Thursday, August 14, 2008

So You Think You Can - Top 4 and Finale (4x22, 4x23)

Welcome to So You Think You Can Make History!

I've never voted in a finale before this time because in the first three seasons, I was never excited enough about the final four -- neither the dancers nor the performances -- to pick up the phone, and that's counting My Favorite Hip Hopper Jamile from way back. But this year, I would've been happy if any of Courtney, Katee, Twitch, or Joshua ended up the winner (or after some wtf double-taking, I would've been ok with any of them). In fact, I voted for all four of them, so for the first time ever, I can't make my annual non-voting felon joke.

Go navel-gazing with me after the jump

The moment that Joshua was pronounced its fourth winner, So You Think You Can Dance scored another point for pop culture and its never-ending uphill battle for cultural relevance (for which Joshua is not the omega because for a lot of people, the high/low distinction, as illusory as it is, will never be erased). In a broader sense, when pop, in all of its mongrel glory, ascends like it did at the finale, it compels art to include everyone, not solely the usual crowd of intellectual, artistic, or socioeconomic elites -- art as open and democratic, with toll-free 888 numbers.

The show is so integrated with its reality-tv context that we sometimes lose sight of how radical it can be with its democratizing agenda. Generally in the arts, critics with their university-forged educations and deep knowledge of artistic arcana determine which artists and which performances are inducted into the canon of greats. Occasionally, the artists' own opinions can influence the canon as well. Between the critics and the artists, then, the average arts patron gets left out of the loop, but we bust up the art oligarchy on SYTYCD. Although the top 20 is a product of the judges and producers, the tables get turned once the competition begins and viewers -- with our varying tastes and dance-educations -- essentially pass judgment on how well they chose the dancers, all while we phone in to determine which dancers are quality and ultimately which one is our favorite. Our collective voice is scattered, disparate, and compromised, but SYTYCD still wrests cultural taste from the critics and instead offers a democratic route by which we the viewers can define it.

The dancers' side is also democratized, though not so radically. From what I've been able to gather, the classically derived dance genres use specialized movement vocabularies that in real life are pretty unnatural; of course, the dancers train forever to learn these unnatural moves and then make them look graceful -- the point remains, though, that this dance esoterica is dispensed by an institutional circle of dance adepts to its initiates, which is a barrier to widespread and open adoption. But then here comes SYTYCD, opening its pristine halls to a flood of dance barbarism -- -- contemporary dancers vamping around in ballroom like kids trying on their parents' clothes and hip hoppers loosely approximating lyrical. Where most dancers within their specialties have to toil away in obscurity with practice and training, you have these upstarts getting showcased on tv by taking an inter-genre shortcut -- which, believe it or not, is a net positive for dance and art as a whole. When SYTYCD forces its dancers to mingle across genres, they collectively distill the inbred formalist purity with their infiltrator's vitality. Through such commingling, art survives and evolves, and four seasons of inter-genre dancing culminated with Joshua winning the whole thing.

While you might not love the fact that we get facsimiles of routines as as often as we get genuine, expert performances, or you might bemoan how "America got it wrong," you nevertheless have to appreciate how it broadens the tastes and repertoires of the dancers and the viewers alike, and we really got to see it in practice this season. SYTYCD, as Nigel told the press immediately after the finale, showed that "you don't have to be rich and buy yourself dance classes." For instance, Gev found out that his dream job would involve Broadway. As for viewers, aren't we better off having seen the country 2-step, its roughness and all? And you can't argue against the Bollywood number.

At its noblest, then, art is about inclusion and expansion, not exclusion. Once you tell people what they're not allowed to like, you start whittling down art into what it's not and set it down the path of entropy and universal, inevitable heat death. Instead, art is anything that moves us -- a definition that is probably too vague for theorists and critics, but in practice, I think it's useful because it challenges us to find art in unexpected places. Art isn't always about beauty -- Judge Mia is here unequivocally right. For example, Susie, whom viewers probably universally disliked, moved me to pity when the judges eviscerated her. Or, perhaps more applicable to most of you, Mark's elimination moved you to disappointment. If something gets you to feel deeply, then that's because you're connected deeply to it, and that's the least we can expect from art. (Note that these examples aren't of good art necessarily, which only each of us can decide on our own.)

