Monday, July 23, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance - 9x08 "Top 20 Perform, Part 2"

Longtime readers here probably know that in discussions of hip hop on SYTYCD, I tend to be a vociferous defender of the street guys (and yes, I mean guys, because when was the last time we got a bona fide female hip hopper? Well, that's an easy one: Comfort, season 4) against the show's essential bias in favor of Western classical and their derived styles (and the biases that are transmitted to or inherent in the audience). That said, this season, because of certain inclinations and interests that I have (ahem, Eliana), I've felt my dedication to the hip-hop defense wearing down to the point that I found myself wishing a different partner upon Eliana, mostly because of the perception that Cyrus has been holding her back in terms of choreography. But fortuitously (doubly so considering my earlier call for worthwhile SYTYCD discussions), I've stumbled onto a beautiful apologia of "untrained" dancers (another of my bĂȘtes noires).

To summarize, ballet is the basis of all the major styles we see on the show now (including what the show passes off as hip hop, which has been injected so much with jazz that we might as well include it under the ballet umbrella), so certain foundational concepts of each (such as leading/partnering, foot placement, etc.) will be familiar to dancers trained in one of them. Authentic hip hoppers don't have these terms in their vernacular at all, so the styles and dances performed on SYTYCD can be utterly alien to bboys, poppers, etc. The analogy that really brought the point home with me is to think of the genres as languages, where the classically derived forms map onto Romance languages, whereas hip-hop styles analogize to African tonal languages. Someone who speaks French (i.e. dances ballroom) will have have an easier time learning Spanish (contemporary), and a Spanish speaker will have a tremendous advantage learning Italian (jazz). Not so with someone who speaks Xhosa (hip hop), and when Western classicism colonizes non-Western styles and rendering them unrecognizable, the deck is further stacked against their success.

And under these terms, where before I'd secretly worried that I was unjustifiably subjecting Cyrus to the soft bigotry of low expectations, I feel more unburdened now to say that while he's rough in the Jive, he does a remarkably admirable (not to mention lively) job managing as much as he has. I'll even go so far as to say that he isn't, strictly speaking, all that bad; in fact, he looks as good as some of the other students at my ballroom studio who've been there at least a year (which might be an indictment of my studio, but that's another debate) -- and he's accomplishing it with a day's worth of instruction and a week's worth of practice. His most glaring problem is how he doesn't dance through all of the transitions in the routine. (Foot placement? Wossat? I never notice it, not even in my own dancing.) (My teacher will back me up/throw me under the bus on this.) I clearly don't mean that he's ready to go to Blackpool, but it's hardly one of the signs of SYTYCD Apocalypse that the self-styled prophets of doom claim it to be, and Cyrus is not the Antichrist. For example, more than once, I meant to scrutinize Eliana, but my attention would keep drifting to Cyrus; he's magnetic, and despite all of obstacles placed in his way at the most fundamental of levels, he mostly looks comfortable and at ease (even if he's clearly not).

And to the point about dumbed down choreography, as I said in a previous post (concerning the Viennese waltz), syllabus patterns can make up a great routine, especially if executed brilliantly. Cyrus didn't execute it brilliantly, but he doesn't make me cringe, either, and even entertains me at times.

So while his and Eliana's routine doesn't make my list of the night's favorites (and it is an unusually strong night of dancing, particularly for this early in the competition), it rates better than the passel of inconsequential routines that merely are the moments in between.

First and foremost is Brandon and Janaya's Broadway, yet another argument against letting Tasty anywhere near the style.

The physicality is impressive but never gets in the way of the slapstick, which is probably the single funniest number we've had on this program, and Janaya chews the hell out of the scenery, as is entirely appropriate. My greatest regret seeing Jamaya leave so early is that she has this beautiful face that's such a broad and pliable palette not just for expressing comedy, but for the image lolz that could've been. I think, then, that I shall leave these uncaptioned, as a memorial for our loss.

Also, it's late, and I have reading to catch up on.

And lest I forget, Brandon holding his nuts.

Trauma to the testicles is always hilarious when they're not yours.

Amber and Nick's Tango also got me hyped up while watching it, leading to perhaps my hasty pronouncements that HERE marks the return of ballroom, and perhaps the best Tango since the world-destroying power couple to end all power couples Brandette ruled the show. This number doesn't, in truth, hold up remotely as well -- in addition to lacking a real sense of lead and follow, Nick's frame collapses occasionally and they had some unsightly missed hand connections -- but on a program where closed holds happen by accident, I'm thankful that so much of this routine occurs in the embrace, and the series of ganchos still tingles my spine.

And Amber? 

Still beautiful. (I think the secret ingredient is having her hair pulled back or pulled up.)

After these two, which I unambiguously enjoy, are three other routines that are flawed but which still have some great element.

Matthew and Audrey's jazz doesn't make an impression on me until they do the Stank Steps (though I'd note that those steps aren't stank, but they are simply awesome). Mary echoes comments I made last week about this pair -- "You seem to maximize everything... You maximize acceleration. You maximize your extensions. You maximize your projection up there." -- but since the judging on SYTYCD comes from Bizarro World, she means that as a compliment. (Hearing Audrey growl during the rehearsals is cute, I'll admit.)

Amelia and Will's contemporary is visually arresting and atmospheric, but I don't connect with it emotionally. Strangely, the implicit heteronormativity doesn't bother me as much as usual -- maybe Sonya mutes it here.

Finally, Dareian and Janelle's lyrical pop-jazz, where Chris Scott sidelines her to train a big fat spotlight on Dareian so he can show off his power and virtuosity.

And as a teaser for people who like their hip hop to be actual hip hop, the Step Up performance -- holy gods damned! Barn. Burner. Epically celebratory. As nice and genteel as Chris Scott's routines can be, the funk is usually missing, of which Jamal Sims thankfully, THANKFULLY brought a superabundance. Cat practically vomiting up her Whiskas in excitement is an adequate facsimile of my reaction. (I was stricken at first with the possibility that I'd liked a David Guetta track, but thank Deeley it's our man Timbaland making one fine return -- though I'd reckon that Danja provides the bulk of the production genius here. Ne-Yo adds nothing to the song, however.)


Ana said...

Your reviews are a true post-episode treat.

The whole evening was good, really good (= enjoyable), even the dances I didn't feel all that much showed that the people can dance (Amelia & Will), Sonyah keeps on surprising me by not being boring, but I want to say:

Amber. Tango. WAT.

Step Up trailer was good, but their live performance is another WAT.

It's great to see Kathryn again, and with a lead role? Yay! (Seems like she needs to work a bit on her acting skills, but that's not all that important.)

Cyrus did better than I expected. I mean, it's the jive. I just wish he'd done something in the... transitions? Just standing there detracts from the whole feel he had going on.

Leee said...

Thanks, Ana!

Yeah, even after I found out that Kathryn is starring in the new Step Up movie and that the trailer looks great and I recognized a lot of familiar faces (not just from SYTYCD, I think an ABDC alum -- Bebo from Phunk Phenomenon -- is in it too), but their performance on the show is EPIC. And normally, you'd expect hip hop on this show to lean HEAVILY on Twitch, but he comes in pretty late, he's just sort of a cheerleader (definitely not featured like Kathryn, or even Chbeeb), but the performance suffers not one bit and is still exultant and shows how strong it is, from choreographer to dancers, from top to bottom (H2T for my fellow ANTM obsessive).

I really do hope that Cyrus will get used to picking up choreo generally so he can think less and dance more and more continuously -- it's always a challenge to get to a point where you can stop thinking about the steps and just let your body take over.