Sunday, August 02, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance - Top 6 (5x20, 5x21)

Given another lull in memorable routines this week, it's time for me to get my pompous on.

I've recently described how reality tv is structured to encourage viewers to police the morals of its contestants, but I meant also to think about why some people decide that a given contestant is fake or arrogant based on such sparse evidence (make that "evidence") that SYTYCD provides us. Reality's zero-sum structure directly prompts viewers to perceive some contestants negatively (and tenuously so), but we also develop an animus for contestants who've been unworthily praised.

First, structure. Competitions compel viewers to take sides, and for every contestant we side with, we investigate several others more for any reasons ethical or talent-related why they're less worthy than our own. Because SYTYCD isn't a candid reality program that shows its contestants at all hours of the day, at their highest or lowest, we're left with crumbs (rehearsal footage, the dancers standing in front of judges who critique them) from which to "deduce" worth.

(New insight alert!) We are persuaded that what we conclude is correct because we saw it on tv, it must be true; I suspect that people see television's illusion of depth -- perspective line! a-a-and foreshortening! -- technology that produces revelations. Television somehow opens a window into the souls or essences of the people on camera for viewers to witness their inner truth. Actually, the only truth we see is how people react to being on a reality tv program -- an artificial, cloistered, high-stress environment.

(Tangent: tv has too many tricks up its sleeve (e.g. editing) to think that we can accurately divine what's "beneath" the surface, when the only we can honestly be sure about is the surface itself. Everything else is speculation. Truth and essence, then, are beside the point when we watch or talk about tv -- there's simply too much we don't know on which to make grand statements. To my mind, the best we can do is take it at face value and keep in mind that it doesn't have "real" value underneath.)

Second, how praise for a contestant can alienate us. The zero-sum principle extends here, though I don't know if it explains entirely the intensity of loathing inspired by high praise. I like dancer X, but the judges talk up dancer Y, whom I think was mediocre; dancer Y might then squeeze dancer X out because of that praise, and so I begin to resent dancer Y. Maybe because we have an internal judge that tracks who deserves praise and who doesn't, and when the external world turns up differently, it disrupts everything we believe in, man. Or perhaps similar thought suggests communal inclusion, but when we are at odds with what judges say, we feel excluded and marginalized from the program's dominant narrative -- like a very mundane example of abjection.

Read more after the jump.

I acknowledge that taste isn't prescriptive, but descriptive, and that we can't rationalize it, but sometimes people can be wrong about the historical record. Sundry folks have been complaining since at least the third season about the quality of the show, that for one reason or another, the current season is a faint shadow of the more glorious past. If you follow the discourses long enough, you'd see that some segment of viewers or another is constantly in crisis mode, which can spin out and ensnare you if you're not careful.

Allow me a moment's indulgence to compare the numbers of routines are reach indelible all-time status across all seasons, beginning with the third when the program blossomed from a fun little diversion to something capable of mature art. (NB I'm going to leave out certain widely loved routines for the simple reason that I do not love them, i.e. I make no claims of universal canonicity, only to what I could watch over and over again.)

Season 3
"Cabaret Hoover," Hummingbird & Flower, "Make It Work," Lacey/Pasha Hip Hop, Lacey/Sabra fox dance, Two Princes.
Total: 6

Season 4
"No Air," "Hometown Glory," Katee/Joshua Bollywood, Top Four Mia.
Total: 4

Season 5
"Felt Mountain" (aka Crash Test Dummies), Randi/Evan Butt Dance, Janette/Brandon Hip Hop, Kayla/Kupono Addiction, Janette/Brandon Argentine Tango, "Ruby Blue"
Total: 6

So this season, in my rough and personal estimation, has already reached the three-season high with still one more week left, hardly grounds to dismiss the talents or routines of V REAL.

Before a couple of weeks ago, I might've conceded that the worst crime this season has committed was that it might lack for personality, but I contend that the vaunted "star quality" didn't run rampant in the past either: each season had a couple-few contestants with genuine magnetism, and the rest are nice kids but aren't the types you'd put in front of a camera and expect magic.

As for the new complaint du jour, that this season has been sexless, maybe critics qualify the charge by saying it's been without passion for the last so-many weeks to conveniently exclude Janette and Brandon's Argentine tango and Ade and Melissa's rumba.

