Burn the Floor, Shaftesbury Theatre, London

For anyone in quest of unrelenting and ferocious energy, big – and probably bigger – noise, and a paint-stripping vivacity, then Burn the Floor is, I suppose, the instant and much-trumpeted answer. I found it, on Monday night, rather less preferable than the air-raids of my childhood, with whose random activities, nerve-rattling din and sense of implacable if unfocused boisterousness, it bore comparison. It proclaims itself “the ultimate ballroom sensation”, but if so, the ballroom is in some danger spot, and “sensation” here implies theatrical style so beaten about the head that sensation has been denied and feeling has departed.

The ingredients are eight couples, two singers, musicians and a good deal of amplification, predictable showbiz lighting on a minimal set, two “special guest stars”, and the unlikely belief that ceaseless kicking and high-stepping, and the occasional incident that suggests Fred and Ginger impersonated by Fred Rogers and Ginger Astaire, amount to “the pure joy of dance”. I record that one member of the audience thought that the sturdier-legged danseuses were, in fact, like Trocks, which is not so; that the production is unrelenting; and that I found it remarkable in its frenzied and timed-to-the-micro-second steppings (the cast lacks for nothing in dedication and muscular resource) and its entire absence of what one might laughingly call elegance of manner.

A determined, take-no-prisoners verve brings the dancers raging over the stage in so driven a fashion that thoughts are aroused of ergotism, whose symptoms of involuntary and fatal muscular energy were born of spoiled rye, whence came about the medieval terrors of the uncontrollable Dance of Death. The performers also briefly invade the auditorium, which is never a good thing.

It is, sad to say, an evening lacking in that essential dance element of physical wit: none of the all-too-numerous incidents seems to say anything about social dance in our time save on the flighty terms of obvious and muscle-blasting display, and it reduces the real bravura of ballroom dancing to something bludgeoning and tedious. I found the affair coarse-grained and unthinking on any but the most obvious terms. Ballroom artistry is denied: tireless vivacity is no substitute.


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