Monday, June 24, 2013

So You Think You Can Dance - 10x07 "Meet the Top 20"

I have a feeling that this unveiling of the top 20 may have been the least surprising in 10 seasons. By my count, almost anyone whose auditions are shown and who are still in the running at at the Green Mile ends up making the top 20. (Although we lost quite a few auditioners, any who remained seemed to have had their spot secured.) To put the matter in other words, nearly all of the Green Mile cuts are people who at best get minimal (if any) screentime from the auditions to the VEAGS callbacks, save for Gene Bersten (because the show saves him for some brotherly drama). Conversely, of our top 20, only Mariah, Brittany, and Alan Bersten are montaged during auditions, while everyone else has their audition shown.

Some interesting demographic trivia:
  • You're going to tell me that this season has a grand total of zero Ashleys/Ashlees/Ashleighs/Ashlés/Aislings/Auxlays but two Jasmines? Worst season ever.
  • Only three blondes this year! I don't think that's a record for the show in and of itself, though what's especially notable is that two of the blondes are hip hoppers. Worst season ever!
  • The most crazypants demographic item I've read this past week is that we haven't had a hip-hop woman on the show since Comfort (during which interim ABDC was on the air) (trainspotters will point out that Karla Garcia in season 5 is/was a member of the Boogie Bots, but SYTYCD prefers to de-emphasize hip hop with women especially if they're white and/or have contemporary in their repertoire). Moreover, Mariah is the first hip-hop woman who's white, meaning that every one of her predecessors (not that many to begin with!) is a woman of color. Like I've argued before, SYTYCD codes hip hop as male and black, and situates contemporary as the most appropriate form of dance for women.
  • My initial assumption that women of color are disproportionately early boots is, on the whole, not quite accurate, but three of the last four seasons (6, 7, and 9) are trending in this direction, which is a worrisome development. 
  • All the girls -- and really, they deserve the appellation this season because read on -- are all 18 or 19 years old. Is Nigel giving up all pretenses about maturity? Considering some of his comments during the showcase, not entirely, but with this lineup, he's not making it easy for the tween voters to decide who to root for. Or, is this a last gasp à la ABDC with Iconic Boyz/8 Flavahz? Or, is Nigel, in tipping his hand so egregiously, in complete malfunction?

Hip Hop: Mariah and Fik-Shun
Sadly, the choreography feels inert -- possibly because of Emilio's absence -- and so as rugged as she gets in it, Mariah doesn't do much for me. Neither does Fik-Shun, though I do think that Luther choreographs away from his strengths (we see only brief moments of the waving and popping that make Fik-Shun's solos so amazing).

Contemporary 1: Nico, Tucker, Jasmine Harper, Makenzie
Here's a surprise: I like this piece! I've been down on Stacey for several seasons now, as well as the show's contemporary overkill, but some how, I turned off all my usual grievances and at some point I'm able to simply appreciate its movement.

Tucker's breakdown has prompted a backlash that I'm taken aback by. I don't know if gender expectations are at work, but how else do you explain as vociferous a reaction against a man crying so openly? Or, maybe I've watched so much reality tv where crying is a veritable staple (SYTYCD, Project Runway, and above all, ANTM) that I'm completely inured to it. That's for his crying, anyway -- only the SYTYCD stylists can address that limp mop of curls on his head.

Finally, I wish I knew more about Alice Coltrane, because then I could make all sorts of "Jazz Harp" jokes.

Tap: Alexis, Curtis, Aaron
I don't think I'm turning a corner or anything, but I wasn't completely shut off from a tap routine! But, hush, I have a reputation to uphold.

Animation: BluPrint, Jade
I guess I enjoy this, though I'm not ecstatic about it because Chris Scott gives both BluPrint and Jade bog-standard animation to do, a style that neither of them do on their own. (For what it's worth, I think that Jade pulls off the choreography better.)

Is BluPrint so outside the box that Christopher doesn't know what to do with him? Because what BluPrint does is so alien, and in this and the top 10 routine, Christopher makes him use a familiar vocabulary.

