Sunday, December 06, 2009

So You Think You Can Dance - Top 10 (6x19, 6x20)

Lots to talk about.

The internet's big fascination this week was over Nathan, who, as Adam noted, is a tremendously polarizing figure because some people thought his dancing didn't merit him making it as far as he did and/or they disliked his adolescent boyishness (read: immaturity), though on the other hand, he got the loudest screams from the studio audience, which a lot of observers felt confirmed young Trasoras' appeal to the tweenage set, which I'll consider first.

Given his non-threateningly good looks, some people feel that the judges "guided" the results of the show to ensure that Nathan made it onto the tour -- no one buys tickets like tweens, right? But thus far, no one who's selling this line has yet explained how these same tweens failed to vote for their heartthrob the past three weeks when he was among the lowest vote getters. Nathan's elimination, then, questions the long-held concept of power-voting young girls who will go to extreme lengths for a Corey-like non-threatening boy -- the idea is theoretically seductive, but we may have seen its limits this season with Nathan, or else its influence was overstated from the start and there's another demographic that's key to propelling boyish dancers through the show (see also: Evan, Jason, Neil). Or maybe the show's original teenyboppers, the same ones who squee'ed over Neil, have grown up since season 3 and moved onto new, more dangerous heartthrobs like Legacy. Short of commissioning a study or getting Nigel to release the vote totals, though, there's no way to tell what's going in the minds of the bulk of voters, so I'm just throwing out ideas.

So then, the other Big Nathan Deal, namely, his crying. A lot's been written about it, that his tears were of a crocodilian sort, but I try to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who's crying. I don't want to doubt the sincerity of his tears -- I have no problem believing he was feeling a lot of intense emotions -- but I remain skeptical about exactly what brought them about.

Although he explains in this exit interview that hearing his package right before his solo got him unusually emotional, the timing of his tears is too convenient, especially so soon after Shankman and the judges admonished him for his pampered deportment. Coupled with the acute pressures of a televised competition, and how awkwardly he dealt with all the critiques, his time on the show must have been unusually stressful, raising his emotions to a tempestuous level that boiled over into real tears when triggered by a particularly affecting memory. I've been there, and not too long ago; lots of things add up in your life, then, when you're in an emotionally precipitous state, something, large or small, touches off your tears. I am rather certain, though, that Adam's suggestions about coming off more humbly were involved in Nathan's emotional processes.

As uncomfortable as Nathan's tears were, Kathryn's weeping was easily the best thing about her being in the bottom two. After we were teased in the top 20 reveal with her unique crying let's call them abilities, we saw and heard nothing so entertaining from her since, that is, until she had to dance for her life (and in her video package, when we heard her mother get teary, you knew where she got her waterworks from). All the same, I am glad she's moving on in the competition because:

It has to happen, right?

Something that's remarkable, puzzling, troubling, or all three is how the judges rarely disagree with one another, which is startling consistency that doesn't have anything immediately to do with the lack of hip-hop judges on the panel (that's another, separate issue I've read about, but back to my point, when Lil C was sitting up there with the Nigel and Mary, he'd invariably say the same things the other judges would, except with a lot more words of course).

Contrast the consensus of the judges, however, with the proliferation of opinions on the internet, which doesn't have anything immediately to do with dance expertise, because people who actually know from dance have had and will continue to have contradictory views on the same routine -- for instance,'s Kate Ward thought Legacy and Ashleigh's contemporary piece was bad, while MGK "really liked" it.

I don't have anywhere to go with this observation, just that I find this disjunction of consensus striking.

You may be surprised that I agree with what Kate Ward has to say about Legacy, that he and Ashleigh were "at a distinct disadvantage in the first place, considering the fact that they're the two least technically advanced dancers on the stage." Which is certainly true, because windmills, headspins, crab walks and the like don't require any technique, and Jakob, for instance, could just get on the ground and do, like, air flares right away.

Glibness aside (and the exact same point can be made with Ashleigh -- I'll leave that to the ballroom experts among you), such remarks show that the bias towards contemporary vernacular isn't limited to the judges, it's infected the fans discussing the show. To wit: contemporary dominates the show's discourses so much that it becomes the "unmarked" (as, I think, sociologists say) default against which all other styles become novel or irreconcilably Other. At its least harmful, the contemporary default devalues the efforts of dancers like Legacy and Ashleigh alike; you don't get to be a b-boy of Legacy's caliber or a ballroom dancer like Ashleigh without a lot of technique, which should be obvious, but judging by people's language, is often forgotten. At a more troubling level, defaulting towards contemporary marginalizes the dances that came from places besides Europe and denies them status as legitimate art, marginalization which in turn carries a lot of racial ideological baggage.

I try to abide by pluralistic principles when it comes to taste, but anyone whose heart was not set on fire by Legacy's solo should stop watching SYTYCD for all I care. I don't think I've seen a solo on the program that so transparently illustrates pure desire to excel -- which I think is what the base definition of buck is, if I'm not mistaken -- like he was ready to dance out of his skin and into the sky.

Legacy, literally, dances on his head, not just with spins, but transitions into other moves from his head, and is so fluent in b-boyology that he can incorporate so many power moves in so fluidly into a single routine.

If it wasn't for Legacy, Russell's would've been the solo of the night just for his kip-up into a single-leg crouch.

Ryan's solo was stellar. I ougth to note htat my keyboard ossanioddy stanges the 'c' with 's' and 'h' with 't' and 'd' with 'l.'

I love this shot. It's like they're taking a photo.

Yeah, so the LXD. Wow. I can even forgive them the Coldplay cover, who seem to be the default rock (ahem, make that "rock") group that non-rock people namedrop, but that's beside the point. They're all excellent dancers, which one can't be terribly surprised about, but what bumps this performance into something more special is the choreography, which told a wistfully compelling story of modern disaffection. The bookends of the popper are exquisite, and the transitions between the waves of dancers were little gems that could've been tossed off but actually had some thought put into them.

The trio of guys doing that sequence of aerial kicks in perfect unison was extraordinary, so at least in that respect, they earn their name (which I think might be cribbed from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen).

Pretty sure I saw Lil C, too.

Despite the lack of full leg extension (hard to exactly blame them given their respective styles), I thought Ashleigh and Legacy's contemporary routine started off strongly, with both of them in pretty good sync and hitting some pretty wow moves, but somewhere in the middle, one or both get visibly tired and the lifts and some of the trickier moves get driven into the ground, sometimes literally. They end strongly, though, with that headstand, of course.

As for the music, I wonder why Garry Stewart didn't use the superior "Their Law" (video NSFW, he says disingenuously).

Their other routine, the hip hop, I actually liked (if you've ever had reason to doubt my taste in hip hop...), because Legacy sold the performance with his face, the intensity in his eyes, which I don't think has been remarked upon yet, and correct me if I'm wrong, but are hip-hop routines ever praised for the performance quality that the dancers bring?

And, yes, kids, real vampires wear capes.

As much as I thought the Dave Scott routine was passable, even I could tell that the NappyTabs number with Ryan and Noelle was hip hop in name only.

Point: As dorky, cute, weird, and musically hipsterish as she is, Sonya's routine for Ellenore and Jakob hardly reaches best-of-the-season status for me. Adam called it a sequel, while I think of it as a remix of "The Garden" with better dancers, yet despite the obvious improvements, I only find it to be ok.

Counterpoint: The judges were plotzing over so much that Sonya's mohawk was standing on end.

And if you'd like, consider Sonya's response to me.

Kate Ward gets it right with Noelle, who "keeps trying to impress audiences with a flexibility she simply does not possess." Remember, it was her left knee that she injured, not her bent right knee.

Sez Nigel: "You, Mollee, have grown in a week. The maturity in your work has just come out. You're a young woman now, not the baby that joined us when you first came on board." So that's, what, six consecutive weeks where Mollee's turned the corner on her maturity? That makes her process of growing up a hexagon.

I have been annoyed this whole season by how the judges insist on imposing the by-now trite growth narrative onto the dancers, which is a failure of the critical imagination; they're more interested in the prefab skeleton of such narratives than in how the kids are actually developing. (If they are developing. I mean, the format of the show seems to me to impede real, long-term development, at least dance-wise, doesn't it? The dancers are thrown into a variety of styles with extremely shortened time to rehearse, so oftentimes they only have time to approximate the form of the style rather than form sound technique; an analogy would be "learning" a foreign language from phonetic transliterations. Obviously, this is where not being a dancer potentially undermines my argument, and such a topic should be treated more thoroughly, and certainly not be confined to a parenthetical tangent.)

Anyway, because the judges have been so relentless about these narratives, they've completely eroded their credibility in terms of describing the trajectories the dancers have followed during the course on the show, and people who accuse them of pushing certain agendas now stand on more solid ground.

In their lyrical jazz (which I couldn't follow because I was too busy marveling at Mandy's latest choice for '80s jam), Mary praised Russell as someone who "is there," presumably meaning that he's there for Mollee in their lifts, and which sounds like an implied diss of Nathan.

New for 2010! A CAT3PO in ever home!

Indie rating: Labradford – "Twenty"


nervouswreck said...

Leee, your blogs bring me joy.

The Enforcer said...

First off, I agree...your blog brings me joy as well!


As one of those people who postulated that Nathan was kept around only to sell more tour tickets, I feel I must speak up as to why I feel that his tween minions failed to keep him in the competition this past week. I offer you two diametrically opposed theories...

1. A fair number of younger people who watch this show do not have a dance background (or adequate powers of observation that come with time). Therefore, they lack the wherewithal to form an educated opinion for themselves when it comes to dancing on this show. They rely on the jidges for guidance. If the jidges think a dancer is amazing, people will vote for this individual. If a dancer, who seems to be an early crowd favorite as Nathan was, falls out of favor with the jidges, regardless of how they loved this dancer one week, the masses won't pick up the phone for him the following week. Basically, this is a nice way of saying that people will like what they're told to like. The jidges can be very influential.

OR, and this is the far more controversial theory...

2. While the whole show operates under the guise of the winner being "America's Favorite Dancer", all of our phone calls don't actually mean a damn thing. The powers that be keep whomever they choose, while cleverly making us little people believe that our "votes" actually determine who stays or who goes. Notice that there was still a whole gaggle of tweens screaming for Nathan this week...

Who knows what really goes on behind the scenes. I just know that I thought Nathan was a very technically sound dancer who needs a few more years' work on his stage presence. As is, he's not yet worthy of the title of America's Favorite Dancer, but his undeniable junior high tour ticket purchasing power kept him in juuuust long enough to ensure a large cash haul. *shrug*

The Enforcer said...

Oh, and if I would have had it my way, Gary Stewart would have gone with "Break and Enter", although "Their Law" is also an excellent choice.

dixly said...

Hey, if you don't think Ellenore and Jakob's routine was the best number of the season, which one would you say is the best so far? To tell the truth, I feel that the choreo has been lacking this season and that if I was to choose a "best" it would be that one.

My theory for the tweens not voting....the change in the timing of the show. It used to be in the spring/summer and the tweens were allowed to stay up late and vote their little fingers off. This time it's in the fall/winter and the parents are making their kids do homework and go to bed early for school the next day.

By the way, I love your blog. Great insights and pics.

Anonymous said...

So glad you said it! The fact that Nigel has set the tone of commentary all season and the other two jidges simply follow suit is REALLY bugging me. I'm thinking they should rotate who goes first, like they do on AI.

Margot said...

I always wonder how many of the mature, well-informed, dance-wise viewers and bloggers of this show who are so quick to analyze the tween psyche vote themselves??? Clearly not enough!

Loving the b-boy/krump love this season and loving that they are worthy of it! Yes, you did C lil C :D And did you know Legacy is a member of LXD? Google LXD on Ellen's Big Show - about a year ago. He's in the light yellow shirt and hat. AMAZING!!!

Margot said...

Here it is :)

Leee said...

Thanks, nervo!

Enforcer, as I see it:
1. Artistic taste doesn't come into the tweens' considerations, AFAICT -- they are/were a potent voting bloc because they will vote for their favorite no matter what voices of authority say. I.e. they can't be dissuaded by an adult from voting for Nathan if their hearts are set on it -- that is/was the assumption, anyway.
2. Per MGK (who is a law talkin' guy), ignoring voting results has very real legal implications.

dixly's suggestion that school nights prevent kids from staying up to power vote sounds as good to me as anything else.

Hey, if you don't think Ellenore and Jakob's routine was the best number of the season, which one would you say is the best so far?
Good question, actually. Probably one of the funner ones, like Elenore/Ryan's Lindy Hop, or Legacy/Kathryn's Broadway, or even Victor/Karen's Tango.

Anonymous, I actually think the issue of the judges' opinions runs deeper than Mary/Adam parroting Nigel's remarks, since earlier in the season, Nigel weighed in last and they all pretty much agreed with each other anyway. And I think that's mostly been the case for the past 3+ seasons, too. That level of consensus suggests homogeneity of thought, which is kind of lame because diversity couldn't be a bad thing in this case.

Margot, thanks! I've seen it before, actually, don't think it's as tightly choreographed as the dance we saw on the result show, though.

Pocketdiva said...

love love love your blogs. epic win on the pics and your characterization of contemporary becoming the unmarked/norm in sytycd.

Anonymous said...

I am disappointed by the costcuts made by the producers this season. This has resulted in the WORST costumes I have ever seen. Season 5 had the most beautiful costumes, the very beautiful Cat, and superior choreography. This season the custumes look like they were torn and glued together from the very cheapest fabrics they could find! And Cat looked old and extra skinny/tired in her beehive and cheap dresses. Come on! Give us what we watch the show for: outstanding choreography by the best choreographers money can buy, beautiful costumes, and a gorgeous Cat. Don't think we didn't notice that the busget cuts caused there to be 6 finalists in a one hour show! SYTYCD, you are insulting your fans!