Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

You’ve just got to dance as Floorplay burns up Macau

Posted by Kimberly on September 7, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
September 7, 2007, page 5 (1,129 words)

Watching a performance of ‘Burn the Floor’s’ latest choreography Floorplay at the Sands Macao Theatre is guaranteed to make you do one of two things: make you want to take up dance or head straight for the nearest gym.
That’s because the superlatives to describe the show are as numerous as the costume changes and the energy of the dancers, breathtaking.
As Australian choreographer Jason Gilkison’s creation, Floorplay has just one goal, and that is to get the audience out of their seats and dancing in the aisles.
“This has been a dream for me because I had this show in my mind for years and so I always wanted to do my own show,” said the previous world dance champion, adding that “from the first night, we knew that this show seemed to have something special.”
The company’s producer Harley Medcalf offered up the opportunity so “two years ago we put together this new version which is my creation so it’s been a dream for me,” he added.
For Jason, the whole concept had been on his mind for the past eight years, “but it was kind of handy when ‘Burn the Floor’ came along as I was able to experiment with a company and get my ideas more refined so I could come to do this show,” he said.
That refinement has taken place in countries as varied as Australia, London and Japan, with China featuring at least once on their tours.
“Because we’ve been so much in Japan, China’s sort of a new territory that we’ve only been in once,” he said.
“We spent a week in Shanghai so finding these other places to come to, like Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore has been really successful. It’s opening new doors all the time,” he added.
In keeping with the Asian theme, Kuala Lumpur is already on the cards for 2008.
As for Macau itself, Jason recognises the city’s potential.
“Macau is definitely going to be a big player in the entertainment industry and to get our foot in the door with the Sands nice and early [was great],” he said, adding that “with shows like ‘Dancing with the Stars’ you suddenly have a big surge in popularity for our show so the timing’s been fantastic for us.”
It’s widely recognised that the Asian audience is unlike that of the rest of the world in its reserve, something Jason was concerned about.
He recalls opening night on Friday whereby, “a dancer went through and she struggled a little bit [getting people up to dance] because they were gripping their arm rests but then once she got one person to sort of give in, the whole atmosphere in the theatre seemed to relax and by the end they were letting go.
“It’s like a challenge to the dancers,” he added.
Another challenge has been in keeping up with demand as the company gains in popularity, with it’s inception a story worth telling.
Producer Harley Medcalf recalls the time when “16 young energetic dancers mesmerised the packed room [at Sir Elton John’s 50th birthday party] in a 10 minute dance display.”
Eighteen months later, the first team of dancers were chosen late in 1998. it was a quest, recalls Harley, “to combine the natural chemistry and personal values of the individual dancers with aspects of modern theatre technology.”
Initially a full length show was produced specifically for film, with such an astounding response that a frantic rush developed to deliver a show by June 1999.
By the end of weeks of rehearsal and frantic preparation the first three shows were performed. With the results also on film, the worldwide tours began, with Australia, the United Kingdom, Dublin and a long stretch though Europe.
But it wasn’t easy, as Jason recalls.
“The original Burn the Floor was very theatrical, it was about moving sets and unapproachable costumes. It was kind of a fantasy, like a cirque show.”
With such restrictions in mind, Jason set to work on changing the concept, to “create a show that looked more like a dance hall”, where the dancers looked free and there was percussion on stage.
“The costumes for the most part, look like they could have walked off the street and into a dance hall in the forties or into a bar in Cuba,” he said.
Melbourne designer John van Gastel was contracted to create the show’s costumes, taking five female dancers to be interviewed on their preferences before a wardrobe was created.
“The original brief was I wanted dancers with no fake tan, no false nails and no scary shiny hair that’s tied back in a bun. I wanted them to look like normal, young, twenty-something dancers that liked to have a good time.,” said Jason.
“We wanted sort of a more organic look at ballroom dancing or about the couples and the energy between them rather sixteen people in a line doing exactly the same choreography like a Riverdance,” he added.
And there’s certainly enough variety for even the most pedantic of audiences, with dance styles ranging across the board, from the first Latin dance, the Samba, to the Rumba, Cha Cha, Salsa, Mambo and Tango, the dance of passion.
And for those curious as to just how much effort the dancers must be expending to follow such a rigorous two-hour routine, it goes with the territory.
“Pretty much their lives have been competitive ballroom dances so they need to last a whole day in a competition,” said Jason.
“So the fitness thing has never really been a problem for any of them so its just something that’s been built into the ballroom dance industry,” he added.
And he maintains a careful eye on their performances, sitting at the rear of the theatre and taking notes when the shows begin.
“If they’re not hitting me and I’m not feeling their energy, then there’s a problem,” he said.
The current cast comprises of 22 dancers as couples, two vocalists who provide soulful renditions of classics and two percussionists, with the dancers ranging in ages from 17 to 32 years and originating from countries such as Sweden, Australia, Ireland and Russia.
And that uniqueness is summed up by Jason.
“We consider ourselves more a dance company than a dance show so we’re constantly evolving and not something that stays the same seven nights a week,” he said.
“Basically we are the only ballroom company in the world at the moment and we’re the only representation of this art form so we want to be a high a quality as possible,” he said.
Tickets are in two categories: A Reserve at 600 patacas and B Reserve at 450 patacas.
A word to the wise: take your dancing shoes because the rhythm’s going to get you.

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