Photo by Joan Marcus, from NYPost.

So this is your last week to see Dancing With the Stars stars Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Karina Smirnoff perform in Jason Gilkison’s Broadway ballroom extravaganza, Burn the Floor.

The show’s really good. It gets off to a bit of a slow start (and I saw it when it was still in previews so maybe now they’ve even worked out those few early kinks), but mid-way through the first act I knew I wasn’t going to want it to end. There’s no through story-line (thankfully — I haven’t yet seen a ballroom show with one that really works); rather it’s a set of Latin and Standard dance routines, some performed with ensemble, some in duos and trios. There’s more Latin than Standard, owing to the small size of the floor.

I never thought until I saw this production how hard it can be to put a dance show on a stage meant for plays. It’s so hard for the poor dancers to really get around and move freely, and that’s my one real problem with the show. They’ve got a band with two huge sets of drums that takes up the entire back half of the stage, which they don’t even really need because much of the music is recorded; the only live players are a couple of drummers and a violinist (along with some singers, who of course don’t stand in one place). In my opinion, if the theater has no orchestra pit, then they should have erected a stage above the floor for the band, like in Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out.

Anyway, that aside, they still manage to get a couple Viennese Waltzes and Foxtrots and Quicksteps in there. I do think the Cha Chas and Rumbas and Jives work best though. My favorite part of the first act is the extended Swing section, titled “Things That Swing.” Extremely fast-footed, with lightning fast flicks of the feet and difficult-looking, detailed footwork, the dancers really excel in Jive. I remember from the video too, years old now and with an entirely different set of dancers and choreography – thinking how I liked the Jive the best. Maybe Jive and Swing are simply most entertaining, the Big Band music of the thirties and the fifties so upbeat and recognizable and sentimental, maybe with their flair and tempo their power is the most translatable to the stage and screen, or maybe Gilkison (who’s an former ballroom champ and has choreographed for SYTYCD) just excels at choreographing those dances. But for whatever reason, they always stand out to me as the most entertaining in his shows.

Maks and Karina dance throughout, but they have a gorgeous Rumba duet in the second act that is really one of the high points of the show. They’re both barefoot and he’s shirtless and she’s dressed in a bra and underwear with open shirt and it’s really passionate and sensual. But also, Karina is one of the greatest Latin dancers in the world right now (she and her former partner Slavik Kryklyvyy were U.S. national champs and ranked second in the world the last time they competed together) and because the dance is so slow and she’s wearing so little you can really see the subtle movements she makes in her hips and pelvis and torso. A simple, basic hip twist she did was breathtaking. It’s really worth going just to see her.

And to see Maks as well!  The man is a total hoot, actually. He and his former partner, Elena Grinenko (who’s also been on DWTS) were ranked very high the last time they competed together as well, but more than just a technically good dancer, he’s just a lot of fun to watch – kind of in the same way someone like Vaidotas Skimelis is, or in the ballet world, Marcelo Gomes. He’s a huge man and he just eats up the stage (especially this one) with his body alone, but he’s got so much personality and character and charm. Even just watching him interact with Karina and watching him concentrate — you can see it on his face, in his eyes! You can see how much he’s trying to be a good partner and make her look good and it’s just so incredibly endearing!! I honestly fell in love with his dancer persona like never before watching this show.

Seeing him also reminded of my friend, Sharon. He was one of her favorites on DWTS. I think I will always think of her whenever I see one of these dancers.

The other real standout in the show was Peta Murgatroyd. Well, there were several dancers I really liked — Kevin Clifton, Gordana Grandosek, Giselle Peacock — but Murgatroyd stood out because I could tell right away she had a great deal of ballet training and that, along with her height and long limbs and flexibility just gave her really gorgeous lines. She kept doing these mouthwatering arabesques.


Murgatroyd’s the blonde woman in the middle in this photo by Sara Krulwich, from the NYTimes.

The whole time I couldn’t help comparing the show to those put on by Tony Meredith and Melanie LaPatin (who are my friends). Theirs are much smaller in scope, showing for only one night and mainly highlighting their studio’s (Dance Times Square) students, along with the pro dances who currently teach or have taught at the studio. Lately, they’ve been branching out and getting some of the stars from So You Think You Can Dance (which of course they choreograph for) to perform. But to me the most intense numbers that just make me nearly fall out of my seat are by Pasha & Anya (Kovalev and Garnis, also my friends), and top U.S. Latin pair Eugene Katsevman and Maria Manusova. I kept wondering what Burn the Floor would look like with one of those couples.

So I was just a bit ecstatic to find out the the former are to take over the Maks & Karina roles beginning August 18th 🙂 I simply CAN’T WAIT!!!

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