Sunday, September 16, 2012

So You Think You Can Dance - 9x14 "Top Four Perform"

I won't venture to predict who between Chehon and Cyrus might win (the guy's side is the only one that's facing any real controversy), since such forecasting involves dozens of variables, the most important of which (the minds of 12-year-old girls) I do not have access to. (OK, I just realized how creepy that sounds. Uh, moving on.) Also, I don't like to be proven wrong, so rather than say which of the C&C boys will win (everyone's saying Cyrus), I'd rather look into the reason why they believe so in this particular instance: Nigel's awful explanation for why he's voting for Chehon over Cyrus.

Again, I'm not sure about the effectiveness of these reverse-psychology ploys -- too much game theory hurts my head -- but Nigel's stated reason is so ill-formed and based on readily disprovable assumptions (one wonders if spending so much time in the US has affected the way he perceives facts), and his litany of offenses are so egregious that they need to cataloged and corrected against. The question boils down to: Why does Chehon not need to grow further as a dancer, while Cyrus isn't regarded as a "complete" dancer?

Earliest in the program, Nigel sounds like he's straight-up calling Cyrus a "non-dancer" during his critique of the lyrical hip hop (i.e. pop-jazz) (I admit there's some syntactic ambiguity in his statement -- does he actually mean that viewers, i.e. "non-dancers," have a hard time understanding the challenges of learning choreography? However, given his documented views, I choose to believe otherwise). I've commented at length about this pernicious line of thinking before, so to sum up: the show treats hip hop as a second-class, a hobbyist's amateur diversion, not real dance.

Then Nigel doubles down on these comments after the boys' jazz, saying that Cyrus is his favorite person on the program and in his pre-SYTYCD life being "starved of dance," while being presented with a "banquet" of dance on the show where he has "improved so much as a dancer." Meanwhile, Chehon is his favorite dancer, telling him that he has "grown as a person on this show. You needn't grow as a dancer because you are fantastic." (My emphasis.) Let's remember that Chehon is only 23 and as a danseur surely has much left to learn, yet why does Nigel feel comfortable in calling him a complete dancer (even when we've seen him struggle with Latin -- which, to his credit, he's danced a lot of -- and hip hop), but tells Cyrus that he has still so much more room to grow?

The answer, of course, comes down to ballet training, which is a legitimate part of a well-rounded dancer's background if we're talking about traditional forms of formalized Western dance. It is not, however, a talisman that magically confers immediate ability within the whole universe of dance, it's one set of knowledge among many others that comprise real versatility. (Someone who's closer to being a complete dancer is Brandon Bryant, or within this season, George.) But in this case, Nigel's mistake isn't denigrating Cyrus (for once), it's prematurely lionizing Chehon.

Finally, Nigel says he has to support someone who's devoted his "all of [his] life" to reach the finale, when in fact Chehon began training at 13 (and only earnestly at 14) (compare to Eliana, who began when she was 3 or 4). For comparison, Cyrus mentions in his pre-solo package that he began focusing on dance when he was 15 or 16, and he's 22 now (and, by the way, Matthew, 21, started dancing when he was 16). Chehon's extra two or three years come during some crucially formative years (definitely not his whole life, though), but Cyrus has been dancing for six to seven years as well -- hardly a neophyte.

As Daniel points out, Nigel's chauvinism is explained by his background in classical dance, but that doesn't excuse it, especially not in this day and age. What's more, his chauvinism is terribly shallow in a way, because it coexists with all the reasons that ought to persuade him not to turn his nose up at folk styles and arts.

I've been repeating myself, haven't I? That means I should move on.

On the whole, this episode represents a better performance finale than the ones from the past couple seasons simply because the Chehon, Cyrus, Eliana, and Tiffany avoid the utter shambles of the Gumboot Stepping or Tadd and Sasha's cha-cha, but aside from Cyrus and Twitch completely leveling the stage, the audience, and the entire studio, not much else stays with me. But hey, I shouldn't complain that we got one ALL-TIME performance this episode.

And because I'm running out of time, again, a rundown of only the routines that I found interesting:

Eliana and Cyrus - Paso Doble
The return of Cyriana! I like this quite a bit -- Eliana's lines are breathtaking and she gets to channel her inner diva and get all fierce -- though the billing of the gender reversals doesn't quite so thoroughly suffuse the entire routine. (The one part where Eliana slides through Cyrus's legs reminds me of a cat going through a kitty door because of the silly skirt on his pants.) The things you'd expect to challenge Cyrus are there -- the lifted shoulders, whack leg lines (the camera blocking helped to hide his cartwheel) -- but he has the rhythm down pat without losing any of the character (we've seen plenty of contemporary dancers struggle with one or the other).

Cyrus and Tiffany - Lyrical Hip Hop

Ugh, I hated the flailiness of the choreography, and I know that Tessandra Chavez meant for the story to be about Tiffany's first broken-heart, but when she flails her legs while Cyrus is holding her, she looks nothing more than childish and bratty -- in other words, I don't find this routine to be productively ugly to have any sincere affect. But, Tiffany still brings it hard, and I almost want to say that, if the show is still around, next season she could make a great hip-hop All-Star in the case that Comfort is busy with popcorn.

Eliana and Chehon - Classical ballet
On the whole, I tend to be a little bored by genteel ballets (even Balanchine's modernist abstraction falls under this gentility, which is weird because he apparently worked a lot with Stravinsky) -- I prefer the more pointedly modernist work of Nijinsky and Nijinska -- so what this routine does is give me an opportunity to address something very, VERY important:

As ever, click to enlarge, as I know you want to.

I've read that as far as the tights go, guys go out of their way to make sure that they have a nice, healthy wedgie. Is it the "If you've got it, flaunt it" principle?

