Monday, September 03, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance - 9x12 "Top 8 Perform"

Sign no. 973 that I'm getting too old for this: it's taken me till now to realize that the ship name for Eliana and Cyrus is Cyriana, and now they're not even a couple! Losing it, I say, losing it!

Sign no. 974 that I'm getting too old for this: last week I had a bunch of hilarious Photoshops planned... and I forgot to make ALL of them. (I even tried to outsource the captioning to my readers!) (Which is also a sign of the mature/late-capitalist phase of T!YBE.) (To be honest, however, I think that most of my attention was spent on working on the Alex/Allison "Halleluwah" remix.) So in the interest of resolving unfinished business:

How could I have forgotten such amazing gems?

The good news is that this week, an unusually strong one, has helped rejuvenate me, as the choreographic quality and the caliber of the contestants are all performing on a high level. To be sure, none of the routines are outright bad or even weak -- the worst is just inert -- while a couple of them contend for classic status, but even more importantly, this episode is continuing a trend (which I haven't commented on much yet, and which I hope the show isn't done peaking in this regard) of the veracity of styles beyond contemporary and jazz.

I dismissively mentioned before the top 20 reveal a suspicion that Nigel would cast both Witney and Lindsay "as part of a lame BALLROOM IS BACK promotion," but as a matter of fact, ballroom is creeping back with routines that in actual closed holds now! (Ironically, neither Witney nor Lindsay have been involved with this renaissance.) Similarly, hip hop -- we're, like, getting real hip hop! We still get routines in contemporary/jazz drag, of course, but I'm cautiously optimistic about the general trajectory of greater authenticity, and whether that's a result of dancers who have the genuine versatility to pull off these styles, or the trickle of new choreographers who haven't been cowed into pandering to the contemporary crowd, some combination of these two, or even Nigel having some inscrutable change of heart, we have a real dance competition again, and, yeah, more of that.

To an issue that is at once specific to this season and to the show as a whole, I'm rather amused to see what is shaping up to be a finale with Chehon and Cyrus facing off against each other. I sincerely hope that Nigel isn't angling for this arrangement to set up some kind of apocalyptic showdown between two diametrically opposed styles, because these two guys, within the parameters of SYTYCD, have many more similarities than differences. Like I said in my previous post, neither of them, because of qualities emphasized in their own styles, are going to make us think that they're experienced jazz dancers or milongueros or whatever the week's performance calls for (though the way people view Chehon and Cyrus individually is enormously asymmetrical, a point I'll return to soon), and critical assessment needs to take into account more intangible performance qualities from them both.

What I didn't drive home last week in the midst of mental fugue (but which I have written before, but bears repeating because the converse notion is getting so much more play on the show itself and the rest of the internet) is that these two guys in particular (and just about everyone else too) effectively demonstrate the immense demands and practice required by dance. None of the styles are going to be performed seamlessly without prior experience in them, from the most "untrained" genres (e.g. hip hop, and Mary of all people note that Cyrus's animation is so difficult that asking others to try it would be fruitless) to the most hidebound (ballet) and in between.

And again, a counterweight needs to be applied to the constant denigration of hip-hop dancers on the show being excluded from the realm of "real" dance, such as when Nigel tells someone like Cyrus that he's never going to be the best dancer on the show because SYTYCD defines "best" so that it's inscribed totally within classical terms, thus situating classical as the universal yardstick against which all other styles are judged and inevitably found to be deficient. Why he's so insistent on artificially elevating one genre over others is best answered by psychoanalsysts, and as I consider that field to be a soft science at best, I'll leave that alone and instead say that he (and all of us) should celebrate and respect all styles on more equal footing. The competitive format of SYTYCD may invariably lead us to rank individual dancers, but we're not required to rank styles of dance for all time.

(The "untrained" canard needs to be put to rest as well -- "self-trained" or "informally trained" describe guys like Cyrus far more accurately -- and every time it gets repeated (which is constantly), the show reinforces the status of hip-hoppers as immutably second-class dancers.)

To leave the critical mindset and return to fan-mode, the final four that I'd like to see would be Tiffany and Eliana, and Cyrus and Cole. I'm less adamant about the guys (especially Cole), but Tiffany has been head-and-shoulders more versatile than any other girl (and arguably more than any other contestant regardless of gender), and Eliana, no matter my ambivalence about her number with Alex, is finally reaching her potential at the most effective time.

Witney and Twitch - Hip Hop


Translation: This season suddenly becomes the high watermark for its female hip-hop performances, non-Comfort division. First Tiffany gets gully, now Witney ratchets up this mother of all hip-hop routines, which is going to force me to reshuffle the top of my list of favorite hip-hop routines (though "Misty Blue" is safely secured at the pinnacle, for all time).

