Monday, July 06, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance - Top 14 (5x12, 5x13)

Let me dispense with my usual opening affectation and say this off the top: I'm voting for Desmond Richardson and Patricia Hachey. I'm simply going to quit if neither of them becomes America's Favorite Dancer.


Her strength started with that incredible beginning pose, so angular and still and tightly controlled evoking the indifferent perfection machinery, but which then melts into unquestionably graceful humanism. He was a dynamo, whirling and spinning with mechanistic but passionate precision. Where dance in the Vegas callback episodes parodied the dehumanizing effects of capitalism, the performance in the results show had something distinctly modern, or I should say, Modernist: the inscrutable abstractness but with a touch of the Futurists' fetish for the machine, executed with such grace that it transcends the inhuman and becomes superhuman.

Saying that this pas de deux constituted the show's best guest performance is a no-brainer -- I'd go further and say that it's possibly better than any dance we've seen on SYTYCD mostly because of how artistically mature it is compared to what we see on any performance night, and I'm not slighting the show or its contestants -- that's how amazing and thrilling this performance is.

Annual grievances, the rise of British sea power, and my most indulgent post ever, after the jump.

Every season, I get to write something about the "continued presence" of Dancer X, and this year, Chbeeb gets to be that NEFARIOUS DANCER X AND WHY IS (S)HE SULLYING MY MERITORIOUS TELEVISION SHOW I AM SO MAD, WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION ABOUT THE NATURE AND QUALITY OF WORTH ON THIS SHOW (oops, left the capslock on). In other words, SYTYCD (and people on certain sites which I've vowed never to mention in polite conversation again) has always privileged contemporary dance styles over hip hop, and I'm saddened to see people persisting with this same bias after five seasons because it's a step backwards. I shouldn't be surprised, since taste is an extant site of contestation (some enterprising reader should create a T!YBE Academic Buzzwords Bingo card) for otherwise sublimated (BINGO) racial anxiety.

Let me back up a little: Nigel and company have always implicitly privileged classical over hip hop -- they'd give a pass to contemporary dancers doing feeble non-contemporary styles, but if the kid wasn't classically trained? Fuggedaboutit, the kid would be able to poop out of a new hole, let's say. And during Melissa and Ade's pas de deux, we heard them voice explicit preference for ballet, which underscores the systemic bias in favor of the classical styles over hip hop. I can't work up a seething dander against Nigel and company, because it's their show and they can do what they want to, plus I don't want to take away anything from classical styles. On the other hand, I can't let the program off that easily, because the systemic bias trickles down to viewers, who are prompted to say silly things to the tune of "Chbeeb is a blight on SYTYCD because he can't Argentine Tango" (silly because no one would think about disqualifying any other contestants from contention because they can't dance hip hop).

As much as anything en pointe requires specifically ballet-trained dancers, we have also never seen breakdancing as a style -- both genres require extensive training that is impossible to impart on neophytes in the show's time-frame, and both could wind up breaking (PUN) an untrained dancer's neck. One point (PUN) of difference, though, is the origins of each. Where ballet boasts a rarefied, Continental pedigree and all the cultural legitimacy that such pedigree wields, hip hop is a form that's native to modern American culture, but in a colonialist maneuver, our native form is pushed to the margins and elided during discourses about art. Similarly, while we've seen other folk dances on the show get their due, hip hop still gets treated as a fallen, stepchild of a form that is most praised when it's been hybridized with a more culturally dominant style (i.e. "lyrical hip hop"). Furthermore, relegating hip hop as a lesser form is antithetical to the essence of the show, which, as I read it, is about bringing together disparate styles onto the democratizing stage of a reality program.

(A note about lyrical hip hop on SYTYCD: although hybridity is usually celebrated in postcolonial criticism, Napoleon and Tabitha's choreography somehow doesn't feel like the contemporary side of dance meeting hip hop halfway. I feel that they strip away a lot of hip hop's essential edge to reinforce a narrow set of aesthetic values (e.g. anodyne, bourgeois romance) that often negate the funk, edge, or what have you that makes hip hop vital.)

The thrust of my argument is that hip hop enjoys second-class status on SYTYCD and in the opinions of a lot of its viewers even though treating it as second-class brings a lot of baggage that doesn't add up. Part of the issue stems from a colonized mindset, where the colonizer imparts the Eurocentric attitudes that define how and where we see art and which squeeze out the folk arts.


And this is the hip hop we ended up getting. Chbeeb and Jeanine's hip hop should've been off the chain, in every sense of the phrase. Every time I watch it, no matter how much I tell myself to watch Phillip and Jeanine and not the chain, I always end up watching the chain. They had what looked like a brief uprock segment which was an unholy, asynchronous mess; who knows, maybe it would've been ugly even if they were free, but the chain was still nothing but a hindrance.


Despite the judges' faint-to-middling praise for this week's Broadway, they couldn't dampen my enthusiasm for the routine because I was way too entertained by how it WAS NOT AN OREO PRODUCTION. Megaprops to Joey Dowling for NOT BEING OREO, tasty or otherwise, and for being such an unrepentant hard-ass (which was kind of hot), and for being tall which reminds me of that other tall chick on this program, what's-her-name.

Perhaps the only thing hotter this week than a stern, blunt 6-foot tall woman who knows how to take charge (TMI?) was Brandon and Jeanette's cha-cha. Even if they're not technically exact, they bring so much confidence and sexiness to their performances that my ballroom-apathetic heart can't resist melting A LOT. Similarly, as they began the performance, I was gobsmacked at how tiny Jeanette and Brandon looked; of course my gob completely forgot about size the moment they started cooking, and hell, they don't even let up after they're done.


One last observation on Brandette: the body boogie they've been doing -- nay, perfected -- is immensely cute. If I may make a proposition: this should become the IV Real of Season 5. (Assuming my other proposed SYTYCD meme doesn't take off.)



Especially after they've blown up the planet.


Like Mia, I found Jason and Caitlin's routine cartoonish, but unlike her, cartoons aren't some juvenile pejorative to me, they are the life-essence of my childish brain, and I loved the routine's Saturday morning vibe -- heavens to Betsy, I even liked the chintziness of her costume! As did her reprobate family, it appea...


Oh god, more horns.

The performance wasn't without its shortcomings, though. Brian Friedman's choreography would've been better served with a more shameless girl in Caitlin's place -- she definitely got a little bit freaky in places, but rather than reaching, say, Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie freaky, she only reaches "Ashes to Ashes" David Bowie freaky. (Intermediate David Bowie freakiness metric: Labyrinth.) her cumulative insecurities inhibited her from achieving the over-the-top, decadent excess that Brian seems to be insisting on this season.


As a counterpoint, Kayla and Kupono jumped fully into their characters, if not to their benefits (as they ended up having to dance solos), then to Mother Art's, because this had the right amount of conviction and also a melodramatic, lacy, Edwardian vibe. Cat called Kupono and Kayla (who incidentally has a weirdly perfectly spherical head) superstars, but they were also some of the the best looking goths to spin their melancholy and filigree on SYTYCD -- the mopey teenager in me approves. (Yes, I have an 17-year-old Sisters of Mercy enthusiast in me in addition to a 10-year-old nose-picking Saturday morning cartoon dweeb. I contain multitudes.) They even got Kayla's complexion right!




Melissa and Ade's pas de deux was pretty and in places lovely -- that lift with her on his shoulder while he runs to different parts of the stage, WHEW, and I certainly didn't expect anything so gentle from Quentin Tarantino -- but I'll defer to the judgment of those who know better. I wasn't transported quite as ecstatically as other people were, and it didn't measure up to what ballet I've already been exposed to (Firebird, Le Sacre, Les Noces (one (non-redeemable) cool point if you can identify the common thread among those three ballets)).


Karla and Vitolio's quickstep was remarkably undisastrous, and in places quite entertaining -- the instant costume change was the mindless spectacle that I'm always amused by -- but neither of them really brought a compelling performance to the routine that would've dug them out of their combined voting hole. Which was a shame, too, as I really would've liked to see Karla bust out with a hip hop with a non-chump of a partner, and with Vitolio, I could've added to the poem I was composing for him.

The Ballad of Vitolio
Left from youth on his ownio,
Story tragicker than Shakespeare's First Folio,
I am the great Cornholio.

It's a short ballad.


Sitting in the audience of a reality program makes Holden Caulfield a phony.


Cat followed up her youthful pink dress with styling Thursday night that made her look like a much older and trashier Serena van der Woosen (my first ever Gossip Girl reference -- yay?). The hair was stringy, and her makeup looked tired... wait, is that deconstructed fashion? It all comes back to POMO.


Speaking of which, Pono's Pomo Corner is taking a break for the week -- I have it on good standing that no foul play was involved -- and in its stead:


My sources have managed to smuggle out Cat's list, and in the name of postcolonial autonomy, not a moment too soon:


We must oppose the monolithic, anti-pluralistic impulses of our would-be cultural colonizers! And our knowledge of their plans has already got them scared...


got them belligerent...


got them gobsmacked...


got them more gobsmacked...


got them cute...


got them innocent and beautiful and gorgeous and lovely and huggable...


and awww, isn't she adorable? Let's make her our Supreme American Leader and spell "favorite" the wrong way!


Cat Deeley...


serial butt-bumper.


Indie rating: Young Jeezy - "My President is Black"


geeky Heather said...

I am extreeeemely tired today, so thankyousomuch for the service of pointing out the puns. It allowed me to be amused with less effort. There is no sarcasm here.

Sort of disagree about lyrical. I think what makes dance vital is the emotion it portrays. And emotionless ballet is the same as an emotionless hip-hop. Just like I do not complain if I see a well-danced ballet, full of "heart", that does not include pointe, I luvs me some hip-hop that's full of emotion, edge or no.

But as usual, I give your review a hearty "<3". And so thankful you exposed Cat's evil plot of cuteness. (Sooooo CUTE!! I second your nomination of Supremacy....)

Too many hearts. My apologies.

Beckylooo said...

Cat's my favourite.

momo said...

You are right on about the discourse about hip hop on the show. When I first started watching midway through season 3, I'd hang out on a certain forum which shall not be named where very smart people would argue passionately and with great insight about these issues, but they seem to have stopped posting there.

The show lets poor Toni Basil squawking "Street! street!" but nobody takes her seriously. Lil C is judging, but we haven't seen any choreography from him yet this season. And the distinct lack of love the judges gave Shane's routines makes me think they don't like that he was so successful in siphoning off the hip hop cred with ABDC.