Sunday, June 26, 2011

So You Think You Can Dance - Top 20 Again (8x08, 8x09)

Does this mean Iveta will never get her monkey?

Unfortunately, I doubt pity will save us from her Terminator rage.

But beyond any simian and cyborg concerns, among the worst things about such an early elimination is that Iveta never got to tango (by far my favorite of the ballroom styles). I'm especially distressed because my two favorite SYTYCD tangos feature one ballroom specialist who happens to be a woman (Janette; Karen from season 6), and the prospect of an Argentine (even if it's not a 10 dance) that could've been is a great loss. (Same with rumba, which is also a 10 dance.)

Something I wondered about last week (but apparently cut from the final post) was the number couples that would be in danger. I had hoped that they would expand the bottom to accommodate four couples, because with a bottom three, the judges would have barely any wiggle room in deciding whom to save. MATH AHEAD: Grossly speaking, in a normal week, any given dancer in danger would have a 33% chance of going home -- their chances of staying in the competition one more week are greater than their going home that week. But if two of the bottom three go home, suddenly they become twice as likely to be eliminated -- hair-raising stakes.

If, on the other hand, the judges had designated four couples for possible elimination, that would've given any particular contestant a more equitable chance at staying -- 50% -- while still raising the stakes -- which should rightly be increased when you don't cut anyone one week and double up on cuts the following week.

Such adjustments are fair because none of the bottom three couples this week faced elimination last week. As far as I'm concerned, if the judges let Robert and Mitchell dance out of danger (and Robert certainly did), they get all the benefits yet pay none of the costs of that first-week reprieve. As a consequence, someone else has to pay that cost, and as it turns out, those someone elses danced well enough to avoid the bottom in week 1. To even out this discrepancy, then, the dancers facing cuts should've gotten some kind of mitigating consideration, e.g. a bottom four couples. Instead, at least one of Nick/Iveta and Wadi/Missy got majorly hosed.

We've seen season after season of the judges picking a pet dancer who happens to repeatedly fail to draw voters to them, though they stubbornly refuse to cut ahem Nathan, all to our collective frustration. By definition, that dancer isn't popular with voters, thus suggesting that the judges' opinion are in the minority. At which point, the viewers begin to suspect the motives of the judges, sometimes with cause. Are Nigel et al keeping ahem Nathan around to appeal to tweens? Are they so invested in calling Ryan a beast that they refuse to admit a possible mistake? Do they just have bad taste? So on, so forth.

However, the show's history of so ons and so forths include those three consecutive weeks where the judges fished Danny out of the bottom. What typically comes off as shady stubbornness in this particular case turns into steadfast loyalty in the face of philistinism. Then again, for every Danny saved, the judges have also refused to let go of whole passels of hacks.

Because most us can't read the minds of the judges, can we possibly distinguish the nobility of L'Affaire Tidwell from the supposedly more craven (and more common) impulse to preserve their pets? And similarly, can we rightly complain when the judges seem to flout the will of the voters?

Usually, I'm content to quixotically rage against particular dancers for various capricious reasons, so I'm pleasantly surprised at the extent of hate directed at Jess and Robert, and so soon too. My job is apparently done, so now I might just mellow out and leave the rest of you to carry on the banner of HATE.

To be marginally more serious, I'm stunned at Robert's transformation, from Most Annoying Contestant Ever to Welcome To the Human Race in a week flat. He can speak like a human! Rather than a caricature expressly engineered to boil eyeballs in seething fury. He not only toned down the execrable schtick, he has a great night onstage as well. First, NappyTabs should be credited with an assist by giving him a relatively fresh routine. Next, he has the benefit of a partner who can get down in hip hop (who'd have thunk, Miranda? Bringing all sorts of miracles). And lastly, he's OLD. Not quite Debbie "I'm just happy to be alive" Reynolds old, though she does have a hand in showing the huge generation gap between him (and by extension, me) and the rest of the 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds.

