Less is more, when it comes to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy’s new touring show, Maks & Val’s Stripped Down Tour, which played the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 31st. Mustachioed Maksim “Maks” Chmerkovskiy is a Latin Ballroom champion, and first appeared on Dancing with the Stars in Season Two. One of the most popular DWTS cast members, the feisty and opinionated Maks appeared on the show for 17 seasons.
Valintin “Val” Chmerkovskiy is a 14-time U.S. National Champion who also rose to stardom as a fan-favorite on DWTS. Val’s memoir, I’ll Never Change My Name, details his early days as an immigrant, moving with his family from Ukraine to Brooklyn at eight years old. Val has also appeared on television in So You Think You Can Dance and Netflix’s Fuller House.
This is not the first Maks and Val tour. Their North American tours Our Way (2016) and Confidential (2018) sold out theaters across the country. In early 2020, the brothers were all ready to launch the Maks and Val Live 2020 — Motion Pictures tour with their wives, dancers Jenna Johnson and Peta Murgatroyd. But in April, they cancelled the show due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All the aspects of 2020 — isolation, quarantine, turbulence — became a silver lining in that the time provided the brothers with inspiration for expression in Stripped Down.
“It’s a lot of soul searching, growth, and perspective shifts,” Val remarked to Showbiz Cheat Sheet on July 10th: “These are all growing times. And as uncomfortable as it’s been, I think discomfort kind of creates the opportunity for imagination and creativity and artistry. Last year is a huge motivation and inspiration behind a lot of the narrative in this show.”
Performing with Maks and Val on the tour are dancers Alexis Warr Burton and JJ Rabone.
Maks and Val are co-founders of Dance & Co., an app for on-demand access to dance-related videos, including some wonderful behind-the-scenes rehearsal videos and interviews about Stripped Down. One of the choreographers, Will Loftis, comments, “What should the audience expect? You should expect the unexpected. And you should expect these guys to be incredible. And also, I would say, they are doing things that are kind of outside their comfort zone. It’s one of the first shows where they’re really getting to showcase their personality, their storytelling, their comedy, kind of all wrapped into one.”
Actual stripping is not part of the performance. There is the opposite of stripping at one point, when Alexis and JJ cleverly assist the brothers as they change costumes — right on the stage. Those times when Maks or Val do reveal a bit of skin, fans in the audience respond with screams and cheers.
At one point, a volunteer from the audience is recruited to help Maks remove his pants. Again, the crowd goes wild. But this is a family show. The idea of the title Stripped Down means to strip down emotionally and creatively — to tell stories without tons of costume changes, a large ensemble, or fancy lighting effects. Just four dancers tell the stories — some sad, some funny, but always meaningful.
The show begins in darkness, and we hear a phone call between the two brothers. They talk about getting together to do some dancing. One says, “I’ll clear out the living room.” The other says, “Bigger!” The other, “You mean use two rooms?” “Bigger!” “Tell me when and where!” When the brothers finally walk out onto the bare stage, the audience greets them with great enthusiasm.
Of course, there’s amazing dancing. But interspersed with their showy ballroom moments, are quiet personal moments. The brothers sit on stools and talk to us. Both recount what it was like to immigrate to America — Maks as a teenager and Val as a little boy.
They recount their experiences with some of their first dance gigs. They talk about what it was like for them during the Covid-19 quarantine. When the subject moves to fatherhood, talking evolves into dancing. First, we hear a ticking clock; and then the Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle” fades in.
The song is written from the son’s point of view, but the interpretive dance is from the father’s point of view. A coat rack is moved onto the stage. There, a toddler’s “onesie” is hanging, then later a little boy’s sweater vest, then an older boy’s jacket, and so on. Each piece of clothing is taken from the rack and becomes the dance partner, where it is twirled, tossed in the air, breathed in, and embraced.
To see two brothers dance in unison, either as a duet, or with their lady partners, is spectacular. It’s said that singers from the same family blend better because their voice anatomy is so similar. That seems to be true with dancers as well. Two of the best examples are the opening number, “Let’s Dance” and one of final numbers, “The Story of My Life”. “The Story of My Life” is a contemporary foxtrot set to the song by One Direction: “Written in these walls are the stories that I can’t explain. I leave my heart open but it stays right here empty for days.”
The finale features solos from the ladies. If you’ve been watching the Olympics this week, especially the female gymnasts, you’ll realize that dancers have to have the same strength, flexibility, and stamina, combined with an artistic sensibility. Alexis Warr Burton possesses all these attributes in her beautiful dance, “I’m So Sick of Being So Lonely” and JJ Rabone’s joyful boogie-woogie break dance gets the audience clapping to the beat. A joy to watch, Rabone is a time lord. She is able to stop time, reverse it, speed it up, and slow it down.
The final dance sends us all home in an uplifted mood. It begins with the song “Feeling Good”. The lyrics, “birds flying high, you know how I feel” coincide with some incredible lifts as the ladies seem to fly about the stage. Then it wraps up with the Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling”. As the audience exits the auditorium, it’s clear that it was a “good good night” at the Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh.
RUN HAS CONCLUDED.
NOTE: Nancy Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women’s Theatre Festival. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.