Pro Talent Watch | Peta Roby
Celebrating 20 Years of Burn The Floor, Roby still Dazzles on the Dancefloor
Interview and article by Heather Clements
She devoted 35 years to dancing with her ballroom partner Jason Gilkison, and is now celebrating 20 years involved with the show that revolutionised the way the wider world watches and experiences Ballroom and Latin dance through the global sensation of a show – Burn The Floor.
Perth-raised Peta Roby had an exceptional career as a competitive ballroom dancer, which was then followed as a leading artist in Harley Medcalf’s brave new venture of Burn The Floor from 1999 – 2005. It is no exaggeration to say that Burn The Floor – since its debut and subsequent numerous incarnations – has totally changed people’s attitudes to the concept of ballroom dance and introduced it to brand new audience over the years.
Now, back in her home-town to put the finishing touches on the new production XX2018 (marking 20 years of Burn The Floor) as Director and Co-Choreographer, Peta is both reflective and proud of what she has helped bring to life. She cannot wait for Australian audiences to see the new show that encapsulates the best of the old and new themes of Burn The Floor, plus some big hit numbers as well as paying tribute to some classic music and dance moments.
The twentieth-anniversary show – Burn The Floor XX2018 – premieres in Perth on April 12th followed by a tour to Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney before it moves abroad. Don’t Miss This Incredible Dance Spectacular!!
PLUS! … We have a double pass to giveaway to each of the cities Burn The Floor XX2018 is playing! To enter, simply send in your name & phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject title ‘Burn The Floor – Preferred city’. >> Perth – April 12 / Melbourne – April 26 / Brisbane – May 8 / Sydney – May 12. Entries close before each city’s opening night and will be drawn at random.
Please enjoy my recent conversation with Peta Roby.
Q: How does this new, 20th anniversary show differ from previous Burn The Floor productions? Tell me about it.
As a celebration of Burn the Floor, we still open and close the same way. But it’s a completely new show from the one we last toured. I actually brought a brand new show to Australia in 2016. It had two iconic numbers, which are ‘Proud Mary’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’, during the show, which are still in the new show XX2018.
And mainly because it’s the 20th celebration, we wanted to include a couple of iconic numbers. There are 10 new numbers this time round. We’re opening it with the same number from the 2016 show and we’re closing with ‘Ballroom Blitz’, which has been our signature-closing item for many years.
XX2018 actually starts in set the 1800s, so we take it right back. And then we swing it… we contradict it with what we call ‘Dance Side’ which is the future… Sort of Mad Max-esque. And these two eras sort of play off each other. So, it’s really representing the before and the after. And then, we start kind of into the show with the current day with ‘Happy Boogie’ which is all about cellphones in society. So, that’s where we start. (Laughs)
Q: The Burn the Floor concept was a revolutionary idea in dance delivery, how have you been able to reinvent it over the years to still be relevant?
Yeah, the last 10 years has seen dance change so much. And myself, the company, have had such great pleasure in actually being able to sort of keep up with the changes.
I have to say just from a personal perspective, having been 20 years of Burn the Floor we’ve always kept ahead of the times. We were way too far ahead of the times when we started. (Laughs) But, dance is changing so quickly, and we’re keeping up. And I think the ballroom style itself, I feel we’ve revolutionised the conception of ballroom, and that as a company we’ve put it out to the world as a revolutionary style.
Q: So, you mentioned it has changed in 10 years. What’s one of the main things that you think has changed, since you first started on this journey?
When I first started dancing professionally… when I first went to London, one of the first things I learnt was about bringing the outside in. It’s about being able to bring outside influences to the world of dance, especially as music has changed so much in the last 20 years. Dance styles have changed so much too! The development of just the ballroom style itself has changed so much. And we’ve sort of prided ourselves in keeping ahead of all of that over the 20 years. So, I think that’s part of our success and I think the way forward still for us.
Q: What are the dancers like today? Do they impress you? Are you auditioning from all over the place? Or do you keep the cast pretty consistent?
