Sunday, July 26, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance - Top 8 (5x18, 5x19)


When we first saw her auditioning with Romulo, I thought that because of the tricks they showed off, she was mostly an acrobatic flash merchant -- but no, she has met no rugs on this show that she has failed to cut to pieces. Like Joshua and Katee, Janette and Brandon made me reconsider genres that I'd long written off while steamrolling through everything the show threw at them. The power couple this season, though, weren't quite as consistently great as their predecessors, but Janette and Brandon's highs are unforgettable.


And while I hold Katee and Joshua dear in my heart, neither of them were a spunky dynamo like Janette. She might well be the shortest contestant in the history of the show, but she fills the screen (and I'm positive the entire studio) with more energy and charisma than any of us will see again in a very long time. To a more prosaic end, she also is an exquisitely rare find on reality television: someone who has boundless magnetism and preternatural talent. The grace and confidence with which she threads the needle in the rumba blows my mind every time I watch it.

All of her appeal just seems so evident that I'm stunned that everyone else who watches this show and votes for it didn't think the same way. I call it a breakdown in taste.

And while I know that everyone should be grateful that we got to see so special a dancer on the program and that she herself was gracious and wise enough to savor the experience no matter the result for her, I was convinced that she was a going to be a fixture through to the final four and a heavy favorite to win the competition. Now, we've been deprived of the chance to see her own a Mia routine, since she's actually got a bit of contemporary under her belt.

Ah, me! Ah, Janette!

Smiling with your eyes, zombies, Mandy Moore moves over, words that will get me in trouble, zombies, the return of the Mac, Cat gives swine flu a run for its money, zombies, and the theoretical ghost lives on, after the jump.

A final bit of hagiography: When Nigel spoke of Evan's heavy eyelids, he was obliquely referencing the "hooded" eyelids fabled by Tyra (not so fabled as her smiling eyes, of course), which, as in all things, Janette has to show Evan how to do properly.



Long academic section ahead, click to skip.

Little else provokes our dander than the judges (or even other viewers) praising a dancer or routine that we don't like. I'm pretty sure the level of our dander correlates with the zero-sum environment of reality programming in which contestants succeed only at the expense of other contestants. The interesting (and maybe unanswerable) question remains, however, why differences in artistic opinion can breed such antagonism.

I've said before that we as viewers tend to project our moral values on reality contestants whom we favor. Our moral projection then raises the stakes of a piddling tv show to serious heights -- it's not just about who's America's favorite dancer or who is the ultimate survivor or the most amazing racer, reality programs become a site in which our fundamental beliefs are contested. Consequently, with the zero-sum nature of reality tv -- where it's either us or them, in a manner of speaking, vying for a (usually) single prize -- things will inevitably happen that we disagree with and we all get bent out of shape. (The inevitability of our aggravation also seems to be a principal reason for why people tend to think that past seasons were better than whatever current season they're watching. We're outraged NOW! has more rhetorical oomph than our selective, longer-term memories that paint our nostalgia.)

So in this moral battlefield where it's us or them (or Our values or theirs! Our opinions or theirs! You get the picture), we often scrutinize how the contestants behave or carry themselves. In programs like Survivor or ANTM, we get ample evidence of contestants behaving in what we see as fundamentally revealing candidness by which to judge their morals. SYTYCD, on the other hand, replaces the candidness with highly mediated friendliness, scrubbing and polishing kids who might not be the greatest speakers (they're dancers, remember) and repackaging them as likable personalities in superficial and carefully constructed (and probably rehearsed) interviews.

But these few crumbs don't stop us from policing the contestants (us or them!); we just look closer for "clues" into their "real" personalities, which is probably why, based on circumstantial evidence and/or seeing what we want to see but which not actually be there, some people find Melissa insufferably smug. (These same people would, I'd reckon, be pleasantly surprised at how much better Melissa comes off as a person if they attended one of the tour stops -- when the competition is suspended, we also stop thinking morally in that us vs. them mindset.)