When Debbie does (this would be an unfortunate caesura) her Woody Woodpecker impression, I get the feeling that Miranda (and most of the show's target audience) has no clue what she's referencing. Being old, Robert does, and as the (newly minted) gentleman that he is, explains it to her.

Now, not to get all "Back In My Day," but Back In My Day, we had awesome vintage after-school cartoons, of which Woody Woodpecker was one (perhaps not exactly "awesome," but bear with me here). And not to get all "Kids These Days," but do Kids These Days get to watch Looney Toons or Merry Melodies?

Is it just me, or did the package question -- what secret would most embarrass the dancers -- bring out some of the most untempered sniping we've ever seen in these candid interviews? More than in past seasons, a lot of the things the dancers reveal about each other are more pointedly critical than other time-wasting exercises: Alexander is vain, Jordan is stupid, etc.

The Assembly Line of Yesbots; Against Mary Murphy
First, recall that the judges were unanimous in cutting the women, which means that Mary Murphy, ballroom champ, agreed to send Iveta home and thus prompts the question: What's the point of having a ballroom judge who won't stand up for ballroom?

My beef goes towards the trend of the vapidness of the judges in general (Mary in particular, of course). They spend considerable energy -- not to mention bad taste -- saying a whole lot of nothing as well as agreeing in their nothingness (i.e. Mary not sticking up for ballroom). In this respect, I'll rep for Shankman, even though a lot of people are equally down on him; for all of his loud and attention-seeking enthusiasms, he always tried to give useful notes to the contestants without being unnecessarily mean. (It helps that he's more articulate than the rest of the judging rotation, with the possible exception of Nigel -- a lot of the flak that Mia gets for her viciousness is probably a result of being a feeling person as opposed to a word person.) His absence, then, is compounded by the guest judges, who have so far been uniformly useless as arbiters of dance. (I'm guessing that the third judge is going to feature different celebrities each week, who, as Project Runway viewers can attest to, typically have all the critical and aesthetic judgment of children who eat crayons.)

Certain of the judges -- Mary being by far the worst offender, but Nigel adopting the pervy uncle guise for laughs is guilty too -- have gotten so invested in their personae that they're mostly marking time between routines (e.g. offering vague and intangible advice) until they have the remotest chance to indulge in their schticks again. Lazy judges, all around. (Shankman excepted.)

Hey, since the show spent another week with the top 20, then I can revisit stuff that happened last week. Namely, Mitchell saying how relieved he is that Caitlynn is pretty: "You know that's one thing, you have an ugly partner, ooh, I feel sorry." Is he talking about one of the other contestants? If he is, does he mean Iveta?


Ryan and Ricky - Jazz
The return of Mandy Boring (credit goes to Areen again for that one). The one thing to note is how unexpectedly powerful Ricky is (which he also demonstrates in his solo), considering how height and lankiness.

Caitlynn and Mitchell - Contemporary
How much more choreographic blood can Stacy Tookey squeeze out of the Couple In A Toxic Relationship plot? Well-danced, the final image of Mitchell turning off the light is great, but Stacy needs to try different subjects.

Missy and Wadi - Cha cha
Wadi doesn't look bad in the beginning, but then the partnering starts and all his confidence vanishes and he doesn't know where to put his hands. Missy at least vamps well enough to look confident despite her inconsistent hips, but neither of them are helped by how slow the song and choreography are -- this routine in fact could've been a rumba, which might've been easier for the two of them (depending on how Wadi might've felt about getting sexy).

Iveta and Nick - Bollywood

This is where I reiterate my resolution to learn Bollywood and extol the beauty of Nakul's assistants, because the routine itself is just kind of there, not bad (definitely not elimination-worthy) but hardly memorable. The speed of the routine does no favors to Nick's gangliness, though; Iveta's ballroom background gives her crisper movements.

Robert and Miranda - Hip Hop
Wow, did I ever sleep on this one. First time watching this, I thought Miranda is too stiff-hipped, but I'm clearly blind:

She pops so hard she could slice cheese with her torso. (You all have permission to question my credibility now.)

