Sunday, July 07, 2013

So You Think You Can Dance - 10x09 "Top 18 Perform"

Well, yes, the top 20 in fact perform, but only 18 of them count, which is in my eyes an outrageous arrangement. I've seen a few arguable justifications for eliminating dancers at the top of the program: by limiting the number of routines that the judges base the elimination on, the audience will be less confused when Janaya or Amber are cut despite having the strongest performances of the night in order to save their pets (Witney, and Eliana). In other words, the elimination scheme in season 9 exposed the judges' agenda (not that they were ever demure about their preferences before). If the judges were invested in saving Witney no matter the night's proceeding, Janaya's heroic Broadway performance is going to be an inconvenient monument to their long-term, mad-scientist machinations.

But the real source of my outrage is, of course, the angst that it puts the dancers through. Notwithstanding the old "show must go on" saw, I don't see how moving the eliminations serves the interests of the dancers -- the judges get a fig leaf behind which to hide their agendas, and the show gets to squeeze more drama (or FEELS for those of you fluent in Tumblr) out of its departing contestants, but what do you get if you're the dancer getting cut. You're on this show, getting jerked around like pieces of agile meat.

So goodbye to our resident necktie-adjuster extraordinaire, and the other ballroom girl!

Alan and Jasmine M's tango is near the top of the night for me, even despite the brutal lifts, because Alan works the hell out of the choreography, which is one of the few (only?) tangos on this show that gives the leader such a prominent role. His character is so palpable and richly realized that, combined with some of fiery, spotlight-grabbing choreography (that gauncho around Jasmine's waist? Sublime. That push across the stage? Gives me the vapors. Taking Jasmine's scarf, sniffing it, and stashing it in his jacket pocket? Deeley, revive me!), he more than makes up for its shortcomings, such as Jasmine's frame and connection. She's been quickly stealing all of my hearts, but that doesn't preclude me from noticing her noodle arms in closed (i.e. lacking in tone that would otherwise give her a better sense of Alan's leads). She also doesn't have the longest neck, which makes her shoulders seem constantly hunched up around her ears -- a stark contrast to Alan's gorgeous frame and shaping.

And then, the lifts. I'm going to have to betray a strain of purism here because all of the three big lifts strike me as three too many. (Another purist complaint: the music approaches DWTS territory for inappropriate it is for the style being danced.) (That such an imperfect routine is sending me into virtual ecstasy is a testament to the quality of partner dancing (e.g. ballroom, Latin, tango, swing) on SYTYCD nowadays.)

(The commentary track on the forthcoming T!YBE DVD will explain who's actually speaking in this image. #plottwist)

Then there's the two NappyTabs routines. If you told me that NappyTabs were going to do the sequel to "Misty Blue," or that they were going to get ratchet, my immediate reaction would be "utter disaster" -- and this would be before hearing all of this was scheduled for the same episode. (Like a lot of choreographers who have to do two routines in a week, NappyTabs tend to have (at least) one undercooked dud.) Except, this week, they knocked both out of the park. What's going on here? This doesn't fit into my tidy narratives of the classist debasement of folk arts! Which are the artiest of all the arts!

Jazz Harp and Aaron have to have had some hip hop in their repertoires (and in fact keep an eye peeled for Jasmine in this Ciara video, which features Nicki Minaj so you know it's NSFW), because they have into-the-ground weightiness and a real sense of push-and-pull. Their chemistry is off the charts, too. I didn't say much about the two of them last week because they got the lesser Sonya routine (which, despite Jasmine's incredible legs, made little impression on me), but this week they brought everything together with great choreography, and the results are stellar. I don't like anointing power couple status this early, but I can hardly argue with the judges/Christina Applegate singling them out as such.

Where Jasmine and Aaron worked in the familiar NappyTabs lyrical hip-hop mode, Fik-Shun and Amy go all the way to the other end of the D'umo spectrum, getting both fun and grimy at the same time. We've seen NappyTabs gulliness on a few previous occasions that get away from their more infamous Kenny G (read: smooth jazz) hip hop, with mixed results: George and Tiffany got bucc even though the routine's concept, their costumes, and everything short of the steps were vomitous stuff. While the concept is still weak in "After Party" ("This isn't hip hop, it's bell hop!"), NappyTabs give Fik-Shun and Amy a lot more to work with.

Such as the Bernie!

Rounding out my favorites of the night is Curtis and Hayley's jazz. Cat's actually wrong -- it is in fact at least TWO handfuls by my count. Not that I'm scrutinizing every frame with a jeweler's glass or anything, and not that the routine or Hayley only sells sex (though I bet it helps a lot), because she gets a few physically impressive moments like pushing Curtis onto the ground from a back-bend.

Returning again to unclean lifts, the weird thing with Makenzie and Paul's jazz is that I remembered it being stuffed with labored lifts, but after revisiting the number a few times, I only find two: the body snake and some other one I don't know how to describe, so I'll just link to it. I'm a little surprised that these partnering sections are so difficult considering Paul's background, and his butterfly twist aside, the choreography tilts way in Makenzie's favor. My favorite parts? Any time she gets to strike editorial poses straight out of Vogue Italia.