I'll say that initially, I was so gobsmacked that I barely had any reaction -- wtf there's this Mormon girl banging so hard, my brane, it is borked. I've picked up the pieces now, and my gods this number has so much in it, and she rides every groove all the way to the end like she belongs. And not to cop the judges' critical crutch, but Luther Brown does not make the routine easy on her one bit, and one bit of synergy that would've been hilarious (though not as effective as an overall performance) would've been around the part where Twitch pumps his armpit in the way that's familiar to anyone who's ever been around 8-year-old boys -- I'd have gotten a huge kick if Audrey's neck-farting could've been worked into that as well. When this piece is performed at the finale (because you know the judges are picking this one as a favorite), maybe Audrey can make a cameo.

But anyway, to paraphrase Martin Lawrence, the competition among the three remaining girls just got real (NSFW).

Meanwhile, Nigel's never looked whiter than when he starts throwing gang signs.

Cole and Allison - Contemporary
My pet theory: Sonya choreographed this piece as a secret pastiche of some of Mia's greatest hits (or "hits," if you will): "Gravity" of course, but also "Mercy" (when Cole keeps Allison at arm's distance by holding her head), "Hometown Glory" (the assisted run, though Allison doesn't exactly run here), and her routine for Mark and Chelsie (the quaint, Tim Burton grotesquerie). I appreciate the playful kookiness, but it totally belies the dark tone that Sonya describes in the rehearsals (e.g. all of Allison's exaggerated face-pulling comes off as cartoonish, but you all know my fondness for cartoons).

I see that that paragraph barely mentions Cole, so, uh, good job keeping out of Allison's way?

Eliana and Ryan - Quickstep

Best quickstep.

More words: Lots of closed hold! I know his contributions have been limited so far, but Jonathan Roberts's Quickstep choreography for, I believe, two routines have been wildly charming and inventive, especially because he throws in swing/Lindy flair (always aces in my book). While Sasha doesn't quite have a consistent frame and tends to fall out of body position with Pasha, Eliana is very solid throughout, and from what I can tell, snappy footwork, and does the choreography justice. And I apologize for the bloodless way of describing my second-favorite routine of the night.

Lindsay and Alex - Jazz

I apparently like this routine more than everyone else -- Sonya brings out her "good" choreography this time -- but then I've made a habit of tuning out the choreographers when they explain the story and intentions behind the routine (death of the author and all that). Considering how I feel here and last week with George's routine, I might argue that choreographers forget about explaining the story of their routines altogether, if not for the dissonance between explanation and performance, then under the always-reasonable artistic standby that the work should speak for itself.

I've only just found out that this song is by a dude named Gotye, and that it doesn't sample an old Police song (blah blah blah he sounds like Sting). At least he doesn't sound like Thom Yorke.

Will and Misha - Hip Hop Broadway
Because this isn't hip hop -- AGAIN. And two weeks in a row without Comfort, I'm starting to worry about her now. (I understand that using the same All-Star all the time -- e.g. Anya, Pasha, Twitch, etc. -- can get old and that bringing in others like Ryan, Joshua, etc. is refreshing, but, come on! Misha is no Comfort!)

Cyrus and Melanie - Jazz
Mandy should stick to jazz, no? Cute, and Cyrus's most complete performance, but when virtually everyone has a strong night, not that memorable. I mean, aside from his pants.

Chehon and Anya - Argentine Tango
I've been on the receiving end of a Tango snob's contempt before, so I'd never call myself one -- but this routine isn't Tango (even if Miriam and Leonardo have had a stellar track record up till now). As a result, I have a hard time accepting it for what it is: a performance where the partners are in hold for a couple eight-counts and then for the rest of the time they're either doing their own things or are in a lift.

Tiffany and Ade - Contemporary
When Mandy says "epic song," I thought we were finally -- finally! -- going to hear Roxette on this damn show. But no! We have to suffer Celine Dion for the sixth time! (A little Celine Dion goes a long way.) So:

At least Tiffany's rehearsal package is lolfull:

Tiffany's cuts aren't just for show, she's strong, and Ade has little choice but to be comfortable with her subversion of heteronormative gender roles.

The solos are mostly what you'd expect at this point, and only three warrant added discussion.

I haven't pointed out yet, but the solos have been lengthened to 45 seconds (from 30) this season, but even then, I wished that Chehon's could've gone on forever.