Why the instant and perennial nostalgia? Perhaps, without the benefit of time to soak our memories in sepia-toned fondness, we tend to sink into a miasma of discontent because we are more vulnerable to the inevitable ups and downs of the given season. We're still in the midst, sorting out the chaff, whereas when we look back on a prior season, we only remember the wheat, or to mix metaphors, the crème de la crème. Do any of us remember clearly Hok and Jaimie's first week hip hop?

Anyway, I'm done cherry-picking. Come the sixth season, I fully expect variations of the same complaints to have their days in the sun. Hopefully I'll stop complaining about the complaints.


In her last solo, I watched Kayla's amazingly long limbs and suddenly realized that I wished she'd put them to abstract, avant use, because she hit some keen-looking shapes in a solo that was otherwise dripping with earnestness (and a forgettable, forgettable song). (Or else she reminds me of Spider-Man, who knows.)

So here's Kayla, recontextualized:

As a matter of fact, I'm kind of over any dance whose main aesthetic aims towards prettiness or beauty, which I realized when I tried to figure out how I feel about Brandon and Kayla's Other Woman dance. It starts with Kayla looking wide-eyed and pregnantly at the camera, while a piano is playing because this is a serious piece. Brandon is at first cold and cruel, and I wish he stayed that way for more of the dance.


I guess because Stacey Tookey looks like a drunk, self-destructive Viper pilot, I expected it to be more anguished and hopeless? What is she doing smiling?

The only other routine worth commenting on is the disco, which started out as an energetic and funky number -- I thought I was watching my favorite disco routine to date -- before all of its rhythm was drained away so that we could watch a coed weightlifting exhibition.

Some opinionists have a pathologically low regard for Doriana, and I didn't see why until now: she's perverse. She pushes her couples to dance fast for fast's sake and lifting for lifting's sake, like some God-playing mad scientist conducting experiments on hapless subjects just to be able to boast about her latest perversity. Making Brandon do those pushups? Power-tripping.

It's like she heard once upon a time that the moon can be a cruel mistress and decided that she wanted that title.


I'm confused by Sonya's routine for the girls because it seems to be an earnest call for girl power but at the same time embodying cliche superhero poses. My confusion must stem from the fact that I love the patriarchy and phallo-centric binarisms?

I should know that having a Powerpuff Girl is part of a spandex trinity that includes Storm (Kayla, because White Lightning, see?) and Wonder Woman should signal that Sonya isn't being po-faced serious, but the fists-on-hips, squared-shoulders poses makes me want to outright dismiss it all as failed irony. (Also, seriously biting Karen O's makeup and styling from a couple years ago.)

The guys' routine was more interesting -- Ade seemed to be the winner -- and it illustrates the issue with Evan. He's a capable dancer -- keeping up with Ade and Brandon is no joke, and he deserves respect for that much -- but keeping up isn't enough for me to want to see him in the finale. Like, why watch him when I can watch either of the other two guys? They have more dynamism (apologies for using a cop-out vagary) than he does.

On the whole, we should get more three-person routines so that I can more easily tell who's at fault when they get out of sync.

With the white man, I best be the bad guy. That way he ain't confused.





In a live chat a couple weeks ago, I was going on about how Melissa often solos to music I like, and someone who didn't like her said that we're looking for America's favorite dancer, not America's favorite music geek (I paraphrase). But where my interlocutor emphasized the "dancer" aspect, I think they ignore the "favorite," a status at which we arrive through a dirty mishmash of criteria. In other words, a lot of us don't isolate a contestant's pure dancing ability and derive "favorite" from it, but we take a whole passel of traits to decide on a favorite, so why not admire her for soloing to Nina Simone? Not that I think she should've outlasted a certain someone else on the show, or that her being on a reality dance program doesn't signal something about her professional qualifications back in the real world.


Maybe it's the sleep deprivation, but I'm finding this hilarious. The aftermath, too.



Lil C was obviously at his most relaxed he's been as a judge and having fun, in which I take comfort given how people seem to be tiring of his schtick. Even if he wasn't sitting next to Mary, I'd be amused by his locutions because they scream to be gently mocked. Not to mention that he kept his most flagrant words in check, though he definitely rambled in two comments, memorably to Brandon and Kayla after their disco (which Mary followed up with, "Holy smokies!" Uhh, dear world, infinitely worse). And actually, "A lot of dancers forget there's a pocket in music, and you have to get within those instruments..." is quite an insight -- he's being very literal here with the instruments, no esoteric reading required, the negative space in the music which a dancer fills to create art.


