Photos - David Wyatt
Cha Cha, Swing, Samba and Rumba, Tango and Waltz; these are the dances of Ballroom. Once considered by many to be the realm of bad fake tans, too much hair gel, or dance that is just plain boring, these styles, in all their incarnations, are now a global phenomenon. The styles have become familiar in many households thanks to their promotion on prime time television shows such as ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and ‘Dancing With The Stars’, but at the crux of this relatively newfound appeal, seems to be one simple concept: sex will always be in fashion. And in Jason Gilkison’s Burn The Floor, there is plenty of it.
At this level, dancers are athletes, and in Burn The Floor they have the physique to prove it. The costumes, designed by John Van Gastle and Janet Hines, are great to look at; there’s plenty of sparkle and shimmer, colour and drama, but in reality they are most effective because they accentuate the dancers’ physical assets. The women wear heels and short dresses and have toned legs that go on forever. The men are often shirtless, revealing glistening, muscular torsos. These dancers would catch anyone’s eye, but their real sexuality and sensuality comes from their awareness of their own bodies, and those of the dancers around them. Every hair flick (and there are many), pointed toe, reach of the arm, hip movement, even facial expression, is performed with intent. The result is a show in which the dancers seduce not just their fellow dancers, but also the audience.
The role of Artistic Director and sole Choreographer was taken on by Gilkison in the show’s early days and his choreography, in both its characterisation and technicality, demands that his dancers are at the top of their field. With the likes of Sahsa Farber, Sarah Hives, Jeremy Garner, Sharna Burgess and Patrick Helm, this is certainly the case. There are the unique lifts and complex intertwining of bodies, the timing, precision and synchronisation are incredible and, particularly when the dancers come down to be amongst the audience, one realises the force with which they hit their moves. The band and two lead vocalists, Rebecca Tapia and MiG Ayesa, are themselves worth experiencing. Tapia has a particularly arresting voice and stage presence.
Gilkison, alongside long time dance and creative partner Peta Roby, is renowned for his re-invention of Ballroom. To begin, this is a dance style known for its partner work, but many of the dances in this show feature several dancers on stage at once, often dancing without a partner at all. Of the group dances, there’s a Samba to the tribal and very catchy music of ‘Magalena’, and a Cha Cha to ‘Turn The Beat Around’. What this show does best however, is display the versatility of the various styles of dances. For instance, two of the pieces featuring the Rumba, the dance of lust and sexual tension, are shown in two strikingly different but equally engaging dances. In one, a woman is blindfolded and for nearly the entire dance she is at the mercy of the male dancers who guide her gently around the floor in lifts and partner work. The woman as the entirely submissive subject is perhaps a little outdated but this is countered somewhat by the dream-like mood. One can only marvel at the level of technique and rehearsal required to dance, so apparently effortlessly, without the use of sight. Another Rumba features just a male and female dancer, stripped of their sequins and heels and placed in domestic environment. In bare feet, they dance a far more intimate dance to the song made famous by John Farnham, ‘Burn For You’.
Ballroom in its more traditional form plays a considerable part in the development of the dance style that Gilkison presents in Burn The Floor and he makes an effort to pay tribute to these. Whilst most of the pieces that feature this type of Ballroom are elegant and engaging, there are two that form the only jarring moments in this production. The Viennese Waltz directly follows the opening Cha Cha and with little transition between the two, nor a set or back-story to support the second, the Waltz is, in comparison, fairly uninteresting. And, amidst the overall mood of the show, the choice of song that accompanies the collection of Ballroom dances at the conclusion of the night is perhaps unnecessarily soppy.
Today’s Burn The Floor is remarkably different to the show that debuted some ten years ago, and in years to come it will no doubt continue to re-invent itself and Ballroom. As Gilkison himself says: “The heart and soul of Ballroom… It is still right here. We just do it differently now… that’s all.”
Well Mr Gilkison, and those who were ever in doubt, when differently is done as brilliantly as this, differently is just fine.
BURN THE FLOOR
Choreographed by Jason Gilkison
Venue: The Palms @ Crown
Dates: 20 February 2010 - 7 March 2010
Tickets: $49 - $120
Bookings: 1300 795 012 | www.ticketek.com.au