Monday, July 30, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance - 9x09 "Top 16 Perform"

When this show features couple's dances that have as much visionary ambition as the Alvin Ailey performance this week, we'll really have something. Until then, I'll have to settle back into muddling my way through the countless, off-the-shelf "pretty" routines littering the SYTYCD swamp with the small-r romanticism that warms the chaste fantasies of its preferred audience (and which the program loves to capitalize on), hoping to chance upon something that can elevate me from the mire towards something more transcendent, something more like "The Hunt." And does it ever transcend. Times like this, I wish I had the faculties and knowledge of dance history to adequately express how their performance mesmerizes, baffles, and confronts me, and how badly I wish that the show's choreographers will decide that they're as tired as I am of the usual shlock they produce on the show. I mean, that's got to happen eventually, right?

Anyway, the good news is that the two guest performances so far have made this season worth watching entirely on their own, though thankfully, the couples' dances haven't been such a barren wasteland that that's literally true, since this week alone I liked a total of TWO routines, three if we use some creative math.

Tiffany and George are the biggest surprises of the night, and echoing what Christina Applegate says (and incidentally, she's pretty clearly the best of the celebrity guest judges -- Chenoweth and Ellen Degeneres both rely on schticks that aggravate me -- because she knows her stuff, even if her opinions tend to align with some of the more regrettable attitudes that the show promotes), I certainly didn't expect such gulliness from either of them -- and here's where a lot of the existing issues about hip hop and the characterizations of its dancers as "untrained" come to a head, or so I fear. When the judges constantly go on about the latest krumper/b-boy/popper/animator being "untrained," they implicitly reinforce the notion that their beloved contemporary-trained dancers could rock a hip-hop routine with ease, because, hey, it's a style that a bunch of untrained not-quite-dancers do! And while we've seen plenty of evidence to the contrary, when non-hip-hop dancers do succeed in the style (as George and Tiffany do), they don't mention that they've actually done hip hop before (George lists stepping in his FOX bio, though I'm guessing with Tiffany), and to look as gully as the two of them requires considerable time invested in learning and dancing hip hop before arriving on SYTYCD. Nigel et al then are minimizing the real work that goes into hip hop, and together with all the other ways SYTYCD denigrates the style, this bias gets transmitted to viewers and which can affect their decision-making when they vote. (Admittedly, this concern is remote and less quantifiable than the other problems related to hip hop, but all these small efforts add up.)

In any event, I'll big up George and Tiffany for making me like a routine in which I absolutely loathe the following constituents:
  1. theme
  2. props
  3. music
  4. costumes
I almost want to throw "choreography" onto the hatelist, but in the context of SYTYCD, I do have to credit NappyTabs for putting such rugged steps into it. So more props to Tiffany and George. (NappyTabs also deserve credit for their group routine last week, though that isn't hip hop either, as I was beside myself if Wade had finally returned with much more dated music. Tasty, too, amazingly, did not turn out dance vomit in his group routine. I'm glad I didn't make any ultimatums this season, or else I would be eating many chocolate hats.)

The other, pre–new math routine I like is Amber and Brandon's jazz. "Misty Blue" it's decidedly not -- possibly my favorite routine from the show, ever, in which we get a rare confluence of dancers (Sasha and Twitch) who are entirely at home with the style and the brilliance to pull it off -- but without a doubt I appreciate the maturity that Ray Leeper infuses into the piece. I'm also amused that Nigel, in giving Brandon advice about keeping his shoulders down, mentions the latter's suspenders, since in the UK, "suspenders" refer to what we call garter belts, i.e. what Amber wears for her costume (and quite deliciously, I might add).

As for the routines that I fractionally like, the first I'd say is Chehon and Witney's performance. I hasten to note that as performed, I'm indifferent, possibly because of the music -- I remembering enjoying Whitney Houston's version when it came out (and was everywhere), but all these years later, its monumental triumphalism now feels overbearing to me. So, I started to wonder how I'd react if their performance had been set to Dolly Parton's quieter, more intimate original. Thus:

And you know what? I like it a lot more! Perhaps because even though the choreography is still big and grand, it's not so overwhelmed in Whitney's oceanic belting, and what's more, the song's quiet creates a lovely bit of tension between the dance and the music, a subtle dimensionality that this routine lacks, as is the case with most SYTYCD routines, which usually hammer you with obviousness upon blatancy bordering on flagrancy.

The final number that bears mentioning is Eliana and Cyrus's, though, contra Nigel, mostly for Cyrus. I mean, she's respectable in it, but I'm more impressed by the parachute pants she rocks during the rehearsals.