Five years in, and I've concluded that Mary is an oyster. She irritates me every week so that occasionally she drops pearls, which have been relatively -- and let me stress relatively -- numerous this year. Her advice to Brandon, upon hearing his lack of self-confidence, was refreshing and admirable, though her delivery was the opposite.

But memo to the braying one...


She missed a spot, probably two spots.

No mere mortal can be so cute as Cat. There must be an explanation...



Indie rating: The Raveonettes – "The Thief"


Margot said...

Oyster! Love it! That's how I have felt about her this season too. Her first botox comment and her little "Uh Oh!" after the Butt Dance had me flushed with re-discovered fondness for her =) At least until the next time she spoke... LOL

april said...

i liked your point about how we feel we know theses dancers when in reality all we "know" is the samplings we get from producers on how they are reacting to this intense competition. i also worry about people who think they have all these cyber friends - when in reality we just all like to discuss SYTYCD - who knows if we'd even like/hate each other if we met in public?

loved your "redo" of kayla's solo; jeanine's "POW" was funny. i did think it was ironic that jeanine seemed to struggle the most in rehearsals for that group number (her timing was off too). i have to wonder how great of a dancer jeanine really is. (i don't have a dancing background myself; just love watching it.)

i know you said that you were only going to list the ones that work for you - but i have to add that i loved lacey & kameron's mia/arms routine from S3 and chelsie and mark's bleeding love. i'm so glad that you mentioned "hometown glory." i wish that had gotten an emmy.

oyster comment is priceless!

Anonymous said...

I love that a contestant picked a Nina Simone song, but she's the high priestess of soul! I felt like Melissa danced to it so incredibly vapidly. Of course, I kinda think her ballet skills are quite mediocre, so maybe I'm biased... It's a shame that Gabi Rojas seemingly lacked versatility, because her solo to Nina Simone back in Vegas week was awesome.

Lee, I love your blog. I selfishly wish you covered the SYTYCD versions from Canada and Australia, too!

momo said...

Leee, I read your recap before I watched the show, so I wanted to see the episode for myself before I commented (although, seriously, your posts stand on their own, especially the Batman shot!).
I loved the guys group number and didn't think Evan lacked at all. I think Sonyah choreographed to their different strengths in a very canny way. When they were dancing in unison, I thought they were equally epxressive, and she used the two of them to lift him in a lot of interesting ways, capitalizing on their relative power, and his excellent coordination: Evan is always on the beat, whatever else is happening.
I actually LOVED the girls' group number (see, I've given up and I'm calling them "the girls" now) because it both sent up the Powerpuff girls superheroine thing, and showed the women doing a lot of extremely powerful movements, and all three of them brought equal energy and commitment to it, even Melissa who ordinarily is too ballerina-Dolly Dinkle in her facila expressions for me. Those two group numbers, and the two Kalya/Brandon numbers were the standouts for me, although I have to say that Evan and Melissa actually did a much better job at the quickstep in closed position than the judges gave them credit for. They didn't have the right look in the Charleston bits, it's true, but Melissa's approximation of real ballroom posture in closed hold was the best I've seen in a non-ballroom dancer, with the exception of Danny: it's the ballet training that gives them both the core strength AND the body knowledge that translates well into International Standard technique.

I also love Lil C's commentary, because he actually says things to the dancers AS DANCERS, even if everyone else gives him a ribbing. At least he doesn't repeat himself endlessly.
His comments to Kayla on how her partnerhsip with Brandon made her come alive at a new level in the disco were absolutely spot on. She's always been very musical in her dancing to me, if not as good a performer as Janette, but that dance was the first time I saw her dancing with a kind of pure joy and abandon, and it made me like her in a whole new way.

Brandon said somewhere in one of the packages that this show has helped him mature as a person, and I think he's absolutely right. Remembering that he tried out and got to the top 20 when he was 15!!! a few seasons ago--he is such a precocious talent, that his emotional maturity is just catching up to his incredible technical potential, which is how I interpreted Mia's smash-down in the auditions: "grow up, kid, and adjust that attitude!"

OK, I'm feeling the sentimental love for the show that I always do about this time of the season.