We’re lucky… the world’s our oyster. And I audition talent all over the world. With this new show I’m bringing 18 of the most extraordinary talents to Australia. We’re constantly seeing beautiful dance come to life in the ballroom and Latin scene. And these days, I guess the selection is even broader, because I can use a contemporary dancer in ballroom.
Our dancers have become more versatile. I don’t just look for a ballroom dancer anymore. They have to have other skills. And I think it’s what’s special about us, because the door’s open to more talent. Some kids don’t always succeed in the ballroom competitive world. And that’s really the only form that the ballroom world has.
Dance is such a beautiful thing to do, whatever form/style you move into. But I think we’re able to pick up some of what gets overlooked… not always what is just the most successful. Some of the beauty that gets left behind and I love finding that talent!
I look for a performer who has a beauty to them. I think it comes in so many forms, and to develop a show you need so many aspects, it can’t just be one type of thing. The dancing for general public, different things appeal to so many different people in different ways. And it’s important that I represent that in the company. I love having a diverse range of performers.
And I think because we kind of have an eclectic audience… Burn The Floor can appeal to both a four-year-old to a 94-year-old! We’re a nightmare to actually market, because we’re such a broad spectrum.
Q: What styles will be in this new show?
I’ve had to kind of say everything! Obviously, it’s based on ballroom and Latin, but we take that basis and we put into today’s realm. There’s a lot more contemporary ballroom and Latin in it. And contemporary dance. We have all genres of music as well. We’ve got modern pop as well as classics like Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and Janice Joplin’s ‘Little Piece of My Heart’. And let’s not forget Joe Cocker!
And we’ve included spots for iconic music artists… so I’ve got Michael Jackson, James Brown, Prince, Elvis Presley in there. I’m so excited for the audiences to see it.
Q: It sounds like you XX2018 is a show not just for lovers of dance but music as well?
I’ve had some great feedback on that element of the show. Over the last couple of years I’ve tweaked the musical side to be more appealing to the male audience as well. And again, it’s about broadening our spectrum.
I want to be an audience member, when I present the show…I’m always out there, listening to the audiences. So, it’s helping us to move forward and reach more people. But I think particularly those four artists in particular (Jackson, Brown, Prince, Presley) were not only iconic music artists, they actually changed dance. And these people created dance in their own way, which still exists today.
There’s an underlying message from me… the fact that all these elements actually affect dance.
Q: Is the show a series of vignettes, or does it tell a story?
There is no narrative but it kind of has a thread throughout. There’s no dialogue, but there’s a thread, with the dancers that you can follow through these sections. There are five sections in the show… So, you can understand what the storyline is, through dance.
Which again, is a huge development in the past 20 years of this show. We used to be able to just dance, for the love of dancing. But the audience are more educated now, and they want more these days.
Q: You’re using live vocalists and musicians in this new show … Tell me about the cast.
Well, there are 18 dancers. And for the first time we have vocalists’ singing live, so that is a new element. We’ve test-run it, and it really adds depth to kind of to the vocal line and to the show. We also have 4 live musicians, guitarists.
Q: What can people expect when they come and see this new show? How do you hope they’ll come away from the show?
The broad answer is that we have 18 extraordinary dancers that deliver a youthful, rebellious, skilful, sexy, passionate show.
And Act One and Act Two are completely different shows, really. Act One sort of it excites you… it’s joyous and happy. And then, Act Two sort of simulates kind of a different emotional side, I would say… it scratches a bit deeper. They’ve really got kind of an extraordinary evening! Finally, they go out with a bang with Ballroom Blitz… which is kind of the message really isn’t it? (Laughs)
BURN THE FLOOR XX2018
PERTH Regal Theatre – April 12 – 21
MELBOURNE The Palms at Crown – April 26 – May 5
BRISBANE QPAC Concert Hall – May 8 & 9
SYDNEY The Darling Theatre at ICC Sydney – May 12
Tickets from www.burnthefloor.com/australia.html