Jess and Clarice - Contemporary
So Stacy found a new subject to mine, and it still isn't much cop. Jess struggles mightily with the lifts, but Clarice isn't doing much to stand out even on her own. (She's got a wooden smile that's been masking her performances thus far.) Here are some of my notes, verbatim:
  • checked out halfway
  • needs more furniture

Tadd and Jordan - Viennese Waltz
WHAT THE FRONT DOOR? The list of b-boys who've been able to embrace ballroom styling is short -- before this routine, it started and ended with Gev -- so Tadd has my jaw on the floor. And since Gev trained in other styles to prepare for SYTYCD, I'm becoming more convinced that Tadd's got non-trivial training too. Oh and Jordan is light and graceful too but all the cool kids don't care about her.

My dancing teacher actually is upset at this routine because of the dearth of actual Viennese waltzing -- only three six-counts of any closed-position partnering, and most of which consists of basic patterns. She did say it's a beautiful performance ("beautiful smoke and mirrors" are her exact words) and that Tadd and Jordan perform what their (Ed.: aargh) they're given with great skill, but I can understand the charge that it's arguably a contemporary routine with ballroom arm-styling and rise and fall. Nonetheless: Tadd!

Melanie and Marko - Jazz I've never been fond of Mandy in most of her guises (Table included), but when she gets into CUET mode, the results have been promising (e.g. her shoe routine for Billy Bell and Lauren Frogurtman), and this duet is no exception. Love the Charleston bits.

Incidentally, Melanie's makeup made her look like the spitting image of Emily Deschanel.

Sasha and Alexander - Hip Hop It starts off hypnotically -- great contrast between Sasha's overflowing emotion and Alexander's displaced remoteness. But while Sasha maintains her fierceness throughout -- and given her giddy reaction to seeing NappyTabs, she's danced hip hop before -- Alexander doesn't keep up.


I'll give you one guess who's wearing a "Nerd Up!" tee shirt as of this writing.

Chris and Ashley - Broadway A nice bit of smolder -- best pronounced with typically British understatement and hauteur, like so...

... because I adore this piece. So good, and I'm not just saying that because of Tasty-inured low expectations -- the character-driven choreography is great, it's loudly sexy and cheeky, but with subtle choreography that gives Chris room to show off. Not a lot to say about it, but it's probably aroused (ooh, diction!) more visceral love in me than any performance since season 6.

Furthermore, confining the dance to a jail cell leads to some of the best camera direction ever on this show (which, long-time viewers remember, has been uniformly awful); it starts off typically overactive and edit-happy, at one point closing in on Ashley and cropping Chris out of the frame, but once they settle down into those prolonged shots, we pretty much get to just watch the routine, and the camera movements themselves don't distract the viewer. More of this (I mean camera direction, but hell, more Spencer Liff, too, or, for that matter, Andy Blankenbuehler, or in fact anyone not named after a cookie).

A lot more nuanced than Nigel gives it credit for. Excellent musicality -- Wadi gives a reason for each of his tricks/flips.

Your typical jazz/contemporary solo. Question taste-level etc.

I don't get tap.

There's one part that's particularly unflattering and maybe a little crass (given her costuming), but on the whole, a pretty good ballroom solo (sambas seem to make good solo material).

Really good balance of technique, physical spectacle, and musicality.

I actually enjoyed parts of her solo. She definitely suffers from a long section of contemporary flailing, but at the beginning, she throws in some nice popping moves.

Nina Simone! "Sinnerman"! Automatically the best song to appear on the show, to date. It baffled me the first time I watched; I kept trying to figure out what genre/which choreographer is responsible for it because of its almost Zen-like stylelessness. It's shorn of a lot of hip-hop signifiers (despite sporting some LXD-inspired costumes), but also doesn't have other obvious stylistic hallmarks. In short, kind of avant!

And, as with Sonya's head bobbing from the prior week, Dave Scott's syncopated clapping section melts me.

Christopher Scott's starting something. Remember that one brief part in his top 10 boys' number that has Alexander striking a Matrixy pose?