Not only should art embrace different emotional tones, but obviously it ought to include different genres as well. In particular, Joshua bridged the gap between hip hop, a low form only because it's populist and you can get good at it by practicing it on your own in your bedroom or garage, and the more rarefied genres, which, he demonstrated, aren't so abstruse that someone coming from a mainly hip-hop background could pull them off. Of course, he's preternaturally gifted, but the point still stands: the walls have been flattened.


I guess I should have scaled back the hyperbole -- taking ballet classes, for example, isn't the aristocratic pursuit I'm positioning it as -- but I've put too much effort into this now and it's too late to revise my entirely. Also, the judges frame the trained/untrained issue in a way that cultivates binaristic argumentation, so there.


Assuming my thesis has merit, I wonder if "art is anything that moves you" results from our hyper-real culture and technology that allows so many people to create their own (traditional) art. I have a hard time imagining AllArt being an arguable philosophy in, say, the 18th century, or even the beginning of the 20th. But seriously, what do I know? sez the guy who never took an art history course.

Given the show's (and, generally, everyone's) love of labels, you'd expect them to explicitly specify that Katee, for instance, racked up the third highest vote total for the finale. But if Cat mentioned any placings specifically, then I missed it, which begs the question of whether or not they actually reveal the final four in the ascending order of votes. I'd dismiss such thoughts as idle speculation if Twitch hadn't been the one facing off against Joshua at the end instead of Katee, but even then I'm probably underestimating the twitchy one's vast charismatic appeal.

During the SYTYCD alumni routine, I had a spot of fun trying to identify all the dancers from the past seasons, with only a couple of brief uncertainties.


Until the mystery girl on the left did the développé, I couldn't tell that she was Melody.


I had to rely on process of elimination and the wiki to figure out that the girl between Thayne and Neil is Allison from season 2. She's done a lot of growing up since her season -- back then she really did look like a kid, and now, after having a kid, she's a completely different and complete woman.

Observations on the routine itself, insofar as one could call it a routine:

  • When did Ivan get good?
  • The b-boy section could've been longer, because both Hok and Ryan only had time for one power move/freeze, which is hardly enough to appreciate them. Dom, on the other hand, needs some new power moves.
  • I think I like Anya with Pasha more, even though I can't put a finger on anything terpsichorean I don't like from Dmitry, and I can't remember if I've ever seen Anya and Pasha partnered together.
  • OK, fine, it's because I don't like Captain Beefcake.
  • Benji was good! Or, I liked his footwork.
  • Neil is still, reassuringly, a hack.


If you can reach far enough back into your memory, Mia's top four routine capped the night in appropriately exhausting and exhilarating fashion, i.e. with tartans. They were all keeling over, and Courtney looked especially drained, with the color almost gone from her face.


Though given her bronzer abuse this season, maybe she just ran out of the stuff.

Did you notice that during Nigel's comments after the Mia number, the camera panned slowly across the four dancers but when it got to Shortney, only part of her head was was in the frame and the camera had to go "whoooa pan down!!"? LOLSHORT!!!

Trepak! Joshua and Twitch's (friendly) rivalry during the rehearsals was uproarious, and all the stuff during judges' critiques was equally awesome. The impromptu jump contest between the boys? Their celebratory dancing when some hatchet-faced judge marveled at two hip hoppers in the finale?

Oh right, and the stuff in between! I hardly care that there wasn't much dancing in between the stunts, because in the flow of the episode, it fit in so perfectly (even though it took a huge toll on the boys): jumping out of their minds or digging deep within themselves to reach a pinnacle on the show, even literally.

I had a hard time concentrating on Twitch and Katee's foxtrot solely because of the music. I kept going, "But Gev already used that song! Where is Gev???" I suppose it was nice, though, that we got to hear more than 30 seconds of it.


My secret hope that Wade would make a surprise appearance came true twice over, once when Joshua and Katee performed an understated lyrical, and the Donnie Darko-inflected Cirque du Soleil piece. But as the lyrical routine began, did you hold your breath too when you realized Wade choreographed it to a John Mayer song? I'd like to blame his song choice for why the routine didn't thrill me, since I prefer Mr. Robson at his most stylized. Give me kooky elbows-out crooked-knees Wade any day.

