell in Act 2.
A rendition of Cariño is belted out by the female vocalist, followed by some fierce Spanish flamenco. The pace then drops for the achingly beautiful modern piece, set to male vocals of ‘I Burn For You’. The peace is promptly shattered by the thundering drum beat that directly follows, where the stunning girls whip up a frenzied section in Chicago-style costumes, leading their leather pants-clad male counterparts in a chair-based routine.
The effect is a full on acceleration to the final numbers, which begin with a rousing rendition of Proud Mary – which, as all good Glee fans know, makes a guaranteed show-stopping number (and, Burn the Floor even features a Glee principal dancer, Janette Manrara, who opens the show).
The costumes are sensational, the music is foot-tappingly good. The band – hidden in shadows on a raised platform at the rear of the stage for most of the show – do an incredible job and the vocalists are a powerful addition. There were questions asked as to the live quality of all the music, given that at curtain call only a violinist, saxophonist and drummers were invited forward to take a bow, rather raising the question that some audio may have been a track. But not to the detriment of the performance.
For me (and, it seemed, most of the audience) the traditional ballroom bits were the least engaging, with the notable exception of an impressive mirroring number in the second act, where two perfectly synchronised pairs dance as one thanks to a cleverly placed mesh screen. But in a show that deconstructs the very traditions of ballroom, perhaps this is as it should be.
Although I couldn’t finish without a mention of the stars, Strictly‘s Ali Bastian & Brian Fortuna, it does rather speak volumes that I find myself getting this far with a need to mention their involvement. Talented they clearly are, and yes they make a (somewhat sickly sweet) cute couple – so much so in fact, that I couldn’t help feeling their waltz numbers served more to indulge and celebrate their much-publicised romance that burgeoned under the Strictly glitter ball than they did actually contribute to the show.
As Prince & Princess of Strictly, they may rule the floor, but against the backdrop of immense dance ability and experience that Burn The Floor offers, one couldn’t help but feel they were rather superfluous to proceedings. For me, leading men and ladies need to lead, and last night they couldn’t help but follow – not from a lack of talent per se, but simply because the bar was already raised so high.
That said, if their involvement speaks to Strictly fans and provides bums on seats, then I wish them well. And there are reasons a plenty to go and see this show, entertainment TV star names aside.
Burn the Floor is enjoying a limited run at The Shaftebury Theatre until early September. Book now through Ticketmaster or by calling the theatre on +44 (0)20 7379 5399