SYDNEY, Australia — The video playing on the television inside Baz Luhrmann’s bedroom was supposed to be much steamier.
But where there should have been desirous bumping and prurient grinding, the couples were remarkably chaste, as if they had been ordered to abstain from all manner of randy moves.
“Look at this,” the filmmaker behind “Moulin Rouge!” and “The Great Gatsby” said from the foot of his bed. “You couldn’t get any more sexless.”
Working inside the creative compound he calls Iona in Sydney’s arty Darlinghurst neighborhood, Luhrmann was sitting with a reporter, reviewing news clips from 1980s Australian ballroom dancing competitions, whose judges favored technique over passion.
When the contestants started performing the samba — the Brazilian dance popular from the nation’s libidinous annual carnival — their steps were as precise as a mathematical equation. The dancers’ feet navigated the floor expertly, yet they rarely moved their hips.
The samba had been neutered.
Reinstating the sexiness of ballroom dancing was one of the organizing principles of Luhrmann’s feature film debut, 1992′s “Strictly Ballroom,” and the filmmaker several weeks ago in Sydney was in the middle of rehearsals for its reworking as a stage production.
It opened April 12 to mostly favorable but qualified reviews at the cavernous Sydney Lyric, with some critics finding that Luhrmann’s extravagant staging undercut the story’s romance and emotion. “Strictly Ballroom: The Musical,” bankrolled by Global Creatures, the same company behind Australia’s oversized “King Kong” and “Walking With Dinosaurs” productions, hopes to travel north in the months ahead, perhaps making it all the way to Broadway or some American tryout city first.
Before any of that could happen, though, Luhrmann first had to navigate his way back to the theater, where his career all began.