Much subtler than I'd initially hoped for, but its gentleness and lack of ostentation, which so threw me, is refreshing, with perhaps an unexpectedly deeper reservoir of artistry that will reward further viewings.

On first watch, this in insane, but unlike Eliana's solo, its novelty wears off with repeated viewings, in addition to the fact that I have very little patience for this kind of music. (I remember when dubstep was stuff like Burial. Granted, this was 2010 when I first heard him, so, uh, yeah!)

Reflecting on the order of elimination thus far, I can only quibble about how the the women's side of the competition has shaken out, though Amber's premature exit is particularly egregious. The men's side has been more debatable, especially with George (who should be Cyrus's competition), though Brandon also earned more time on the show (one dumb routine, but then two good-to-excellent ones back to back).

Hmm, I wonder what could have possibly prompted the introduction of name cards.

This screencap is from last week, but considering his elimination this week, I think it appropriate to mention how great it must be for Will that his support system includes a young Dude.

Two consecutive weeks where Witney's been able to avoid having her face obscured by Chehon's hand when Cat's reading off her phone number, that must be a recor—

Spoke too soon. :(

By way of apology, here's Cat getting ratchet:


Ana said...

I loved this week.

Cole's usage of the "SYTYC Dance, ance, ance"!
Tiffany's package!
Eliana's quickstep!

Cat had a moment of exaggerated face-pulling and I can't find it again... Have you captured it by any chance?
(I don't even know how to describe it beyond "exaggerated" :P .)

Leee said...

Off the top of my head I don't think I noticed Cat being more exaggerated than usual. Do you remember around where it happens?

Leee said...

Ana, the best I can up with of the ones I've already taken:

Daniel said...

So this is probably picking up on this week's episode a little too much, but I think I know why there has been a distinct lack of Comfort as the (rightful) de facto female hip-hop all-star: Bitch ain't coming back for just ANYTHING. Comfort don't do no whitebread "hip-hop" - she will only do proper, bangin' hip hop!

Also, it's helpful to remember Nigel's background as a classically trained dancer, especially when he throws around that horrid "untrained" tag on all hip-hop-adjacent dancers. To him, those styles are something you pick up on the street and practice on your own, not something you go to class for, and therefore lack what is traditionally considered proper training. I agree that a better word for dancers like Cyrus would be "self-taught", something that you see contestants on Project Runway and Top Chef (for example) referring to themselves as all the time. It's easy to forget Nigel's training and experience, since he doesn't give technical critiques as regularly (or often, oddly, as well-expressed) as Mary does, but it's easy to see how huge an influence his background has on the show (except in the case of tap, which... don't get me started...).

Also, I was a bit confused by Chehon and Anya's tango, since they didn't really seem to tango all that much even though Argentine does usually have less closed hold (so thank you for confirming my suspicions), but... DAMN. I was fanning myself like Miss Celie in church throughout that one! That was HOT. Hot in a completely different way from Witney's hip hop, which was impressive even though the routine bored me slightly.

Ana said...

Ah, found it!
I haven't described it well, but you did point me in the right direction (I love that 3rd one).

Leee said...

So this is probably picking up on this week's episode a little too much, but I think I know why there has been a distinct lack of Comfort as the (rightful) de facto female hip-hop all-star: Bitch ain't coming back for just ANYTHING. Comfort don't do no whitebread "hip-hop" - she will only do proper, bangin' hip hop!

Hahahah too right!

It's odd that you have the exact opposite view of the main judges, that Nigel is generally capable of better critiques, but I know that I'm extremely biased against Mary and probably have to struggle to admit that she brings substance.

And for all the complaining I do about hip hop, I forget that some Western styles like tap have it even ten times worse.

Too bothered by the non-tangoness to get a sense of the HOTT... I guess that really does make me a snob. :\

Ana, glad you found it! But the way you described it, I was expecting Cat's face to be melting or something, not actual literal face-pulling. (I see that she's trying her damnedest not to completely crack up at Mary getting ratchet.)

Daniel said...

I actually don't think we have such an opposite view of the main judges, it's just that recently (as in this entire season), Nigel has sat back on much more generic critiques about a person's personality and the choreography. If he deigns to actually critique somebody, he mentions one thing (Point your foot, Dareian! Keep your shoulders down, Cyrus!), whereas Mary will actually give a detailed critique about what exactly a person was doing wrong (to the point that the audience actually learns something about how a particular ballroom style is supposed to be danced). Granted, this only happens when someone gives an execrable ballroom performance, so it doesn't happen as often as it should, but I'll take it over Nigel's now-standard "America just loves you, and so do I!" and "You're just not connecting with the audience!" ANY day.