An applied example. Kayla has been praised to high-heaven by the judges, but given how often she ends up among the lowest vote-getters, viewers apparently think otherwise. (For the purposes of this post, I'm focusing on the structure of the program instead of cultural phenomena such as the instant dislike for pretty blond girls.) As a result of the differences of opinion, and how Kayla's been saved by the judges after so many low finishes, we see that the show tries to privilege one set of values while we feel that our own divergent values are ignored. Each week, the show offers a referendum on taste, and we'd like to get our opinions validated, especially by authority figures like the judges, but when we hear contrary values expressed, we feel like ours are deprecated, and the target of their praise becomes the target of our antipathy. And that's even before we get into the elimination aspect of the show -- if someone we rooted for deeply is ousted before Kayla, that can fuel our dislike for her even more because now we involve notions like justice and desert.

(N.B. I'm not above any of these reactions by any means. While I'm used to holding minority opinions and not letting the judges bother me, I can be moved to breast-beating outrage by either shenanigans that hit some of my buttons -- e.g. the condescending treatment of hip hop this season -- or blatant contradictions/offenses to my core values and philosophies.)

A lot of the reason for my extended morality kick -- I mean, besides my fondness for bloviating -- is because I hope to shed some light on how SYTYCD is constructed to maximize viewer involvement which tends to mean that we'll be drawing proverbial lines in the sand and gnashing our teeth: we hate contestant X because the structure of reality programming pits them against our favored contestant, who, in turn, represents or is invested with our values. Maybe, in knowing how SYTYCD and other programs work, we won't gnash our teeth so much and relieve some perennial angst.

After their pop-jazz routine, Mia, in reference to Brandon, said, "Jeanine, just to keep up with that one..." (my emphasis). I mean...




Ellen Degeneres, I've discovered, isn't my thing, but her presence on the show was a net positive because she elicited reactions from everyone that were refreshingly spontaneous and unforced.

I do wish she advised any of the dancers to just keep swimming.


Mangled grammar aside, this sign is pretty clever.

This week in Inappropriately Handsy Latin Ballroom Choreographer...


No, that isn't Jean-Marc this time! Tony Meredith, you cad!


L.: Melissa's husband bugs me hah
T.: yeah he's lame
T.: she should just marry ade
T.: except
T.: he's cooler
L.: He's married to his pick
T.: !
T.: lol
T.: scandalous
L.: haha

Oreo's contemporary is a litmus test of personal tragedy, and despite my first instinct, I find I can't dismiss or question the authenticity of anyone's reaction to it (which, if I'm going to be dogmatic/consistent, means that ultimately I can't question taste in general). If I look at the piece itself and only that piece and not at any of its historical context, it was an adequate routine danced well enough. On these merits, I find the praise lavished onto it was disproportionate and too kind. But the piece exists in the real world, with people who bring their histories to it when they watch it and also take their cues from the judges, and everyone cried not exclusively because of the routine's steps or Melissa and Ade's performance thereof, but because the routine concentrates a lot of real-life feelings and memories into a single moment.

So while I'd like to say that people overreacted to the routine, I'd be policing their reactions and that's nosier than I want to be.

As to the other dances, I thought Janette hit both of her routines out of the park, with or without Evan (mostly without). She smoldered in the rumba (the abovementioned needle threading, and her hips were obscenely (in the best way possible) sinuous), which was pretty much a ballroom solo in my book. Hey, she should've partnered Evan during her real solo! (Here's Evan doing an impression of that dressform Pasha danced with a couple years ago.)

The Sonya dance was a plum assignment for Janette, too. It had the added bonus of her getting to treat Evan like dirt.

By the way, having heard CSS for the first time (whom I keep getting confused with Broken Social Scene, based on their initials -- CSS are Brazilian, BSS are Canadians), Sonya seems like a '00s version of Mandy with her music choices. Instead of classic '80s jams, Madam Mohawk prefers hipster music with heavy, distorted bass (often synth) or guitars. For instance, of all the songs recorded by Mirah (the indie pop songbird) that Sonya could have selected last year? "The Garden"! The most electro, bass-heavy song in an oeuvre filled with acoustic instruments.

