Since it brought ballroom dancing back to Saturday night telly, Strictly Come Dancing has taken many a celebrity and attempted to get them to learn to dance. And while that education process has always been an enthralling watch in itself, I have always thought that the exhibition dances from the professionals were a much more exciting form of entertainment.
Strictly has produced its own live shows, of course, but the public appetite for ballroom dancing is extending beyond the BBC’s own brand. Burn the Floor, which is returning to the West End for a limited run, capitalises on the appetite for Strictly spin-offs by headlining Brian Fortuna and his 2009 celebrity dance partner, Ali Bastian.
While it’s an understandable stance in terms of marketing the show, anybody who turns up expecting this to be the Ali and Brian show are in for a surprise. Bastian & Fortuna pop up infrequently, allowing instead the troupe of highly trained, foot perfect professionals from around the world to exhibit some blistering displays of dancing prowess.
There’s a relaxed attitude from the off, as two of the dancers engage in some light flirting with the front row of the stalls before jokily demonstrating that cameras and phones are not acceptable. Throughout, the action frequently moves offstage and into the aisles of the stalls. At one point, one of the male dancers manages to perform a spectacular somersault from the stage into the central aisle with hair-raising precision.
Most of the repertoire focusses on the more showy, Latin dances in the ballroom repertoire. By comparison, the elegance of performing beautiful waltzes in full evening dress feels out of place in a show that’s a lot less buttoned-up (quite literally — in the first act especially, it seems the male dancers are either topless or wearing unbuttoned shirts for most of the time).
It’s during the ballroom sequence that Ali Bastian and Brian Fortuna make one of their brief appearances. It does serve to highlight that although Bastian achieved a high standard of dance compared with her fellow celebrities, she has still some way to go if she ever hopes to reach the quality of performance of the professionals with which she shares a stage.
That said, her performances in Act II are excellent. Unlike her Strictly Come Dancing, where she showed an aptitude for the ballroom disciplines and struggled with Latin dances, here it’s the other way around — during the high octane party dances, she shimmies, cha chas and Charlestons like she was born to it. It’s still obvious that, of all the performers on stage, she is the one who has been dancing for less than a year, but with the standard of those around her it’s completely understandable.
At a little under two hours including an interval, Burn the Floor runs much longer than Tap Dogs, which I saw a couple of weeks ago. But with a greater variety of dances, far better music (including some superb live vocals from Ricky Rojas), the evening flies by.
I attended the July 21 opening performance with complimentary tickets provided by Burn the Floor’s marketing agency, AKA. Official press night is Monday, July 26.