Sunday, June 07, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance - 5x04, 5x05 Vegas Callbacks

I think I speak for everyone when I say that I'm glad that that's over.

A long time ago, I remember VEAGS Week actually being really fun in a behind-the-scenes documentary style, but it's grown into a mainstream reality contest with all the manufactured drama you would expect. I shouldn't be surprised, but both VEAGS episodes this year oppressed me with the nearly unrelenting atmosphere of hardship and failure, not to mention how little actual dancing we got to see.

But, you might protest, they were audition episodes and should by definition be wall-to-wall dancing. I contend, however, that what we saw was less art than a parody of capitalism. (Fair warning: I'm about to make a Marxist argument, so unless you're a lit crit masochist, just call me a secret Muslim socialist and skip to the jump.)

These two episodes consisted mostly of talk -- the dancers voicing concerns about the choreography, and the judges critiquing them and deliberating among themselves. What dancing we did get, though, was considerably attenuated. The consecutive rounds of choreography were a veritable assembly line to manufacture a dancer who has the requisite features (looks, ability to pull off multiple styles of dance) of a top 20 contestant -- hardly a novel interpretation.

However, I was struck by how tired these kids must've been to hear the same song over and over again during rehearsals -- I certainly don't need to ever hear Gavin Degraw again, just from that 30(?)-second clip -- and then having to hear it while each group went onstage to perform in front of the judges. Obviously, the recording of the music is repeated exactly each time, repetition which is then paralleled in the quasi-mechanical, mass reproduction of rehearsed choreography (quasi because each dancer will hit a move differently, and especially because we saw a lot of dancers struggling to reproduce the choreography with much success), all while toiling in Dickensian conditions (extreme physical labor, enforced sleep deprivation, being subjected to the cruel machinations and whims of the judges).

So rather than witness individuals transcend to something great, or at least perform something pretty, we primarily saw hopes dashed and dreams smashed against the impersonal institution of capital -- all the heartbreak is an institutional feature, moreover, since they have to cut down from over 170 highly motivated and talented kids down to 20. This structural heartbreak was why, by the end of the two VEAGS episodes, I was feeling exhausted and defeated.

No more Marx, after the jump

My Marxist outburst was made possible by Momo, who posted a juggernaut of reason which puts the fairness controversy with Natalie, Gabi, et al to bed like an absolute mutha. (Momo downplays her post as contrarianism, but it really is a trenchant corrective to the online melodrama.) The whole thing is worth reading, but I want to single out this passage:

Should Natalie have been given another chance to dance on TV? Maybe, but she still would have been cut. Should we have seen which rounds she flubbed? The fact is that we didn't; we got to see some other dancers instead. This was not the Natalie show, nor was it live.

The point she makes about how these episodes aren't live is particularly noteworthy -- the VEAGS callbacks were all shot and wrapped a long time ago, during which time Natalie did or did not suck at everything. The producers of SYTYCD subsequently chose to treat their edit of Natalie a certain way -- and from a journalistic or documentarist point of view, they could've easily done a better job at contextualizing why she was dismissed. But as you'll hear again and again, SYTYCD is not a news or a documentary program -- it's a show that succeeds when it inspires discourses (such as the discourse between viewer and show as mediated by the telephone).

OK, one last thing before I let myself get well and stupid.


The Alex Wong business (he looks physically beat-up there!) seems to have picked up its reactionary elements already, that is, people have remarked that Edward Villella should've let Alex out of his contract with the Miami Ballet Company as a long-term way to promote the company. But if Alex were released from his contract, he'd likely be gone for the better part of a year -- do people not think he'd be taken on the top 10 tour?


Getting stupid now: I am dubious about the nerd bonafides of Nerdography. I can help them improve, of course:


I thought Megan Kinney had the edge over Caitlin because she had the Jaimie Goodwin hair -- quota, dammit! -- but in the end BIG HAIR got trumped by the No Megans Rule (no fewer than four Megans got cut in the first VEAGS episode: Megan Kinney, Megan Campbell (remember her from last year?), Megan Davis, and Megan with the Bikini Kill haircut from Silky's awful group). But! As long as one Kinney sister remains, I can look forward to a season's worth of Sleater-Kinney puns. In the end, that is what matters. Hurrah!

Almost as importantly, I'll have reason to reuse my Incredible Caitlin image again.







The look of glee on Cat's face, you'd think she was getting the chance to do something as special as hugging Cat! Her giggle was precious, though.

I initially reacted to the top 20 with skepticism -- who are these kids? and what happened to Kelsea? -- but I think that I reacted similarly last year and was certainly disabused of any doubts over the course of that season. So after getting talked tweeted down, I remembered that the important thing is that some of the dancers still have time to unveil their personalities; however, I still worry about the relatively low hip-hop representation this time around, especially on the women's side, the demographics of which include two Asians, a couple-few Latinas, and the rest white girls. The point remains that this season will be the first when, grossly speaking, there will be no black women in the top 20.

The men's side is a little more diverse in terms of racial makeup, but the hip-hop numbers are likewise low, which I think is telling, considering the racial composition of the bunch of guys who were eliminated right outside the top 32:


I'm not a grassy knoller by any means, but if I were Nigel and I wanted to make sure that a hip hopper wouldn't win this year, I'd keep them out of the top 20 as well. (Note: I'm very aware that I'm basically conflating black dancers wearing baggy jeans with hip hop -- it's a lazy assumption for sure, but when we don't even have a b-boy this year, I'm a little pivved and prone to making leaps in judgment because this year we're not going to get anything on the level of Jamile and Destini's routine or even a "No Air.")


