First, I'm heartened to see the show limiting the number of grotesque auditions it airs -- even the notably bad auditions are of a quality that's much easier to stomach in which the auditioners in question are in on the joke as well. (Harder to stomach are the replays and closeups (!) of Taylor Ward's dislocated knee. UHHHHHHHHHH LET'S SEE IT ONE MORE TIME, OK?) (Also, the sound editors seemed to take malicious glee in foleying in the sound of crunching and popping -- my guess is they went to town on a bucket of chicken drumsticks.) I can only speculate as to why -- the shine has faded from the show, meaning that fewer weirdos are braving the cold, or if production is actually not humoring them and turning them away at the door -- but it's a refreshing development and if the show goes on for an eleventh season, a trend that I hope continues. I'm pretty sure that I laid out these sentiments last year, but to indulge my superstitions, I'll say it again.
Second, what struck me (not to mention annoyed me) was how starkly the kabuki has been, and I don't mean the Japanese theatrical dance style. Anyway, I prefer butoh to kabuki. Instead, the show is focusing heavily on the rituals of the genre -- dedications to dead relatives, dancing to inspire and keep kids away from gangs, etc. -- rituals which may or may not have any solid roots with real life. While I don't usually like to question the motives of people who try out for this and other reality shows, SYTYCD has been on nearly a decade, which is enough time to build up a body of rituals, and enough time for would-be contestants to get smart to them and to play their parts in those rituals, creating a self-reinforcing, self-perpetuating culture. What bothers me about these rituals, especially on SYTYCD, is that I suspect they're performed mostly for their own sakes now, and that the complexities of life are ignored in favor of going through the narrative motions for the umpteenth time. I find this reductiveness tacky and little more than selling fairytales to the show's viewers.
I was disappointed that Will Green, AKA Sysko, performed as badly during the choreography as he did, because I described him thusly in my notes: "will sysko green, jit scholar" (that's verbatim). I'm especially interested to hear how he connects Jitting to the old school swing dances from the '20s (particularly because I've been getting into Lindy Hop lately), though you can hear an echo in its name: Jit/Jitterbug. But how, in other words, did a style (or a family of styles) that derived from Harlem and separated by nearly a century managed to get run through '80s Detroit techno (Sysko showing off his music/dance knowledge!) to become Jitting?
That's out of the way, the audition highlights then:
- Du-Shaunt Stegall, AKA Fik-shun. Nasty, funky popping. He slayed when he went into the splits.
- Elijah Laurant, AKA dude with tutu around his neck. Reminded me powerfully of Robert Battle's solo "In/Side", which I saw being performed by a member of Alvin Ailey last month, but stuff of this artistic refinement will, I fear, fall prey to the demographic realities of SYTYCD. Nonetheless, I'm glad to see Nigel not being scared by Elijah's embrace of femininity, which was captivating and beautiful.
- Malece Miller, AKA girl with baby face with surprisingly dry wit (e.g. deaf in her left ear no wait j/k!!!) and unexpected maturity. The judges mentioned that the transitions in her audition were a little rough, but the editing hid all that, because what I saw was a cut above the usual competition-level soloing. She's like Pixar, offering the outward appearance that the tween girls adore (cherubic face, wide-eyed girlishness), but also something for old people (deadly snark).
- Paul Karmiryan, AKA guy who won SYTYCD Armenia. I wasn't bowled over by his audition, but I was interested to see him Jive, when usually the most common Latin style that gets performed is cha-cha. And Paul's Jive in particular had relatively little partnering (i.e. his time on SYTYCD Armenia has prepared him well) and had very strong jazz overtones (ditto).
- I hope we get a name from the female locker from the Detroit auditions, the one with the Gangnam Grandma, because she has a very strong, very athletic style.
I was stoked to hear the intro for Underworld's "Rez," and then massively disappointed when it turned out to be an awful dubstep remix. Someone actually had the following idea and saw it through to completion: "Let's take one of the greatest '90s techno jams from a seminal act and jam an ugly dubstep breakdown in the middle of it!"