For instance, Cyrus starts an arm wave that she finishes, and while her right arm articulates the wave nicely, it peters out when it reaches her left arm. Compare that to Cyrus, who doesn't stick with your nice, typical sinusoidal wave -- that, my dears, is far too elementary -- but practically gives us a square wave.

Anyone who says that Eliana outclasses him is peddling nonsense. More nonsense: Christina Applegate saying that he's lucked out by avoiding contemporary so far -- which is like, wuht. Unless I'm selectively misremembering, the record of hip-hoppers performing contemporary is better than contemporary dancers crossing over the other way.

Notwithstanding their campaign to appropriate hip hop as jazz, the judges, especially Nigel (who hasn't let his licentiousness rear its ugly ahem head so much), have been on surprisingly good behavior of late, certainly more so than the platitudes they offered during the "Meet the Top 20" episode. Mary, too, though to a lesser degree, has been forthcoming with solid remarks in ballroom (which, up till this episode, has still been made up of the vague generalities we've come to expect from her) -- all it took is two of the worst Latin numbers in quite some time for her to become a relevant critical entity, if only temporarily.

Unfortunately, what praise I have for them for their critiques stops well short of their roles as adjudicators, because as miserable as they look here:

... I feel that they have very little difficulty in choosing whom to send home. "Hmm, are we going to send home one of our two contemporary boys, one who might actually be versatile in the true sense of the word, and the other who is clearly and obviously powerful, or this stepper whom we barely highlighted prior to the Top 20 episode? And as for our girls, we're obviously going to keep our pole-dancing ballerina, we just want her to solo to remind viewers of what she can accomplish. Now, the real decision is between the 18-year-old blond ballroomer, and Amber... who's 21?! WELL EASY CHOICE THEN!" (I'm taking slight licenses here, as Eliana is also 21. Janelle -- Janelle -- is the elder stateswoman of the cast at a ripe old 24. I suppose senile dementia explains her penchant for hitting her head on door frames.)

In the end, their hotness did them in.

Clever of the post-production team to just avoid using using the having the rings interlock in a specific way that would've brought the litigious weight of the IOC upon them.

And while I'm on the subject of the Olympics™ (and the show's hiatus is actually well-timed, as now I can actually go see The Dark Knight Rises and Step Up: Revolution (the performance last week convinced me) without feeling like I'm neglecting my blogging duties), I should note how long-shot underdogs (most recently, Hamadou Djibo Issaka, Niger's entrant in the single sculls) get such overwhelmingly positive support, with invocations of "the Olympic spirit" and such, while in an elimination reality program, the long-shot underdog is routinely considered misplaced and inadequate for competition. 

With the help of TECHNOLOGY, and computers, I think I've figured out why Cat seems like such a great host who runs the show so smoothly with a refined onscreen presence:

In this case, I definitely think it's a smart decision to not mention the "budget" in "budget cuts" and that energy's warrants its position nearest the thumb as the most pressing issue on SYTYCD.

Either the camera is set up too low during the first hip hop, or we've stumbled on Cat's hiding spot during routines.

Last note, barely related to the show: I've been relistening to Burial lately, and I hope that somehow, someone on the program will cut through the vogue for the boozier, more slobbering dubstep inna Skrillex style (i.e. brostep) in favor of the haunting restraint of "Archangel" or "Street Halo." (Ed: What is this, 2006 again?)


biki said...

thanks for the Dolly version of that dance -- you're right that there's something lovelier about it (though you're also right about the show's beating us over the head with obviousness et al). without Whitney when would the studio audience know when to cheer?

Ana said...

WHYYY, Amber, nooo!
Ameriker, for shame, 2 weeks in a row.

During Brandon and Amber's bit I thought to myself "Well, we know who won So You Think You're The Most Attractive Couple".

I'm pleasantly surprised by the judges' critiquing this season.
I want more Shankman, though. And JT Ferguson and Travis, too.

Will is taller than MegaCat in heels!
Cat is being lovely, wonderful self again. She's even looking more healthy than last few seasons.

Where's the show located?
LA? I can't believe they can't get a better director/cameraman/editing crew!
When dancers are doing steps, they're capturing their torsos, when they're doing some side jumps, they're filming them from the front so dancers look like they're not moving. Tricks left off-screen while we hear the audience cheering. Bah.
It's more important to show the whirly camera than the whirling dancers.

The choice of music is off for me in a lot of the numbers.