Contemporary 2: Malece, Carlos, Hayley
Mad Men meets Big Love. Good Mia makes her annual appearance (/trolling), and what separates this from all the other showcase routines is its unvarnished emotional violence: when Carlos tips the chair onto its back with Hayley in it -- such a creepy power play dripping with menace (Carlos) and vulnerability (Hayley) -- and of course Hayley's stylized slap (complete with an action-movie freeze). 

Afterwards, Cat says that Malece and Hayley have become Alice Cooper, referring to the streaks of eyeliner dripping down their cheeks.

Because they're 18 and 19! I think I could've put "Marilyn Manson" instead of Alice Cooper in there and it'd still scan!


Ballroom: Paul, Alan, Jenna, Brittany

I have to make an effort to enjoy this routine, because it's my favorite style, cha-cha. Among the guys, I probably prefer Alan because he has a better body for articulating lines and maintaining his frame than Paul does. Jenna and Brittany are a lot more evenly matched, and the only real thing I notice between the two of them is that Jenna has a bit more flair and styling at points.

The show has on balance been a hard nut to crack for male ballroomers, but the one reason I'm confident that Alan and Paul will last longer than, say, Max or Jamie (Bayard, that is) or Jonathan (Platero, that is) is because the show has two male tappers to get rid of first. So Paul and Alan: pre-congratulations for making it to the third and fourth weeks!

By the way: How do you make a ballroom sandwich?

Afterward the number, Mary Murphy, ballroom champ and ballroom instructor, offers the following feedback to the ballroom dancers who just danced a ballroom routine:
  • Thanks Louis
  • Paul has stage-presence in face, could use more intensity in his movement
  • Alan: Gene will be proud
  • Girls: holy smokes, on fire, she loves, dominant, strong, fabulous feet, etc.
Admitting that the showcase isn't necessarily the right time for incisive notes (yet, Shankman manages it all the same), she says barely anything of worth (or you have to dig deep into her dross to find notes to take away), and I don't expect her to any time soon. Nigel might be a more offensive creature by virtue of his creative control over the show, but I reserve a special antipathy for Mary because she's become such a hollow self-parody. What I'd love to see happen is Shankman be given the time that's otherwise allotted for Mary's abrasive nonsense, but since that probably won't happen, I'll settle for her making her noises in the background while Shankman gives critiques -- you know, to save time.


She should've stuck with the ballroom sandwich.

Jazz: Jasmine Mason, Amy
Remember when I said, "if [Megan Branch] makes the show and dances to Bjork and keeps making weird faces, I think I'm going to be in love"? Normally, this is where you'd say something like, "One out of three isn't bad," but in this case, that one is the least of the three. Ah well.

What's quite touching is the fondness that she has with Jasmine Mason, which is this delightfully goofy thing they have going.

(That isn't a Creed T-shirt, I hope!)

But if she and Jasmine were playing the proverbial three-dimensional chess, then the two of them probably should've hidden their friendship from the cameras because otherwise, the editors are going to use it as a wedge at the Green Mile.

Oh, there was a routine! And a pretty good one, too! I'll go so far as to say that of the three female duets choreographed by Sonya, this is by far the best one, owing largely to having much more exquisite dancers in Jasmine M. and Amy. The previous couples either lacked in extension (lol tiny Tiffany and Audrey) or differed so much in style on top of the fatigue (Melanie and Sasha) or used lousy music (Melanie and Sasha) or had tired choreography (Melanie and Sasha), and Jasmine and Amy together have the sheer physicality to bring Sonya's vision to the fore. Jasmine is splendid, but to echo Shankman, Amy is the truth.

Top 10 Boys
Eh, can't get into this. My complaints about the animation number apply here, as well. More in a bit...

Top 10 Girls
Never trust someone who's still rocking a soul patch in 2013.

Diverting, but whatever. More in a bit...

