Sunday, June 17, 2012

Burn the Floor

Janette Manara and Robbie Kmetoni in Burn the Floor
I remember the first version of Burn the Floor which premiered in Melbourne in 2000. At the time Jason Gilkison, who now creatively heads the whole operation, was a dancer in it. Champion ballroom dance couples had been brought together from around the world to make an arena spectacular. It bombed spectacularly. Way too gaudy, not enough good dancing, a cast that had no cohesion and a venue that was so hugely distant. Underneath its garish costumes and rock concert lighting, it had no soul.

When Gilkison took the reigns and "reinvented" it a couple of years later, it became a very different beast. Rebranded and turned into a more intimate show that was high on both sex factor and technical skill, Burn the Floor started to have some real legs (pardon the pun.) It re-launched at Her Majesty's Theatre (a much better choice of location) and aimed for a more sophisticated image. It was hyped as ballroom without the fake tans and diamantes. It didn't totally shake the ballroom aesthetic, but what it did do was ramp it up sexually and start to expand it artistically. What really made BTF show promise was Gilkison's breaking away from the heavily codified box of competition ballroom with non-traditional choreography. By contemporary dance standards, his rebel choreography didn't seem particularly novel, but in the context of a ballroom world, it was groundbreaking.

As we have watched Gilkison's choreography develop even more through his work on both Australian and American seasons of So You Think You Can Dance, he continues to prove himself as an innovator of the form. Ballroom purists might have issues with his unorthodox tendencies, but his fan base is so wide - from dancers to audiences, that he's clearly doing something right!

BTF has toured extensively, including a run on Broadway. It's managed to return to Melbourne several times - always nice to play to a home crowd! It's had hundreds of dancers in its folds and it's been a showcase for both ballroom superstars and reality television discoveries.

The version currently playing at The Palms at Crown is not that different from what we saw in 2008 and 2010 (also at The Palms) and has many elements from the original launch at Her Majesty's. What seems to have changed most is the cast, which now features dancers pulled from SYTYCD who don't have formal background in ballroom dancing. Most notably 20 year old Robbie Kmetoni, whose background is jazz and contemporary. He doesn't dance in the most ballroom technical numbers, but gets to play to his strengths as a great jumper, turner and he stands out as a personality. Having these different dancers extends BTF just that bit more out of the ballroom zone.

This 20-strong cast has a huge Australian contingent, including local Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School alumni Kieran McMahon. Stand outs are American Giselle Peacock and Australian Jemma Armstrong and as a solost, South African Keoikantse Motsepe

It's no easy endeavour to create a snappy two hour show of pure dancing that appeals to wide global audiences. BTF's strengths are also, in some ways, its weaknesses. It is "on" full voltage all the time. It has to be, really, if it's going to create the buzz that it does.  Even with quieter duets, the overall feeling is big and overwhelming. At times, gargantuan. Sections fly by in one big blur and can read as crazy assaults of samba shakes, intricate lifts and limbs flying akimbo. BTF barely catches its breath (thank goodness for interval!) It hits so hard, it's understandable that it leaves some audiences cold and its sensuality can be interpreted as more raunchy than sexy. 

Personally, I love the energy of it all and the choreographic detail that resides within all the rushes of movement. And I love watching great dancers with lifetimes of training in their bodies getting to do what they do best - just dance. 

Click here for my review of Burn The Floor in the Herald Sun on 15 June 2012.

Burn the Floor
The Palms at Crown
14 - 30 June 2012

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