Sunday, June 24, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance - 9x05 "Vegas Callbacks"

I don't think that previous seasons have featured the same amount of entitlement as we've seen in this callback episode, especially among the female dancers, which I take as a sign that STYYCD is ossifying as an institution. That is, potential contestants are asserting in various ways how they singularly deserve their spots in the top 20: "I promise you, I am a star" (Rachel Applehans, who incidentally can look like Britney Spears auditioning for The Exorcist), "I am so ready to make you love me" (Amelia Lowe), "I've worked hard and I deserve this" (Lindsay Arnold). (And for good measure, Alexa Anderson argues that if she were to make the show, "I will be growing in front of America" -- whatever her deficiencies as a dancer, she knows this show's cliches and is fearless in deploying them.) That these dancers could decipher the moral contours that drive the casting decisions illustrates just how long the SYTYCD formula has been laid out for viewers to internalize, which formulaicness probably contributing to the growing sense of the show's staleness.

In a similar vein, the annual VEAGS installment expresses the program's moralism so nakedly -- whereas the viewers' morality comes to the fore during the competition portion of SYTYCD -- which is summed up in how a number of the male eliminations react to their cuts. We see Andre Rucker from Dragon House and Shafeek Westbrook (both of whom were among my favorites from their audition episodes) react poorly to the challenges of the choreographies, and then we're invited to compare them against Cyrus's relentless positivity. However, I find this comparison to be acutely unfair even as I wish that Andre and Shafeek handled their situations better; I figure that they had their egos bruised and shaken so badly that they both put up shields to protect themselves from being hurt by criticism, either by withdrawing to prevent further embarrassment or by lashing out (which is a basis for an institutional critique).

Even keeping these reservations in mind, I absolutely admire Cyrus's tenacity and optimism, and when he's about to dance for his life, talking to Cat about how the solo lets him be himself, I tear up a little when he says, "There's no better feeling than being myself." Part of the effect is because it jibes so beautifully with some our notions of artistry, and partly because of editing (we get a tight closeup of his eyes in all their slow motion intensity). And that's the power of editing: it can instill in us emotions that are roughly contrary to our rational thoughts.

To a less charged but no less manipulative end, we also see some post-production trickery in the montage of Twitch and Comfort during the hip-hop choreography round: they demonstrate and lead the dancers in two places, on the main stage and in the hotel atrium, and the montage keeps alternating between the two places back and forth, though unless we're very watchful, we don't get a sense of discontinuity (Eisenstein would be proud and appalled). Here's a rough illustration with screencaps that I took in chronological order (chronological according to aired episode):

(Even though they're the default hip-hop all-stars, I'm still tickled to see Twitch and Comfort in charge of the hip-hop choreography round -- a welcome relief from NappyTabs. I further wish we could've seen their entire choreography, in all of its groovy funk -- it almost goes without saying that I want to see Twitch and Comfort doing the dancing.)

A final example of manipulative editing that I notice involves Season 9 Crush Object Eliana Girard. In this and the previous episode, various teasers and bumpers show her getting yanked around ominously onstage as though she and/or her partner are seriously messing up and she's one of the pre-competition favorites who are at risk of a premature cut (shades of Ida Saki)... but then, we never actually see that moment as part of the episode proper and she ends up among the last women standing. Egregious! I should be happy that she's among the 35 semi-finalists, but all that amounts to some blatant and cheap dishonesty that the program doesn't need to stoop to.

Despite their many failings, I have to credit the judges with, amazingly, their discrimination, especially with Rachel Applehans. Her solo has a powerful air of desperation that's easily mistaken for passion (she had me fooled), but the judges prove discerning enough to not be distracted by her schtick and call her out in plain terms for using SEXuality as a crutch or even replacement for dancing (it feels good to be making 30 Rock references again).

When bellydancers start performing to dubstep, you know you've got a genre that's reached its saturation point. You heard it here first: Dubstep is over.

Lil' C showing off the newest trend in hip-hop eyewear:

IMAX movie glasses.

I may have been prematurely dismissive of Amelia's '20s affectation, because she's gone so far as to have a turn-of-the-century bathing suit:

No scandalous bikini for her!

And while I'm on the subject of swimwear, in case anyone had been curious about what Eliana looks like in a bikini:

Poor Brandon Dumlao. He's never struck me as having whatever qualities that Nigel looks for, and I suspect the reason that he made it as Billy Bell's replacement in Season 6 was because he was available at short notice, and that he had and has no real chance of making it past the "green mile."

Cyrus is all over this episode. Here, he's comforting Chehon Wespi-Tschopp:

OK, so even though I consider predictions a mug's game, I'm calling the following people mortal locks to make the top 20, simply given the amount of airtime they've gotten (which means the editors have invested a lot of time developing their narratives):
  • Cyrus
  • Amelia
  • Alexa
And the following are prohibitive favorites, barring random capriciousness from the judges or extenuating circumstances that prevent them from being on the show (movie roles, contractual obligations, visa troubles, etc.):
  • Eliana
  • Chehon
  • Dareian Kujawa
  • Witney Carson and/or Lindsay Arnold -- I have a suspicion that the show won't pass up the chance to cast real-life BFFs who do the same style as part of a lame BALLROOM IS BACK promotion akin to the OMG THREE TAPPERS THIS YEAR I MEAN TWO OH WAIT WE'RE LEFT WITH JUST CONTEMPORARY DANCERS experiment from Season 6.
  • Marshae Kidd (if he's still in the running) and/or Jasmine Mason

Whatever the case, if they're cut or if they make the show, the dancers already have their gang signs to fall back on:



momo said...

you called it! can you believe this is season 9?

Ana said...

Hampton! I wanna hug Hampton!

* * *

I wanna hug Cyrus, too.
His style is my least favourite of the Dragon House roommates' styles, but he is. so. likeable.

He's obviously a dead ringer for the top 20, but I'm not sure I like that.

When you put someone so good at their own thing and with such a nice personality through just on account of those things... I think the top 20 ruins their magic.

The producers want to milk the opportunity, want to milk the magic now and then you get people who are weak week after week, and they get by on the strength of their charm... and the annoyance with them grows and grows.

I think it would be better to send some of them home with the experience of VEAGS and hope they'll build on that.
(If we, for a moment, disregard if the people sent home have the means to study other styles or not.)

This taints great people and great dancers.

* * *
More screen time for Twitch and Comfort!
Their energy and their coreography were something new. Too bad we've seen so little of it.

* * *
Dres :'( .

The praying mantis :( .

Brandon Dumlao :( .
I've noticed that he hasn't even been given so much as a nod in past Vegas weeks after he got into the top 20 (I guess it's hard to spin that into a good story... or any story). It makes me sad because he got my attention even before "his" season.

* * *
Chehon - what elevation :O !
He looked a bit like Jesus Solorio.

Speaking of lookalikes, when Cyrus was standing with his arms around two girls after the hip-hop round, I had a slight horror moment thinking that somehow, somehow Mollee had auditioned and got through to Vegas again.

* * *
I'm not feeling Isis.
Belly-dancing: I don't think it's a style that lends itself to big shows, and on top of that, I'm not feeling her in particular - didn't see any isolations... I just saw big shiny wings.

TV is strange.
If you're quiet, you end up seeming even quieter.
If your loud or "quirky", the editing latches onto that and the quirks get old really fast, much, much faster than in real life.
I'm not feeling Louise Brooks either.
Her solo was really, really good, though.