As film director Baz Luhrmann revealed in his 1992 mockumentary Strictly Ballroom, the world of competitive ballroom dance can be at once wildly superficial and profoundly human. For those who take it no deeper, it’s all about the razzle-dazzle: the fancy tricks, the flashy costumes. Yet beneath its sometimes garish veneer, ballroom dance is, like all art forms, a humble practice, one that, at its core, depends on partnership, risk-taking, trust, and the expression of joy.
Those latter qualities are the focus of Rubicon Theatre’s premiere ballroom dance production, Fascinating Rhythms. Director Cate Caplin, award-winning vocalist Melissa Manchester, and Rubicon Theatre artistic director Karyl Lynn Burns joined forces to create this evening of spectacle, knit together through song and peppered with comedic interludes. The show opens with Manchester’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s Depression-era classic, “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” setting a tone of optimism in the face of great challenges. It’s as if her invitation unleashes the dancers, who pour across the stage in a swirl of tuxedos and satin ball gowns: champagne, ruby, and emerald green. This cast of eight dancers keeps the numbers coming: sultry tango, peppy Lindy hop, sizzling mambo. As to be expected, the costumes by Stacie Logue are stars in their own right—beige suede, slashed in strips, forms a halter-top bikini, and there’s a yellow leotard, covered in flapper fringe and edged with rhinestones.
The removal of two rows of seating allows for an extension of the Rubicon’s stage, and every seat in this intimate house feels close to the action. The show takes advantage of this setup, using the aisles for unorthodox entrances and exits, and even planting two cast members in the audience. Broadway-style hoofers Melissa Giattino and Richard Schwartz deliver one of the evening’s highlights with their tap dance rendition of George Gershwin’s “Fascinating Rhythm,” and percussionist Emiliano Almeida gets the limelight as he circles the entire stage with his drumsticks, playing his rhythm on whatever’s close at hand.
This show’s got incredible range, from a disco-tastic “Burn, Baby, Burn” that got the audience hooting on opening night to Manchester’s soulful piano and vocals for “A Mother’s Prayer,” during which the gentleman seated next to me dabbed his eyes discreetly.
For lovers of ballroom dance, Fascinating Rhythms is a slick, polished production with all the drama and flair you’d expect. But whether or not you’re already a fan, you’ll recognize the sheer exhilaration of this kind of dancing. It’s flashy; it’s flamboyant; it’s ballroom, in all its glittering glory.