Top 20

Now we can talk. Christopher Scott has done two top 10 boys routines now, both with the same sci-fi sleekness, and I really wish that he'd get a chance to set a women's routine in a futuristic corporate dystopia -- and the thing is, he can absolutely choreograph women in his brand of widescreen performances. Notice how in his top 20 routine from season 9 (particularly Eliana), the roles aren't so starkly defined along gender (which is something that even Sonya does on occasion, especially since she employs more partnering work than Christopher). Instead, femininity has such a narrow scope on this show that either the women can only flaunt their sexuality or emphasize their fragility (h/t totes), and the Action Chick phenomenon that is still sort of a thing in film and television today has been unable to penetrate the SYTYCD bubble. And considering Nigel's casting choices (read: young, bubbly), we'll never get to see a bunch of Trinities indulging their bad selves and getting the audience hyped and insane. (One more note to Chris Scott's credit: all too seldom do choreographers give the female dancers chances to exert raw physicality, but he gives space to them when warranted, like Sasha's kip-up to unassisted back-bend. Though, I will note, he's not exactly challenging heteronormativiy -- he still works within its ascribed gender roles.)

PS -- Goth looks great on her!

But of course Sonya and her taste for the martial is the lone exception, and I commend her with my entire heart for letting her women broaden the acceptable bounds of femininity. (I should point out that Mia's isn't always beholden to gender norms, either.) She doesn't always hit the mark (see my comments for her jazz number above), but in an environment that offers such limited opportunities to women, every effort made holds back the tide of heteronormativity a little bit. (I hasten to add that I am not dismissing girlishness and frivolity and sensuality and the usual palette of SYTYCD femininity -- but when those are really the only choices allotted to women on the show, I feel compelled to try to open a space, at least in discourse, for under-examined modalities. You know?) So kudos for her and this Dune-esque number.

Oh noes! Smiling is not Goth anymore!

The top 20 routine also brings me new appreciation for Amy Yakima, summed up here in this gif of some dynamic Russian kicks:

In spite of the kneejerk comparison of Malece to the season 8 winner, Amy seems poised to assume the mantle of the season's pasty powerhouse.

But do you all know what I'm most excited for? Yes it is the return of the AWKWARD DANCE.

Thanks, Fik-Shun! Don't believe me? Peep Nico:


Sara said...

- What about Sara von Gillern from Season 3? Granted, she's not translucid and blond, but I'd still call her white.

- I LOVE Tucker. Would love him more if they'd shave that horrid hair of his. I have nothing but respect for his reaction and can only hope it was genuine. His story is amazing. He got into JUILLIARD, people, and then had the accident. C'mon! Crying is good.

- I thought Carlos was the highlight of Mia's piece (which I enjoyed - nice IKEA furniture), mostly because he has an aura of douchey about him.

- Yeah, sorry. Who calls their daughter Malece? She dances fine, but I don't see anything remarkable.

- I think SYTYCD styled Jenna's eyebrows, Lee! I found them incredibly distracting from day 1. Yes.

"I reserve a special antipathy for Mary because she's become such a hollow self-parody. What I'd love to see happen is Shankman be given the time that's otherwise allotted for Mary's abrasive nonsense (...)"

- It's like you're right here, perched on my frontal lobe.

- I hate Soul-Patch's choreographies so much, I can't even be bothered to learn his name.

- Also, when did Mia turn into Renee Zellweger? Before or after Botox?

- For age demographics, see your previous post. I don't remember if it was really me who pointed it out, but it does sound like something I would've said.

- Amy is the truth. And her body is SICK.

Anonymous said...

"Conversely, of our top 20, only Mariah, Brittany, and Alan Bersten are montaged during auditions, while everyone else has their audition shown"

Are you sure about this? I don't remember seeing auditions for Carlos, Aaron, or Jasmine Mason.

"Like I've argued before, SYTYCD codes hip hop as male and black"

Does this mean you don't count bboys as hip-hop? Or you don't think the show counts bboys as hip-hop?

Daniel said...