Christopher seems to have set off a chain reaction of oneupmanship with the other hip-hop choreographers; NappyTabs has Alexander (again) do that slow-motion variation at the beginning of his performance with Sasha, and then Christopher's brother from another mother Dave Scott ups the ante in the group routine by having all the guys pick up on the NappyTabs version as well.

Box Head can house.

More reason to love Sasha:

For one brief instant, Nigel channels Lil C and announces that "the gods of Terpischore must've been smiling" when Marko and Melanie were put together, though to my knowledge, Terpsischore, one of the Greek Muses, is a goddess herself. (Update: I know how to spell Terpsichore, I just have trouble typing it.)

So, when they showed this shot of the audience...

... did any other music nerds think this?

geeky Heather sez: "Curious to see if lack of beard mobilizes the teenyboppers." Certainly hasn't hurt!

It's fitting that considering all the critiques of having an emotionally vacant face in his performances, Alexander looks like this the whole time he's waiting to hear if he's safe or not:

It's like he's trying to be as inconspicuous as he can to avoid elimination, trying to hide behind Sasha.

Cat's robotic wires are showing again.

We as humans (a race that now includes Robert) ought to be more concerned about the coming foxy cyborg takeover.

When Nigel announces the prizes for the season -- $250,000 and that Gatorade ad campaign -- Cat uncharacteristically repeats her "That's a lot of shoes" joke, but you know what, since she can do no wrong, she's subtly undermining the Gatorade portion of the winnings (as well as that corporatist product placement). Or else, she's really got shoes on her mind.

I'm as timely as ever.

The one, and I do mean one, good thing about Iveta's elimination is that now, the show is forced to eliminate a contemporary girl every week. I'm getting my knives ready.


Sara said...

This, this, this. I subscribe.

geeky Heather said...

I hereby challenge you to take at least 10 tap classes so you know how hard and what that stuff Nick was doing is (I took two years and the answers are NEARLY IMPOSSIBLE and PULLBACKS, OTHER ASSORTED REALLY HARD STUFF AND WHAT??!? I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT WAS, CRAZY).

Oh wait. You won't get to watch Nick do anymore amazing things.

Also, Tadd's answer to "who would you like to dance with from previous seasons":
"Again, all of them if possible! But it would be amazing to share the stage with Gev Manoukian from Season 4! He's a good friend of mine and one person who really influenced me to start B-Boying."

Of course this just makes me adore Gev even more for giving me another B-boy to <3 on. =)

momo said...

So many chunks of goodness in this post!

I think Alexander was pulling a stone-face while waiting because he was ready to cry, I noticed, with the exaggerated build-up, and managed to pull it together.

I am almost over the heights of my rage at the eliminations, almost.

Robert has a brain, when he is not doing his schtick, and Nigel seems to have told her editors to dial back on highlighting it as well. I think Jess is just very young. I love his turns.

Nick *sniff sniff* had so much to offer this show. Tadd is next on my list for charisma and sheer ability over technical background. He has done some kind of Filipino martial art for most of his life, so in addition to his bboying, he has had training in using his body in patterned movement. He is a born performer, too.

I, for one, welcome our LolCatDeeley overlord.

Ana said...

Camera work is atrocious.
And for a dance show?
It being live makes worse, of course.

Iveta is probably the only ballroom person to have real solos. Not just good work on one's own, but thought-out solos.
Sadly, few people have them, and they are usually in the "street" category, never ballroom.
I might even go as far as saying her solos are some of the best the show has seen. Not the best, but one of the top 5, I think.

Which bring me to another SYTYCD-general musing: if you want to get on the show and if you, actually, do, and we know that there is a certain amount of free time for the contestants after the VEAGS but before the competition starts... why not plan out your solos?
At the most, that's 10x 30 seconds.
And that's if you end up in the bottom each week and get saved each time + all the top 10 solos.
The finer point of non-repetitiveness and distributing your wow moves comes later, just... have something ready.