Although its competitive structure was completely overhauled after the first season, SYTYCD seems set with its current format which is basically unchanged from season 2. People have complained about having a set partnership through the first five weeks, or that the top 20 should perform for two full weeks so that the audience and judges can make a more informed first cut, but here we are in season five with set partnerships and one week with the top 20. But I think that the show has at least quietly (and partially) acceded to another suggestion, that we ought to see some people perform in their specialties sooner rather than later to witness the dancers' ceilings. I say partially given the uneven breakdown of genres along gender lines this season, so instead, only Chbeeb, Tony, and Makx (it's called compromise) got their non-contemporary styles and generally excelled in them. (Season 5 has so many contemporary/lyrical/jazz dancers, that Randi, Ade, and others getting what they got shouldn't qualify as a fortuitous pairing.)
The group number on results night wasn't entirely bad -- the guys ranged from acceptable to fantastic, especially Brandon and Chbeeb (that octopus twist/wave!) (and I suspect that Kupono and Jason also have the goods), but wow, were the ladies subpar. The most I can say about them is that they're blonder than I thought.
An explanation for the intro in the form of Maoist-criticism, the elusive Feline Bigfoot, and WADE, after the jump.
Which brings me back to the above explosion of Wu-Tang, prompted by reader Julia, who in my Vegas post rightfully called me out on some lazy thinking on the dearth of hip-hop dancers this season. I basically conflated black and baggy pants with hip hop, to which Julia said:
Remember Courtney's kick-ass hip hop last season? And what about Vincent doing House on SYTYCD Canada?
Being a parochial American, no, I don't remember Vincent doing house on the Canuck version of the show, though I presume she means this awesome number (via MGK -- to all of you who're suddenly on MGK's jock, I've been sniffing it since last year, so there); to the other half of her refutation, yes, of course I remember Shortney completely overshadowing Gev last season in their hip hop, which doesn't absolve me from a frankly embarrassing socio-philosophical error. Associating black dancers with hip hop fails to credit dancers of all ethnicities, contradicts the style's aspirational and DIY aesthetics/ideologies, and brings out some simplistic ideas of authenticity that I thought I, as an arch formalist, was too pomo to still harbor and which I'm too ill-equipped to address. Consider myself chastened. Complicating my point even further is that my favorite b-boys are generally Asian (Ryan and Hok, and then Gev, who is not Asian). I should note also that they wore baggy pants, I'm pretty sure!
Anyway, Chbeeb and Brandon's work this week has put to rest my worries about having not having any killer hip hop for season five, but I'm still praying non-denominationally for someone from the ladies' side to bust out some nasty cheese-curdling funk. (With Ashley's part robot ancestry, I am hopeful. Oh, there I go again, with the essentialism.)
Notwithstanding my hip-hop misgivings, this year is shaping up to be quite remarkable, if only from a personality standpoint, as there are literally zero kids (and zero Melissas -- see she is ancient and therefore not a kid, not with those muscles) who rub me the wrong way. Well, maybe Melissa -- if she bites her finger one more damn time I will punch a cat.
... I'll punch a dog.
The benevolence of my spirit (MODESTY) also extends to dancers who might've earned my ire through some perceived infraction of justice, like Tony, for whom I feel bad because the internets seems to generally think that he belongs to the kids' table (his babyface and the costume he wore for his solo -- which was just missing a helicopter beanie -- didn't help dispel that image); he seemed to shrink away from attention in his hip hop with Paris, yet from what I could tell from the scattered camera work in the group routine, he acquitted himself nobly.
Same deal with Paris, who surprised me with her performance opposite Tony. She avoided the locked-knee stiffness that characterizes most contemporary girls' performances of hip hop, and the heartbreak that was so plainly legible on her face when she was being cut was incredibly difficult to watch.
My discomfort with Paris' raw emotions demonstrates how reality shows such as SYTYCD operate in a different class than other reality programming where emotional exposure and voyeurism constitute a large amount of the appeal. What differentiates this instance of emotional rawness with general reality tv emotional spectacle is that Paris didn't offer any reason to dislike her, and moreover, in the brief context of these competitive shows where judges offer extemporaneous critiques in front of an audience, we typically expect all sorts of ragged edges to be filed down and stage-managed into well-behaved, deferential, and trite gratitude ("I'm happy to be here," "This was a great experience that I'll cherish," etc.). When unmediated emotion seeps through, then, they clash against our generic expectations of how the show is typically presented.
Tony and Paris shed light on two different notions of reality justice, then. In a program like SYTYCD where, for all the distinctions made about Ameriker's favorite dancer, ability and worth are such fetishized totems that entirely dictate the forms of discourse on and around the show. And when someone visibly fails to measure up to perceived standards, he becomes an open target for the viewer to censure through no real fault of his own. Paris, on the other hand, shows in a bracing light that mere ability isn't the end-all, be-all of the show, and that whimsy and bad luck can shatter your progress, and that throws in stark relief just how powerless the individual can be in the face of institutional indifference.
But, say, you want to know the real reason why Tony and Paris ended up in the bottom?