OMG I cannot stand Jenna's constant mugging for the camera (and MAN did she lay it on thick in that ballroom routine), but that chocolate iPhone pic brought out the lolz like nothing else!

I, too, do not understand the nasty things directed at Malece. I love her (she had the best pre-audition banter of any contestant this season), but at the same time I wonder how much better she would have been if the judges had ended up casting her next season instead. She's very good, but VERY green, which I didn't really notice until I saw her surrounded by all those other girls. She doesn't strike me as being as hungry for this as someone like Jenna.

That hip hop number was underwhelming (Fik-Shun looked scared out of his mind, which shocked me), but DAMN did Mariah pimp that shit OUT!

The tap routine was legit amazeballs, which does not surprise me - I remember Anthony Morigerato from my competition days (we competed against each other a bunch) and boy was always super-talented. HOWEVER, it pisses me off to no end that they absolutely picked the wrong male tapper to actually be in the Top 20. Watch the routine closely. Curtis is fudging it for large sections of time. Yes, the boy is adorable, but Aaron is far better, has charisma to burn, and is much better at hip hop (note the prime spot he secured in the guys' routine - which I'm kinda shocked you were so down on. That was a very intricate routine where a lot could have gone wrong very quickly, and not only did it work, the boys also performed the shit out of it). And the decision to highlight the fact that Aaron is only on the show because Emilio injured himself strikes me as disingenuous. It's not like something similar hasn't happened before, and when it did, they either glossed over it or hid it completely. Why put him at such a disadvantage going in? I mean, good for him - take that opportunity and run with it, boy - but the decision to advertise it, and then pat themselves on the back for it happening, was SYTYCD at its worst. (I promise that my low opinion of Curtis's tap skills has only very little to bear on this. But seriously. They picked the WRONG male tapper. Take it from one who knows.)

Important to note the fact that this is the first time contemporary/jazz/ballet dancers have counted for less than half of the Top 20 - ballroom/tap/hip-hop (in all its forms) dancers account for 11 dancers this year, more than any other in the past. This is heartening, even if the average age of the girls in particular is disheartening.

The sad thing about the lack of "superhero"-style girls stuff is that one of the best, most memorable numbers from the show's early days is Melody and Ashle's finale dance, which Mia said was choreography meant for two men. I remember them getting a (well-deserved) standing O and then proudly showing off their bruises to Nigel (at his prodding of course). Amazing how the show has devolved since then, even if in most other respects it's vastly improved.

Also, any more time given to Shankman talking on the judging panel is time well spent. He's pretty much the perfect judge, nearly always balancing fawning and congratulations with (very good, honest) critique.

Daniel said...

Also! I admit, I totally rolled my eyes at mop top's crying jag. I don't doubt that he's been through a lot, but it just struck me as too much. MUCH too much. Have your moment, by all means, but it was such a blatant spotlight-pulling move that it struck me as... something less than 100% genuine.

Leee said...

Wooh, lots to catch up on!

Sara: Sara von Gillern is half-Asian, but you bring up a good point in that ethnic surveys of this sort are inherently problematic. Short of asking her directly (and I'm way too squeamish for that kind of stuff, I never do it IRL), there is no real solution on these sorts of border cases -- and that's BEFORE we get to the unavoidably fuzzy way that we (Americans) conceive of race.

Anon: *sigh* it's not been a good week for me and facts! Yes, Jasmine M. got montaged, I think that Alan was completely offscreen. Of Carlos we saw part of his audition but some audible flirting with Mary -- and camera time on a reality show is valuable currency.

As for the b-boy question: the show definitely counts b-boys as HH, but I get what you're saying, since we've only had about 2 black b-boys (Musa, sorta, and Wadi), and saying that the codification is black is misleading (not to mention obscures the Puerto Rican contributions to OG b-boying). A point of clarification, then: b-boying (and b-girling) is largely off-limits to women, especially white women (though again, b-girl Sara complicates any such generalizations).