And yet, despite my enduring love for him (and for Cirque, too), I wasn't blown away by the Homage to Rabbits. I blame my coolness towards Donnie Darko, and the fact that I'm not into the twee-Goth vibe (think Jhonen Vasquez). The rabbit in the rrrowr fishnets I liked, though, and not simply because of rrrowr fishnets, but for her wild, too-brief solo. Except, judging by those teeth, I think she's actually Ben Susak, whom I kind of hated when back he was on SYTYCD season 2. At least he got better and sexier in the interim.


Everyone, with me: awwww.

Unlike everyone else who has the mind of a 15-year-old, I'd never seen the Jonas Brothers. I wasn't missing out on anything, it turns out. The chorus with its whiny hook is already weaksauce epitomized (arrggh I listened to it again to make sure it was as petulant as I remembered it being, and now I can't get it out of my head), but having a stagehand deliver a guitar to you mid-song?


The most un-rock thing I've ever seen. (Though in Curly's favor, he did flick his guitar pick into the crowd at the end, which is pretty pimping.)

Were the consolation bouquets getting smaller the closer we got to America's Favorite Dancer?


(Shortney's is fully two-thirds her height!)

Once we got to Joshua, the poor thing got no bouquet. I find that categorically unfair. Though if you look closely at a full-sized pic of Twitch's bouquet, off to the side you can see Joshua with what appears to be a humongous Catbouquet (albeit with an ugly fringe), which must surely trump the rest.



A lot of adjectives have been attached to Lacey, but one that hasn't been used yet is "courageous," because it surely took some courage to appear on camera looking like that. Couldn't someone somewhere spare a stylist for her?

Courtney's from Lawn Guyland? I mean, really?

Usually, I don't stray very far from my initial impressions of a routine, so that if I didn't really like it at first, at most I'd only kind of like it later. Not so with Courtney and Mark's jazz bit, the reason for which I'd like to chalk up to something I've been calling Courtney's Ood Move.



Oh, wait, it happened already. A week ago.

Remember this guy?


He was voted out for our sins.

While the judges would you have believe that Will could walk on water, Joshua proved that he can walk on air -- upside-down.


Whew! Obviously, most of my time was spent on the art section, and I hope that the paltry funnies in this post were enough to get you through this one.

Just out of curiosity, those of you who believe I owe you a lolcat (since I obviously said Friday), if you'd care to offer a theme for your hypothetical lolcat -- e.g. favorite SYTYCDer, show, movie, song, word, whatever, anything, etc. -- or else I'd just do a lame "Name Game" riff on your user handle, and that goes for you, too, Anonymous. And since I don't know how else to end this post right now...




Indie rating: Ella Fitzgerald - "At Last"


Melissa said...

I posted as Anonymous (yeah, I'm shy, even on the interwebs). Mark was my favorite dancer this year. I hope this helps.

BrĂ¼nnheather said...

a theme seems so limiting to your genius, but i'll try...

i always thought Cat and I would be tall-girl BFFs if ever we met. *doffs hat to Notting Hill*

Also, loved Chelsie H's fantastic red shoes, and Josh's smile.

Happy LOL-ing! :)

natalie said...

Awww - wonderfully done, as always!

How's about something to do with wildlife or critters?

Anonymous said...

Excellent summary! I will miss these!

& Ben actually performed the original version of Katee & Joshua's lyrical Wade dance. It is much more AMAZING.

momo said...

I'm as fascinated by the conversations floating around about SYTYCD as I am with the show, especially when acerbic print dance critics decide to stir things in the comments.
It's funny, looking back, I picked Josh as a favorite with his audition, and I appreciated what he did all season, especially with his partnership with Katee, but Mark's charisma distracted me somewhat, and this turned into the Mark show, the way last year was the Danny show for me.
Courtney is probably my distant cousin (especially when she says everyone in her family talks at once). If she say that lovely picture of her in the Mia finale group dance, my mother would have said to her, "look how pretty you are when you get your hair out of your face? why don't you wear it that way all the time?"
You may already have seen it, but buffmetube remixed Katee and Josh's Wade dance to a Pixies song.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed all your posts this season, thanks Gabriella

demondoll said...

Mark was my favorite dancer.

You made me pretty happy showing how pimp he was-