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DANCE REVIEW

It's all movement with no drama for 'Stars' on tour

December 31, 2007|Jeff Spurrier | Special to The Times

On Saturday night at Staples Center, the touring version of the cultural phenomenon "Dancing With the Stars" quickstepped into town for two hours of frenetic kicks, flips, twirls and swirls. This was stop No. 7 in the 37-date tour, the third year that a live helping of "DWTS" has been offered to a hungry world.

This was not a night for any surprises. Nobody lost, nobody won, nobody fell. There was no food poisoning, no fainting and, ultimately, not all that much fun. Even so, nearly 14,000 people came to witness the experience firsthand even though some of the big names from last season weren't here -- no Melanie Brown, Marie Osmond or Helio Castroneves.

Instead, it was the reliable crew of the best star dancers and their pro dance partners: Joey Lawrence and Edyta Sliwinska, Drew Lachey and Cheryl Burke, Sabrina Bryan and Mark Ballas.

It's probably to be expected that the live show lacked even a soupcon of the tension of the TV series. After all, there was nothing on the line for anyone. There was none of the counterintuitive alchemy that makes it work, the blending of nearly obscure dance forms with fading pop icons that somehow results in transformational drama.

Without the normal commercial breaks and with no buildup between numbers, it was all high energy, all the time, a medley of medleys that somehow never held still long enough to take shape.

Instead, most of the show was given over to push-me, pull-you group dances, a jarring nonstop swirl of feet switching from cha-cha to jive to rumba to freestyle, an oddly unsatisfying performance interruptus.

The night's only bit of unscripted reality was with the competition at the start of the show with a gaggle of amateurs, vying to be the night's Soft Scrub Superior Performance Dance Challenge Winners. After a very brief group dance, two pairs were selected to be brought back later for a dance-off.

For the faithful it hardly mattered that this was a night of nonstop highlights, a victory lap for a program that pulls in 20 million viewers a week. It's hard to argue with those numbers. And two of the series' "perfect 30s" pairs were on hand -- Lawrence-Sliwinska and Lachey-Burke.

But it was last-season also-ran Bryan of the "Cheetah Girls" -- infamously voted off in Week 6 -- who had the crowd's heart. When she came out for her first starring dance, doing a jive to "Shake, Rattle and Roll" with partner Ballas, the crowd burst into applause.

She lacked the fluid flexibility of Burke or the bad-girl appeal of Sliwinska, but it was hard not to believe that her frozen smile wasn't just for show.

The addition of Mr. Las Vegas, a nondancing, waxy-looking Wayne Newton as the biggest star on the bill was an odd choice.

He played guitar, traded banter with Lachey and predictably trotted out "Danke Schoen" toward evening's end, but at times he looked a little befuddled, like someone's granddad trying to make sense of what these crazy kids were doing.

The night's best moments belonged to Karina Smirnoff and her partner, show choreographer Louis Van Amstel, doing a slow sexy tango in one of the few down-tempo pieces, thankfully not abbreviated or performed to non-Latin music. It capped off the fairly racy second act, replete with pole dancing and stylized humping.

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