Daniel: good catch on the majority non-jazz/contemporary! Despite my appreciation of the S9 Top 20 routine, I'm kind of over Chris Scott lately for some polemical reasons, and this may be a case where external feeling are getting in the way of enjoying his T10 boys routine, though maybe I'm just tired of him going with some modern-ish group numbers set to an approximation of mid- to late-era Philip Glass. Point taken about your boy Aaron, though, he does have some excellent isolations.

And re: your point about Tucker -- that's actually a good point, and I'm kind of embarrassed I missed it. Yes, the show has been on long enough that would-be contestants know how to exploit its cliches. A word in my defense: tears on all reality shows, deployed strategically or not, completely slide off my back.

Daniel said...

re: Chris Scott's "going with some modern-ish group numbers set to an approximation of mid- to late-era Philip Glass"... this is why this is my favorite place for SYTYCD talk.


Leee said...

Now you've got me wondering what piece from Einstein on the Beach I'd want Mia to take a crack at! (Answer: almost definitely one of the Knee Plays.)

Daniel said...

Don't even tease me like that.

Because I don't know how you'd be able to cut anything in that monster to a SYTYCD-acceptable length. And then I'm just going to dream about her choreographing the whole damn thing some day. OMG Mia and Wade should team up and do it together.

And now I hate you for putting that seed into my head.

Anonymous said...

"A point of clarification, then: b-boying (and b-girling) is largely off-limits to women, especially white women (though again, b-girl Sara complicates any such generalizations)."

Are you saying the show codes bboying as off-limits women, and especially to white women? If so, I'm not sure if Sara "complicates" that idea so much as obliterates any grounds for that notion (the "especially white women" part). She is the only b-girl contestant on the show after all, and half white.

Also, I wonder how fair it is to suggest that the show codes bboying as boys only (if that is what you're suggesting) when the name of the style already had the word "boy" in it before the show ever existed.

Leee said...

Anon, see, this is where the complication lies, as I see it: how do we count race when we have a "mixed race" individual? Admittedly, for the purposes of thinking about the show's approach to race and gender with respect to b-boying/b-girling/breaking (see below), I've been proceeding from particularly blunt-force and unnuanced view of race in categorizing Sara (not far from various one-drop rules of ethnicity), but simply calling her white seems insufficient to me (e.g. she's currently in a female, Asian crew: Since I don't have any solutions at hand, I'm not going to assign her ethnic identification for her, and as far as I'm concerned, we've run into an indomitable unknowable. What I do believe we can say is that the show's largely abandoned b-girls from consideration for casting since Sara -- I think since, we've seen, what, one glimpse of a woman doing a windmill during an audition montage from who knows when, and no identification of any b-girls thereafter, IIRC -- and so it's been the domain of b-boys ever since (or at least up until the current vogue for animators).

As for your last aside, we can use "breaker" or "breaking" to avoid gendered terms.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not going to assign her ethnic identification for her, and as far as I'm concerned, we've run into an indomitable unknowable."

Well... I think you said earlier that you're essentially using the one-drop rule for her. And that's totally fair since that's how things are done most of the time anyway. Probably most people don't really think of Katee as just "Asian" rather than half-Asian half-white (It was just unintuitive for me to not count Sara as white since, like the commenter Sara, I didn't know she was half-Asian till you said so). Of course, even if we count her as "just Asian," it's still unclear why you said the b-girling is closed off especially for white women on the show(why not especially for white, hispanic, and black women?) but since it sounds like you're backing away from this idea that the show is racially coding b-girling, I'll just leave it.

"As for your last aside, we can use "breaker" or "breaking" to avoid gendered terms."

Sorry. I was being unclear, possibly because I know much less about bboying than you do and some of my assumptions are incorrect.

I don't actually have a problem with the gendered terms. What I was suggesting is that (and I could totally be wrong about this) perhaps bboying was already coded as a male-only dance from its inception (and this is why the gender-specific name is used so commonly). And if that's the case, can the show really code a style as "boys-only" if the style has already been coded that way?