Now that Burn The Floor can no longer play off its initial capacity to shock and awe like the first time, audiences will be looking for more of the same only even hotter. The latest version, Fire in the Ballroom, pretty much delivers. By LESLEY STONES.
The first time Burn the Floor played in South Africa it was a guaranteed hit, literally turning ballroom dancing on its head, on its side and up the air.
Stuffy old routines were brought kicking, wiggling, wriggling and sizzling into the modern world.
Now Burn The Floor can no longer play off its initial capacity to shock and awe as it did the first time. We all know what to expect, which gives its long-standing choreographer Jason Gilkison a more demanding barrier. Of course we want more of the same, but this time, we want it even hotter.
The latest version, Fire in the Ballroom, pretty much delivers. The actual waltz synonymous with ballroom dancing has just about disappeared, with a far heavier emphasis on livelier Latin American styles. They’ve always been the more seductive of this close contact sport, and lend themselves far better to sexing up.
What’s also bound to put bums on seats this time is the presence of Johannes Radebe, who joined the cast after his success in Strictly Come Dancing.
We’ve had local dancers in this Australian-based touring crew before, but Radebe’s television fame has been used for great publicity. I might be biased, but I reckon our lithe and confident Radebe is about the best among the six brilliant male dancers.
His partner for many of the dances is another local, Kylee Brown, who joined the crew in 2013.
The fact that he’s black and she’s white has a sort of kumbaya effect, making me wonder if we need Australian producers to sort out the transformation of all our other sports too.
I wasn’t always sure which woman Radebe was dancing with, but they were beautiful in Angels, where Mikee Introna does a great cover of the Robbie Williams song.
The 12 dancers are constantly on the move, creating lots to look at so your eyes dart from one to another as you try not to miss a fling. The guys have ridiculously small bums, the ladies impossibly long legs, and the outfits are a constant whirl of sequins, satin, sleazy leather and teeny-tiny skirts.
The last time I saw a Burn The Floor production was in 2013 with The Temperature Rises. That show had swapped sensuality for plain, unsubtle sexiness. Now the sensuality is back, with the dancers paying attention to wooing their partners as well as impressing the audience.
The sets are lovely, mainly using backdrops that don’t encroach onto the stage to give the dancers room to move. There are a couple of ornate towers and some circular steps like a glamorous fire escape to rise above the crowd, used well in Quando, Quando, Quando for a Romeo-and-Juliette-style romance.
There are two excellent singers, Introna and Jessica Lingotti, and a percussionist at the back of the stage, with the rest of the music provided by backing tracks.
The show opens with an atmospheric Latin American backdrop complete with a traditional arched street lamp. It could be Havana or Buenos Aires, and when the sun sets over the street scene you can practically picture the cobblestones and smell the coffee. Thank goodness there are no cobbles, though, because the ladies are dancing in high heels.
They exuberantly shimmy through numbers like Oye Coma Va and Volare before the tone switches into jazzy jive and swing.
The second half is slightly weaker, lacking any real cohesion. It starts with a Spanish-style Carmen affair, with a gaudy costume for Lingotti the singer and lots of leather and straps for the others. Lady Gaga at the Spanish Inquisition.
We have Stairway to Heaven too, before a romantic interlude of Halo performed by the two singers. Then the dancers are back for a School’s Out session of tangos. I wasn’t so comfortable with the salacious moves carried out in Lolita schoolgirl outfits, given South Africa’s track record with sugar daddies and schoolkids. But maybe that’s just my inner prude.
Ballroom Blitz sees it end on a high note, with everyone having enormous fun on stage and the audience on its feet. It’s a show that’s thrilling, entertaining and inspiring, and I’m surprised there isn’t a dance studio on every street and in every school. DM
Burn The Floor – Fire in the Ballroom run at the Joburg Theatre until 3 October. Tickets from www.joburgtheatre.com or tel: 0861 670 670.
Photos: Mariola Biela.