Mia has never exactly been a tactful judge (she said, point blank on different occasions, that Cousin Heidi and Jessica King both sucked; she started the Danny Tidwell Arrogance Express rolling; and so forth), but I found her to be a useful agent to vicariously express my personal animuses when she directed her bluntness at dancers I didn't like.

Obviously, I found her words to Brandon this time around entirely inappropriate because I'm completely in his corner. Bias aside, she really was being a power-tripping autocrat when she questioned why he was smiling during her harangue. Brandon, showing me why he's my favorite to start the season, totally defused the situation with maturity, in short supply apparently: "Mia, we're totally going to get on like Donkey Kong."

Lil C -- two VEAGS episodes and one audition episode, and no more than a $5 word? I AM ASHAMED.

Anyway, my rundown of the top 20 with all completely true scientific facts and no lies.


When life gives you a heretofore unknown, unnarrativized dancer, make a stupid joke about lemonade!


An Ashley has made it to the top 20 again! Order has finally been restored to the SYTYCD world.


Strangely under-reported fact about Jason: he plays point guard with the Spurs, and is married to actress Eva Longoria.

Kupono (AKA Pono)

Thinks Randi should give up her unitards in favor of Lyotard.


Resident grouch.


Young Vitolio! I will milk his last name until drained of his youthful essence, or until his "exuberant" personality annoys me.


Three-quarters Klingon on her mother's side.


I do not like Janette's Karen O hair.


Under a black light, best described as a plutonium blonde. Furthermore, her exposure to radioactive elements has given her the metafictional ability to see post-production graphics floating by her head.


She is not younger than me! This makes me root for her automatically.


Uh... she looks like Kate from Stylista? Sorry, I got nothing.


Can partner with posters of dancers.


As a member of the Boogie Bots Crew, she has some hip hop under her belt -- perhaps the girl with the most hip-hop experience this season. Also under her belt, METAL.

Because, you see, Boogie Bot?

As in robot?

And robots are made of metal?

(Nb. I know for a fact that I'm going to constantly get Kayla and Karla mixed up in future recaps, so let me apologize in advance.)


SYTYCD is just one stop on his quest to avenge the destruction of his dojo.


In response to Kupono, she remains skeptical of post-modernism because it refuses to critically engage with the metanarratives of capitalization and globalization.


Dancing's fun, but what he'd really like is a murderous set of wheels.


Wants to be your Joey Ramone.


Ready to kick butt.


Looks like this dude I went to graduate school with. So glad he got a haircut.

Enjoys munching pills and listening to repetitive music.

Some great news for SYTYCD fans coming this week, not merely because the actual competition is about to start, but because Natalie will be back to offer her wonderful music recaps! They are awesome, if you've never read them, and I am looking forward to them again.

Indie rating: Cat Power – "Metal Heart"


E said...

Marxist crit and pomo in one recap? Awesome. Though you missed an opportunity to talk about colonization and iperialism: Maksim is now Max? Something can be done there. Love your recaps. Glad I stayed up late enough to read it tonight.

geeky Heather said...

I <3 your graphix. Thought there were soooo many CUTE Cat moments in that episode. I'm with you on no hip-hop girls. =(

momo said...

So many LOL-worthy moments in this post!
Dickensian indeed. I had been thinking of this in sporting terms, as in "they're looking for an all-around gymnast rather than a single event specialist", but now I think the Alex Wong picture should have a "Please, sir, may I have some more?" caption .

I'm going to be chortling all afternoon over the Megan rule, and Pomo. I don't know if Pomo will achieve the heights of Marker fandom (we'll have to see what if he can bring the same intensity to her partnering) but the Markers are poised to adopt him.

I'm finding that the interviews are pitching me in the direction of the folks who have a modicum of self-awareness and maturity. Some of them are so YOUNG!

Spot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Spot said...

I keep watching Brandon Bryant close for signs of the supposed (personality) flaw that's been getting in the way of his predestined sytycd stardom. Gotta say I even thought I caught a glimpse of it in the peculiarish crying style he displayed at the loss of Natalie.

Maybe it's just my hyped curiosity mixing with my penchant for uncovering the backroom machinations of the producers, but Mia's choice of the most inopportune possible moment to launch into Brandon with her utterly humorless and dull tirade seemed almost (too) perfectly staged to elicit sympathy for the poor besieged Brandon. And then to have Brandon slay the awkward moment with dash and wit. Well, something tells me Brandon is being over-produced. And maybe even rightly so given the kernel of doubt about him the Judges have so relentlessly sown.

That aside, it's my experience that the judges, choreographers, producers of sytycd do in fact know their contestants and there audience quite well, and if they have serious reservations about Brandon, I'm inclined to trust they have very good reasons (even if those reasons are a little too ugly/cynical to risk explicating).

Anyway, my early prediction for Brandon is he will leave the competition well before a good number of inferior dancers.

Leee said...

E, good catch on the colonialized Max/Maksim! I was staggering to the finish line like Gail Devers and left a lot unsaid.

geeky Heather, I'm holding out hope that some of the contemp. girls such as Karla have some hidden HH talents.

Momo, my attribution fail; I got the Pono/Pomo things from your Twitter feed.

Spot, I think that considering the judges and producers as all-knowing to be giving them too much credit. They certainly have more information than we do, but they've demonstrated throughout the history of the show that they interpret that information in often questionable and biased ways.

Nate Levy said...

Asuka the Grouch is full of win...

Anonymous said...

how about dragon lady?

Julia said...

I think every grad department has a guy that looks like Evan.

It's good to find someone else who is a rabid fan of both SYTYCD and Sleater-Kinney.

One needn't be black or have baggy pants to be a good hip hop dancer. I've decided to resent you for that insinuation. Remember Courtney's kick-ass hip hop last season? And what about Vincent doing House on SYTYCD Canada?