Brandon and Jeanine's waltz is nothing I can remember clearly, and even when I watch it, my mind tends to wander. The pop-jazz, on the other hand, I'm not sure about. It requires a lot of power and obviously Brandon and Jeanine could bring the muscle to impress us, otherwise the number would've looked like the overwrought mess (e.g. they were out of sync with one another) it probably is.


Melissa and Ade's other performance was Just Another Ballroom Routine for which I don't care, but what made this one extra forgettable was the song choice, a Latin mashup of Usher. The rhythm for "Yeah" was incredibly disruptive when it became prominent in the song, which distracted me from an otherwise lame dance, so I suppose that's a good thing?

Kayla and Jason had a wonderful night, so far as I'm concerned.


The Broadway was about legs, I think, specifically Kayla's blindingly white gams which threw out the proverbial bolts of lightning each time she kicked. Her most mature performance of the competition?

The zombie hip hop was some of Shane's freshest work in a long time. (I liked Kupono and Ashley's shadow dance, though!) No doubt, Jason and Kayla could've been much better -- their tutting could use work -- but the routine is so great that it's still loads of fun. (Kayla does a great vacant, brainless stare, whodathunk, right?)


I could've watched the two of them with raised arms/wrist-bent zombie running for 90 seconds, and it would've been the funnest 90 seconds of the night, but we still got a ton of nice little moments, starting with Jason's ominous rise from behind Kayla to the Zombie Funky Chicken to his solo for two knees (which wouldn't make it a solo? Because two knees?). Zombies really do make everything better! (Almost everything.)

Even Jason! He was such a shockingly excellent zombie -- I loved the way he shifted his shoulders within that Solomon Grundy jacket, and he's got that dislocated jaw thing down pat -- that I think he should've made being undead his schtick from week one. Like, zombie dance is a niche just waiting for him.

Or there would be if Wade hadn't taken the stage to lead his hungry-for-brains minions. Watching the "Rama Lama" reprise with Wade as Boss Zombie brought a corny tear to my eye -- it was like a revenant homecoming. Love.


I noticed this time, though, that Zombie Donyelle collects the zombie guys' canes and stows them away. Even zombie women have to put up with zombie chauvinism, sheesh!

Hummingbird & Flower
Jaimie was a lot more fluid in the 100th episode reprise than she was in either of her season 3 performances (the first time, and again in the season 3 finale). She also went and got a lot more muscles(!). Hok was marginally not-as-good as he was in the past -- he wobbled in his hand-stand towards the end. Heavy is the crown of America's Best Dance Crew.


I believe I was on the fence with this number when I first saw it -- you know, as opposed to being on the bench hyuk hyuk -- but seeing it performed again after two years highlights its main weaknesses: it's filled with treacle. Heidi is now two years and older and still reaching out like a childish naif. Mia's juvenilia, and the show's too.


Travis' group routine was mostly dopey and owed a little bit of inspiration to the Beat Freaks, but he managed to make robots or post-humans or cyber-roller derby skaters or whatever rather dull. It featured one bright spot though: When everyone did that crab flex together in almost-unison, it had a startling mix of looseness, robustness, and mechanical perfection that captivated me.

I liked Ade's solo for once! He did a back bend with no hands and held it for a beat! And he caught some serious air. Jeanine's was nice, too, though she seems to have reinterpreted Mia's routine for Lauren and Neil in addition to nicking the music from it.

Almost everyone else I could do without, though Melissa continues to rock excellent music with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, whom I'd dismissed as another overhyped New York band but whose glossy disco-jonesing have made them a hundred times better than their garage-band art punk debut.

The past-seasons montage was a kick-and-a-half to watch, though season 1 got shortchanged. I'd have liked to see Jamile and Destini reprise their hip hop and show these kids how it's done -- especially since clips of that routine were used in the promo spots -- but so far as I could see, the only significant presence of season 1 was tapper Sandra. I also don't know if we got to see the season 1 top 20 16, even though we got shots of the 20 for each subsequent season.


The last screen might be season one -- it has 8 couples, after all.

Maybe Cat personally invited the alums herself, and since she wasn't around in the first season, those invitations got lost in the mail.