Chehon and Allison - Contemporary

YOU DON'T SAY, STACEY TOOKEY. Real talk: you can use this image any time she choreographs on this show, though I'll admit that my complaints are inextricably couched in privileged terms that have historically marginalized domesticity as material and subject matter for art, though SYTYCD goes so far in this direction in such unimaginative ways that I've felt like I've been drowning in the saccharine or angsty melodrama. That said, Stacey does some of her best stuff in a while here with two dancers whom no one doubts can execute it superbly.

Chehon and Tiffany - Rumba
"Ballroom expert Mary Murphy" decides to praise Chehon for the slide on his knees -- hey, I should ask to work on that with my teacher during our rumba lessons instead of focusing on, you know, Cuban motion, just like Chehon doesn't! OK, I get that at this stage the show doesn't want to criticize its finalists unless the performance is obviously abysmal, but spending any amount of time on a knee slide in a rumba is clearly looking hard for something kind to say. Anyway, you know going into this routine that it isn't going to be a real rumba for two reasons: First, Chehon's dancing it, and second, the music they use in the rehearsal package is a tango.

Since I'm apparently developing a Chehon mania that mirrors the Cyrus pile-on, I'll stop there and say that I have a hard time assessing Tiffany as well because of the overabundance of lifts.

Cyrus and Twitch - Animation
Routine of the year?

Who am I to argue?

Chris Scott has his flaws (which I've mentioned in earlier posts), but one thing he brings is cinematic use of the stage; something that I noticed about Cyrus's solos (and those of his Dragonhouse cohorts) is that they tend to stay in one place, and only use the stage briefly during transitions from one static point to another.

And? It's not often where Twitch does not occupy my entire attention.

Finally: Top 4 Group Routine
You should rightly cower in fear at the thought of Tasty putting less thought than usual into his group routine, and this one consists of even more blatantly tossed-off potpourri thrown together during rehearsals ("Oh, hey, Cyrus, now penguin slide through Eliana's legs! See, it's funny, because you're in a tuxedo!"), but the where genius lies is when District 78 empties its folder of sci-fi effects to tie everything together into this hot mess of ridiculata (h/t Annie Barrett), and guess what? IT'S AWESOME. Eliana's laser-equipped baton? Power-up noises? I had a billion trashtasms, and I wish Tasty could churn out inanity this entertaining more often.

Oh hai! More repeating myself! Returning to my (not really my) language analogy, this time using English and Chinese. In English, verbs have different tenses, while Chinese has none, and unsurprisingly, native Chinese-speakers often get confused in the bastard structures of English inflection. Conversely, in Chinese, a single phoneme spoken in one tone is a discrete, usually unrelated word to the same phoneme spoken with a different tone. (Something else that I notice and have trouble with myself is the difference between the different "s" phonemes -- I don't have enough linguistics background or knowledge of IPA to render the differences in words, so here's one "s" consonant sound, and here's another.) In purely technical terms, one person speaking in the other language is bound to make mistakes in grammar and/or pronunciation, but the most essential quality is if they can get their meaning across, which is something we should keep in mind when we watch dancers perform outside of their styles. Of course, this analogy only goes so far, because the language example is about basic communication, whereas SYTYCD concerns itself with art (as cramped a definition of art as it is, with one eye set on the tween faction and the other leering at Emmy voters), but I do think it relatably illustrates how the features (or lack thereof) of a given language aren't inherently superior or inferior to another language, and just because hip hop doesn't emphasize elongated lines doesn't mean it's worse or less than, say, ballet (and vice versa).

Not that anyone cares, but if any ladies want to know the way to my hearts heart (no, I'm not Gallifreyan, or Klingon):

Pull lots of faces. Also:

Knee socks. /tmi

Jennifer Beals in the audience! I guess Chicago Code didn't get renewed.

Love the moment when Cyrus loses it when he meets Madd Chadd.

And for all the talk about art earlier:


Daniel said...

I have exactly one thing to add to all this talk about how hip hop is marginalized on this show, and about how if you haven't trained in jazz/ballet or ballroom AT ALL (notice how there was never very much noise made about Matt's extremely late start in dance), you are an "untrained", somehow "imperfect" dancer.

It really sticks in my craw how Nigel went on and on about how "world class" Cyrus is in his own style, and how they could never have his style on the show because it's so specific, when these very same things could have been said, and WEREN'T, about tap dancers Melinda, Bianca, Nick, and that one guy who was on the same season with Bianca but whose name I can never remember. ESPECIALLY since Melinda is currently dancing with the companies of both Chloe Arnold and Jason Samuels Smith (someone the show has highlighted in what I call the "pro spot" on two separate occasions), which means she is unequivocably world class. It was very rarely, if ever, mentioned how far "outside their style" they were on a constant basis, and they were never treated with kid gloves the way Cyrus (and, to be fair, others like him, including Twitch) has been.

To stick to this season, it was also something that was never, ever said about Janelle, the belly dancer. ALTHOUGH, it is interesting to note that in her blog for, Mary noted that according to the choreographers Janelle complained a lot, which led to her elimination.

I think it would be oddly fitting for this to be the last season of the series if the winners are Eliana and Cyrus OR Eliana and Chehon. Something about the triumph of technique and artistry, or about how raw talent and rigorous training are both essential parts of what it takes to be a great dancer... it feels like the end point of a narrative for the show.

Whenever I hear people say they don't like Eliana because she seems "fake", I want to tell them to watch again. There is no way those smiles you capped are anything other than genuine.

Amanda said...

That tap dancer guy's name was Phillip, wasn't it?

A must-read on the politics of ballet on this show: