Saturday, August 15, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance - Top 4 (5x22, 5x23)

Hope you weren't expecting a big blowout of a recap, because neither part of the finale had a showstopper of a routine or, in fact, any gnarly faces out of which to make funny captions.


See? I can't in good conscience caption a mime artist.

So my big deal for the finale was that I was there on a press pass thanks to and even managed to see the performance show in person. However, seeing something live isn't always what it's cracked up to be, at least not for me and my gaggle of neuroses. You can best experience something live when you get absorbed in it, like your concept of your self becomes less well-defined and static because it starts to permeate with your surroundings: place, time, and other people. But your live experience can be defeated by a couple of things as the event happens. (Of course, a longer term issue with live events is that your memory of it can fade.) First, expectations can distort your experience, which also contributes to the second problem: self-consciousness will by definition prevent you from losing yourself in the moment.

Besides my usual crippling social neuroses ("Is my hair all right? Am I, gasp, smiling?"), self-consciousness gets bolstered by expectation ("This is supposed to be a big deal, but I'm not feeling so what's wrong with me?"), which consequently feeds back into self-consciousness until it all snowballs into feeling out of place, like, "What am I doing here?" And your seats are sufficiently far away from the stage that a lot of the finer details in the performances completely elude you, just to kick you in the groin some more.


Then you head up to the press area and get to ask people stupid questions and make a fool of yourself, and you realize that this is completely awesome and worth the world.

Seriously, speaking with all most of the show's principals when they're away from the big broadcast cameras was great because they generally seemed much more relaxed and, in the case of Mary, Adam, et al, mostly left their on-air schticks at the judges' table (well, Mary let loose with a scream three times -- I assume for different interviewers -- after the results show). With the judges, I got the sense that they were more sincere, first because a lot of what they said was forthright, and also because they didn't embellish what they said to make it good tv; my overall sense was that they were less maintaining their personas from the show, and more interested in something that approached an actual dialogue.

Similarly, I think the dancers appreciated the two-way dialogue -- they don't have much freedom to speak on the show, and the chances they do get to speak are tightly regulated. Talking with interviewers represents a comparatively freer forum to express themselves in the traditional linguistic way. Certainly, they need to maintain a minimum level of expected decorum and be sure not to bite the hand that feeds them, but otherwise they don't feel the immediate and immense repercussions of saying something that isn't thoroughly, inoffensively bland. These are mostly rinkydink videos -- where the cameras on the show reached millions of people on a single night, most of the ones I was shooting are going to stay in the hundreds of views for the immediate future, shot and released after the fact, to boot -- that won't affect their standing on the show, so the dancers can relax a little more, let their hair down some.

More, after the jump.

Unless you get great seats, watching dance in a large venue can be pretty dull, if only because the dancers aren't more than a couple inches tall from your vantage point. And if the choreographers design their numbers so that there is actually a single best point of view from which to watch them, you're probably missing all the best angles of the dance. For example, seeing Wade's routine live was forgettable, little more than a dopey, rah-rah face-pulling exercise. (Perhaps not face-pulling, because I sat too far to see that much detail.) Jocks and cheerleaders, Wade? Couldn't you have given us something more timeless for a finale, like the fox dance?

But watching the broadcast, seeing their faces, having the camera point me where I'm supposed to look, hey presto, it's suddenly a fun little romp. Still it doesn't rank with his best stuff.


Unfortunately, the opening routine was just about as good as the finale got. I couldn't seem to keep my attention on the paso (the music is just too silly and distracting, not to mention dated: orchestral techno is irredeemably fin de siècle), and my tastes are apparently too unrefined to appreciate Jeanine's control in her solo, while the best thing about Mia's number for the girls was using Steve Reich. (Seriously, I still can't get over the fact that the music of the eminence grise of minimalism was used on a reality program.)

In terms of how people perceive a contestant's desert, Evan has proven that he was this season's Comfort, except his circumstances exactly reverse hers. The majority of voters tended to think that the show's best female hip-hop dancer was overmatched in her time in the competition; with Evan, though, the people who thought him out of his depth were clearly in the minority.