All the same, nice seeing familiar faces again. Here's an extremely rough composite collage I put together (click the picture to enlarge it) of the pan over the alums:


First row, left to right: Ashley Valerio, Caitlin "Sleater" Kinney, Joshua Allen, Katee Shean, Comfort "Okey" Fedoke, Shortney Galliano, part of an Oreo.
Second row: Jesus Solorio, Anya "Better as a brunette" Garnis, Lauren "Misha Chan" Gottlieb, Pasha Kovalev, Chelsea Traille, Kherington "Sonny Crockett" Payne.
Third row: Musa Cooper, Ryan Rankine, Allison Holker Natalie Fotopoulos, Benji Facemugger, and a blonde I don't recognize.
The woman behind Benji's left shoulder is Sandra Colton.

Apropos of random nostalgia, I still hold that Dominic and Sabra's hip hop is miles better than Ivan and Allison's if we're talking about Shane's lyrical work. I'll admit I still harbor blood hate for Ivan, whom I blame as the person responsible for making Mary Murphy's screams a "thing," but Dominic and Sabra's piece is better.

Nigel said that he was thankful for the zombie hop because the rest of the hip hop this season has been DOA. Which was nice to hear (as well as him acknowledging the lifelessness of some of the show) but conveniently ignores all the accolades he's heaped onto those weak routines.

It's funny that in the montage that looked back at the history of SYTYCD, the two season 5 dancers who were featured most prominently ended up being the ones eliminated. OMG fuel for conspiracy theories! Have at it.


Random audience hottie. He's like a younger, better-looking Chris Eccleston.


Brandon looks like a cherub on a sugar high here.

If one of Mia's XXL shirts mated with one of Cat's tackier prints, we'd get what Cat wore on Thursday.



The last time Mary's face could still move.


Everyone's going to miss Janette. (That's Mary hugging her.)


Pono may be gone, and postmodernism might be dead in this post-irony age, but that won't, can't stop my pretension, therefore:


Indie rating: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra And Tra-La-La Band - "BlindBlindBlind"


E said...

Love reading your recaps on Sunday nights. Makes me glad that I'm not the only academic who's hopelessly into this show.

Pretty sure the blonde girl behind Kherington is Joy Spears from season 2. I saw her on stage at the very end of the show.

momo said...

oh, Leee, I still haven´t seen the shows from last week, being away from my digital desk and on my European tour but your recap makes me anticipate watchng the show when I get home, despite my sadness at Janette´s elimination. My daughter asked me who I wanted to win, and after thinking about it, it turned out to be her. and then THIS!
I don´t have time online to tell you how much I savor your recaps in detail, but I´ll come back and read this one again after I´ve had a chance to watch the show.

Mikey said...

I'm pretty sure that's Natalie not Alison?

I also miss Janette.. :(

Her departure just vents more dislike for that blonde long legged girl who shall not be named.

Mikey said...

Oh and crazy ribs Jessica was next to the Payne.

Anonymous said...

postmodernism might be dead


It so is! Let digimodernism into your heart.

Sara said...

Yep Mikey, that is Natalie Fotopoulos. I'd recognize that face anywhere.

Leee said...

Mikey, Sara -- corrected!

The Enforcer said...

Treacle...BRILLIANT. =)

I love your recaps. So thoughtful. You definitely see the show differently from most others who watch. I respect your viewpoint.

See you tomorrow night for the live chat!

Margot said...

Your academic section is spot on. I know she was just one example, but Melissa (and her husband) is as sweet and real as any dancer someone cares to compare her to. After meeting the dancers last year on tour I learned that I will never say I "hate" one of the dancers and I will TRY not to hold it against a dancer who stays when my dancer goes. ;-)

Julia said...

Thank you for your Janette love. I agree with every word. Her departure is an appalling failure of taste. Best girl on the show ever? Perhaps.

Now my beef with the 5 season flashback is the glaring lack of Danny Tidwell. As the most beautiful dancer ever on the show, and as runner-up of what remains the best season of SYTYCD, his absence is almost tragic. Where's the Danny-love, people? Has this magnificent creature truly been forgotten?