They were telling the voters to dial TEMPO-50. Shenanigans!
Kupono and Ashley - WADE
On principle, I have to rate this piece highly because Wade Robson is my favorite choreographer by far, but I have to admit that I haven't unreservedly loved his work since the fox piece with Sabra and Lacey. The routine for Kupono and Ashley felt underwhelming at first, notably because of how much of its styling was borrowed from Bjork's video for "All Is Full Of Love" (which easily qualifies as my favorite thing that Chris Cunningham has done):
Obviously, the tone of Wade's piece is completely different, and given its similar costuming to the video, really distracted me the first time I watched it. But on each subsequent viewing, I'm more and more charmed by its relentless optimism and just the rubbery weirdness of the whole thing. I also think that the piece is almost unique to Kupono's talents and body type -- no one else quite has the same lanky build along with his fluid bounciness -- while Ashley totally inhabited her character to the point now that if someone else had dancer her part, it would take on a different, perhaps lesser quality. I wouldn't quite rank it on the level of Wade's other top 20 routine ("Vagabond Cabaret"), but it's a definite grower with more resonances than I thought it had on first blush. The important point: As long as he's going to be more fully involved in this season and blaming his morbidly goofy vision on Amanda (a superlatively cute moment!), I am a happy camper.
Chbeeb and Jeanine - Hip Hop
How sick was Phil, totalitarian like Kim Jong Il (<-- my lame attempt at throwing down some rhymes) in laying down despotic ownage of an otherwise forgettable routine. (Napoleon and Tabitha have a place on this show, but they've been way too overexposed and over-reliant on lyricism and I'm ready for Shane to bring some harder, hotter sauce.) Jeanine left no impression, but with Chbeeb holding it down like human rights in China, she didn't have to.
Asuka and Vitolio - Broadway
Feel free to throw rotten vegetables at me -- I liked this one! That's not to say I cared much for Asuka and Vitolio's performances, nor that I'm coming around on the Tasty Oreo, but it turns out that I'm a sucker for Chaplinesque shuffling.
Caitlin and Jason - Bollywood
This was the performance of the night for me -- sizzling choreography from Nakul -- even though Caitlin spent a lot of time fighting the routine and the dissonance between the two dancers was distracting. Jason moved languidly, which clashed with Caitlin's choppier and more frantic movement. At the time I wondered how Joshua and Katee would've managed it, and I still do.
Brandon and Janette - Foxtrot
That crazy lift -- but more on Mary Murphy later. I remain steadfastly unmoved by ballroom, but two things stood out for me. First, after the routine, Cat greeted Brandon, "Hello, Muscle!" Second:
Melissa and Ade - Contemporary
When I talk about Marx, I assuredly do not mean Richard.
Makx and Kayla - Samba
Nigel held up Pasha and Dmitry as paragons of male partnering, but why did he leave out the OG Russian ballroom hottie, Artem? He's definitely not lacking in the phwoar department, but is Artem really not as good as the other two guys? Ballroom people, help me out here.
Sean Kingston -- I swear he had a line in the chorus about Burger King.
I've never had much truck with the Mary Murphy Is Always Drunk rumor-mongering, but how else to explain her botox jibe?
Though to be halfway serious, I was not terribly impressed at her revelation, my immediate reaction being, "Yeah, no duh." What's more, I'm not convinced that the exchange was entirely spontaneous, because, you know, "no duh," i.e. I've been making Mary Murphy botox jokes since season 3. What I'd find more believable is that the judges were mixing with some bad hoodoo, trying to channel the spirits of SYTYCD alums since gone, but instead Mary became possessed by an evil zombie demon / gas from a bad taco, thusly:
LATER THAT NIGHT...!
Time for another edition of PONO'S POMO CORNER. My sources inside the show have clued me in on Pono's ALL NEW INFAMOUS PONO LIST.
Let's get a closeup, shall we?
This has been another edition of PONO'S POMO CORNER.
Cat's recycling jokes now, as she applied the exact same "pocket couple" jibe to Ravan that she used for last year Gev and Shortney, from which I can conclude that Cat Deeley is:
- racist against short people
- running out jokes and could stand to hire someone to do write them for her (i.e. me)
- laying out the foundations for some meta-season boogie that becomes apparent only if you isolate these once-a-year moves and string them all together into a single, cosmic ballet -- Cat Deeley, you can't fool me.
Melissa is, apparently, getting better with age as well, a phenomenon which I am similarly experiencing, though substitute "better" with "sleepiness" and "protectiveness over my lawn," you damn kids.
I don't follow the domestic situations of the choreographers, but that redhead next to Tony Meredith is definitely not Melanie LaPatin, nor was that Melanie assisting him during rehearsals. Did they split? Did she just not get the notice that SYTYCD was starting again? Was she busy subbing for Jessi Peralta again?
A checklist (assisted by Anthony):
- Comes from a big family? Yes.
- Married young? Yes.
- From Utah? LDSLDSLDSLDSLDS.
He's just showing off now. "Hello, Muscle," indeed.
Indie rating: Bjork - "All is Full of Love"