Details aside, they both elicited some harsh reactions from detractors, because among the worst things contestants can do is to outlast their perceived reservoir of talent. We don't like to see an imbalance in talent, I guess because an imbalance means that the show operates on things besides talent and, to a certain extent, beyond personality. If we have to admit that the show is not a pure meritocracy or even an innocent popularity contest (ok, "innocent"), then we let in chaos and other unseemly things we'd rather not think on. (An obvious bit of chaos: race.)

However, all this moral abstraction treats the dancers in question as demographic information collected in bodies that dances, rather than as real people who are sometimes visibly shaken by comments from the judges or seem to have internalized the idea that they're in over their heads. It's an obvious concept, but as always, the structure of reality competitions makes us see red instead of flesh and blood, and I needed to actually speak with Evan and then watch his heart break at one backhanded critique after another to remember he's still just another person. From now on, I love everyone.

The magic of television editing!




And let's not forget the special reprise of "One." ("Special.") After the end of the performance night, we saw the top 8 return to perform Mia's Broadway routine. (While we waited for the props, lighting, costumes, etc. to get set up for the routine, we were entertained with impromptu solos from Chbeeb and Tony B.) The producers halted the number halfway through (when the dancers pop out from behind the mirrors), saying that the audience applause wasn't big enough, and take it from the top and this time could we cheer more lustily? On the next run-through, the producers stopped it again, and turned off the lights to boot, i.e. giving the judges enough time to position themselves behind the mirrors under the cover of darkness. So there's the "how did they do that" for you. But to drive home how constructed and artificial the show can be (not to mention reality programming in general), the production repeated the reveal of the judges something like three times, probably to get all the camera angles they needed, so the applause in which the judges basked was far from spontaneous.

Having Asuka onstage at the Kodak Theatre absolutely begged for an Oscars joke, though ultimately we had to settle for Jeanine's thanks to the Academy right at the end of the program.


At an early point in the results finale, Cat takes the temperature of the audience concerning the top 4. Jeanine got a huge pop, but surprisingly, Evan got a much more restrained reaction, certainly less effusive than the crowd that started chanting his name the night before. Could the judges have dampened voter enthusiasm for him?

Which begs the general question of how much the judges can influence voters. The judges can pan or praise a dancer and the voters react one way, while another dancer gets the same tenor of critique but the voters react differently. Obviously, how the audience relates to given dancers isn't solely determined by the judges, since the dancers themselves are all different (or in the case of this season, different kinds of contemporary/jazz dancers) in terms of personality, style, appearance, and other similarly elusive and occasionally trivial qualities, combinations of which are arbitrarily infinite and thus nearly impossible to reliably gauge how they'll fare with a voting public. My point is that I'm skeptical of the thought that the judges/Nigel lay down nefarious tracks to stealthily bring a dancer into the final four.


Mia reminded everyone that Max was "one of the hardest working dancers this season," which is a tremendous accomplishment given that he only had two weeks in which to do his hard work. Kudos, man!

I didn't find much to take away from Talia Fowler's solo. The techno parts of the music have some egregiously lazy beats, which dragged down the rest of the choreography and didn't seem much to showcase her. Speaking of the choreography, courtesy of Sonya, was Talia's hair also courtesy of the Madame Mohawk?




Cat about to get revenge on Jeanine for being mentioned fourth.

Indie rating: Leila - "Different Time"

1 comment:

geeky Heather said...

"my tastes are apparently too unrefined to appreciate Jeanine's control in her solo"

Aw, c'mon! =) I threw up my hands and yelled, "Get OUT!" when she slowed down that turn at the end. Crazee skilz.

Heh. I told the spouse those tables were dry and were edited in later!

Also, we thought the audience applause for the jidges' "One" bit went wayyyyy too long. We looked at each other and said, "Really? Must've been much more impressive in person." Though I did <3 Adam's elbows in the strut.