Sunday, June 17, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance - 9x04 "Salt Lake City Auditions"

 I want to revisit the Les Twins/Deon and Damon controversy at a larger scale. Amanda points out:
I wish they'd tell us every time who the choreographer of the audition they feature is -- surely they could ak the auditioners. Given that the show is unusual in featuring the choreographers once we get to the competition, seems like it would make sense. Doesn't really seem fair to harsh on kids who can't afford to hire Travis Wall for "ripping off" their choreo from YouTube (my emphasis).
Two great points. First, SYTYCD doesn't really measure dancers' abilities to choreograph themselves, since the solos alone typically aren't going to determine how well they do in the competition. (Jeanine's top 4 solo may have won season 5 for her, but she (and whoever else you care to name) are exceptions.) Instead, the competition challenges its dancers to learn someone else's choreography, so Deon and Damon's point, while overly cute, has undeniable logic behind it.

The second and more compelling idea is the part I bolded, the class-inflected double-standard of vilifying people for not paying someone for their choreographic services. Granted, SYTYCD led us to believe that Deon and Damon ripped off Les Twins, but I'd wager that most people would consider someone who expressly pays someone else for their material to be more artistically credible rather than someone who co-opts the work of another from afar. These are questions about authenticity and authorship and not really something I'm going to delve into, but the uproar underscores the bourgeois attitude we have towards these artistic enterprises -- why do we require some kind of transactional relationship when someone performs work conceived by someone else? (Well, that's a slightly rhetorical question, since the transaction suggests the creator consenting to the performer's artistic appropriation, which, aside from being a cynically clinical way of putting it, also betrays an auteurist bias.)

Another example of this unavoidably bourgeois mentality crops up every so often when viewers ask why contestants don't cross-train more in other styles. The most obvious answer is that dance lessons are expensive and thus, for certain styles (looking at you, contemporary), represent what I presume to be a distinctly middle-class pursuit. (To clarify, I'm using "middle-class" in a pejorative sense, even amidst the election-year fetishization of the (by now semi-mythical) middle-class.) (I'm a renegade.) What's more, if you already dance a certain style (not naming names, contemporary), training in other styles is probably a waste of time and money within the parameters of this show.

I also wonder if the implicit economics of contemporary dance training contribute to a vicious cycle on the show and its preoccupation with under-20 dancers, namely that the only people who can afford to go on the show are dancers who are still being supported by their families and who thus have the freedom to invest their time, energy, and opportunity cost to chase after a tv show. (I hasten to add that I'm speculating about the actual costs involved with raising a dancing child.) Take on the other hand a 25-year-old or a 29-year-old -- presumably they've been trying to make a career out of dance (unless they happen to be sexy loan officers), at which point they're barely scraping by as starving artists, and they'd have to ask themselves if they can really put their livelihoods on hold for a remote chance at momentary fame?

While I'm on the subject of bourgeois this, middle-class that, and money the other thing, this season has been lousy with the sob stories (and trust me, I'll bring this thread to an economic point eventually). I expect I speak for a lot of viewers when I say that their prevalence on this and other reality shows is often unsettling, distasteful, and, worst of all, because we've been overexposed to them, even banal, but as I've been thinking through Amanda's comments, a response presented itself that counters the immediate distaste of using personal/domestic tragedies as reality fodder: the bulk-rate sob stories reflect the economic character (and since we're a Puritan nation, that implies moral character as well) of the country. One might argue that the show has always foregrounded personal hardship since its beginning, but remember that the nation was yet to reach the peak of the housing bubble back in 2005.

Perhaps, then, the spotlight on the contestants' sad histories was an early sign of imminent economic collapse (like the rising rates of mortgage defaults), or maybe that's far-fetched. I opt for the latter myself, but even in that case, one can take the more defensible aesthetic position that the sob stories mount a critique against middle-class notions of propriety and privacy (though being firmly bourgeois myself, I'm not particularly well-situated to make this argument).

To return to the age issue, the ballroom auditioners we've seen have mostly been 18 or 19 (Johnny Ahn is 29, which, like, eww), and though such slim pickings are likely informed by the selective discrimination against ballroom practiced by the show, I don't really see Nigel et al giving the next Anya (who was 25 at the time) or Iveta a shot to make the top 20.

Moreover, I think it's a sad state of ballroom where the only two auditioners who reach VEAGS are both terrifyingly young, because I have sincere doubts about the level of sophistication that they're able to bring. In my eyes, neither Witney Carson's nor Lindsay Arnold's performances are H*t T*m*l* Tr**n material (and she's hauling that out during auditions? Ugh), much less deserving of tickets straight to Vegas. I will give points to Witney for some clever choreography, the bulk of which looks like cha cha with some tango punctuation, but Lindsay's back and by extension (haw) her legs don't look great.

As for the other auditioners:

"Dee Tomasetta," AKA Caitlin D'Arcy from The Good Wife
See, I knew she didn't give up law to get married, she gave it up for dance. Otherwise, just throw her on the Contemporary Girl Heap. (Man, if Kalinda shows up...)

Gene Lonardo
Anyone else momentarily think that Sacha Baron Cohen had decided to ambush SYTYCD?

Certainly, his package (ahem, I mean, his pre-audition interviews) gives the impression that we're in for delusion and disaster, but instead, he proves himself to be a tightly wound, off-beat powerhouse. My favorite part, though, actually occurs after the solo:

Mariah Spears
S'aight, but I hope she learns to close her mouth when she performs.

Dareian Kujawa
Dude knows how to put together a solo (or, per the discussion above, has some good connections) -- instead of a stream of big move after big move, he has enough musicality to transition from one crescendo to another with enough time in between to give us a breather while also not boring us with too little dancing. Great pace, in short. His is probably my favorite of the male contemporary solos, and may be my favorite male period. I'm not picky/learned enough to spot his fugly feet.

Johnny Ahn and Whitney Hallam

I take small comfort in how Johnny isn't Chinese, because, man, is the pre-audition package excruciating to watch -- and I'm not the one who's being forced to sit on his lap! His frame in closed hold doesn't look like it has much strength or tone, but hey, on this show, you hardly ever get into closed position in ballroom.

I find Whitney more intriguing (read: hot, in a fascinatingly unconventional way) even though the shaping with her legs looks very unrefined (the angles she creates with them are too acute).

As a corrective to the doom and gloom brigade, here's a brief shot of a profoundly empty auditorium during season 3 auditions:

Say what you will about the genre decadence of SYTYCD, but its participation among the actual dance community is so much more robust that if the program ended, it won't be because of lack of contestants.

However, I fear that this is the closest instance of Wade appearing this season.


trooper6 said...

I agree that there are problems with privileged people being able to afford to pay a choreographer (or okay with people being able to afford choreographers) being scandalized when somebody takes stuff from youtube. On the other hand, I don't think taking people's stuff without payment is always a righteous blow for sticking it to the man. It really depends on whose stuff you are taking. And this has nothing to do with auteur theory.

The history of rock'n'roll gives example after example of the taking of the work of poor black and brown artists who'd really like some compensation for their labor so they can pay their rent and feed their family--but who instead who don't get much of anything. Instead the generally white, often not working class artists take poor people's stuff and earn the money.

I think it is problematic that at a time when underprivileged people are now getting the access to intellectual property rights (albeit in limited ways), that we decide that honoring intellectual property rights is too bourgie.

Ana said...

The praying mantis should do a duet with Mark Kanemura for Lady Gaga.
I didn't expect that at all.

* * *

I'd like to add the DRAMATIC EDIT!!!!1 to the list with the sob story.

"I'll stab you in the eye!"
"one ballet dancer who sends Nigel over the edge"
*sad look into the distance*
*closeup on a sweaty brow*
*closeup on hands in prayer*

It reminds me of when I saw the US trailer for Children of Heaven.
There are no words to describe how wonderful that movie is and... the US version went all Pablo Francisco's Little Tortilla Boy :| .

Like sob stories, they get boring and desensitizing through repetition.

But they have an edge to them, a boring one: there are few of them.
We get to see the so called "buildup" a million times before it comes to a conclusion, which is, with no exception, something insignificant.

How dramatic.

I had something to add, but I can't remember what it was.

* * *

I started watching this with the 3rd season and I loved it because it was not a reality show, even though it was its bracket.

It was dance and it was joy.

I then went and watched season 1 and it was awful precisely because of the reality portion of it - the bickering, the divaness, the tears (I will not mention the hostess).

I like seeing glimpses of people's lives, not 20 minutes of a 90 minute dance show going to a single person.

They've taken out the bad audition dancing, but gave us sob story after sob story after dramatic edit after dramatic edit.