By the way, I'm fairly convinced that Makenzie's styling for the routine is straight cribbed from J-Pop idols:

I'm about to technical here for Nico and Alexis's contemporary: another song that works with that same tinkly piano thing is Garbage's "You Look So Fine" (which, unsurprisingly, I prefer, why, because female vox) (the performance is quite arresting, too, with a lot of saturated closeups of Shirley, which is always an emphatic YAY in my book).

Hard to argue with the judges Brittany and BluPrint's Broadway -- BluPrint is performing too introspectively, especially for a Broadway number. The judges aren't bothered with not trying to hide their project of building up BluPrint's character -- he's lucky he's not on ANTM, because Tyra won't lift her social-engineering mitts off of him until she'd made him cry. (Though time will tell if he gets a tear-jerking contemporary in the Showcase Tucker vein that the judges will laud as some kind of personal epiphany for him.)

In one way, BluPrint is like a lot of us because he seems to lack the showman's exuberance (at least relatively speaking). Of course, he can also do things that are unimaginable to mere mortals, a combination of which you think would be a heady, irresistible magnet of empathy for viewers at home, a rare balance of the aspirational and relatable, but the expectations of race and style are so ossified on SYTYCD that he is instead an object of contempt to a depressingly large fraction of the commentariat (gods help me, I'm skimming through TWOP again and came across this keeper, which speculates that Mariah was crying so much because she's now stuck with BluPrint as a partner).

Brittany, as much of a trooper as there is in season 10, has looked physically juvenile when she dances out of her style: She's kind of short and doesn't have amazing extensions, and she has an open, child-like face. Amazingly, so much of this immaturity disappears when she's got a Latin number on. Maybe it's the heels! (They do enhance her leg lines.)

Also? My throwaway Bjork comment continues to haunt me, though this rendition is a cover from some Disney flick I've never heard of -- it's a remarkably faithful rendition, which seems kind of pointless from an artistically but I presume is down to financial reasons. If this pace continues, what's next, [insert hilarious Bjork joke here] [Oh, I know! Mumble mumble swan dress!] [Joke straight from 2001, y'all!].

All the other routines either fall into the "I'm over Stacey Tookey" category or are better left unexamined (that execrable Bollywood) or are cha-chas.

The first solos of the season!

It's entirely possible that krump has changed a bit since I watched Rize (#poseur4life) and/or that she's mining a different stylistic vein, but Mariah's solo doesn't seem to feature a whole lot that looks recognizably krump to me.

Contra Nigel, his solo impresses me -- it's at times understated, at other times explosively physical. He probably should've incorporated a tie into the solo, but then that would've involved putting on a shirt, and we can't have that.

She shows cross-trained virtuosity with the flip (as does Mariah), but aside from the novelty of seeing someone do it in heels, she's hampered by the usual handicap of being a partner dancer doing a solo.

I haven't yet loved his solos generally, but I do enjoy this one, possibly because the music isn't bad (call it the Subjective Music Fallacy). Nigel says that he shouldn't rely on waves in the future, to which I respond: whut? His original audition and VEAGS solos (the latter of which are what convinced the judges to keep him, remember) don't also have the same amount of waving?

The group number doesn't live up to the first week's, but then, hardly anything is going to. Still, it's yet another piece of evidence in the case against letting Tasty anywhere near Broadway again, because this routine is lovely and wistful, with none of the braying stupidity that features in most of his Broadways.

When Christina Applegate refers to young Good Master Greetham as the Velvet Underground and Nico, I love how the studio falls into complete, baffled silence -- except for Cat's laughing in the background. Oh, children, you're depriving yourself of Lou Reed's tales of promiscuous, smacked-out urban squalor and Nico's teutonic deadpan!

And I have to reiterate my pleasure at having her return as a guest judge. In addition to star power, she encourages dancers when they need it, knows enough about dance to give them notes, and is comfortable and articulate and charming enough in front of a live mic to make me wonder what the hell she's doing on this panel.

Miriam looking fetch.

If there's a dance craze called the Cat Daddy, then it's only right that we now have the Cat Dealie:


Anonymous said...

"In one way, BluPrint is like a lot of us because he seems to lack the showman's exuberance (at least relatively speaking). Of course, he can also do things that are unimaginable to mere mortals, a combination of which you think would be a heady, irresistible magnet of empathy for viewers at home, a rare balance of the aspirational and relatable, but the expectations of race and style are so ossified on SYTYCD that he is instead an object of contempt to a depressingly large fraction of the commentariat (gods help me, I'm skimming through TWOP again and came across this keeper, which speculates that Mariah was crying so much because she's now stuck with BluPrint as a partner)."

Sorry, I'm confused again. What exactly are the expectations of race and style that you perceive are ossified on the show? And why do you get the impression that this is the case? (I hope there is more to it than some people on the internet not sharing your very particular interpretation of Bluprint's run on the show so far)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see that somebody remembers that amazing broadway routine with Janaya and Brandon. Also, I personally like Christina as a judge because she actually gives concrete criticism.

Amanda said...

I'm so glad you taught me that "the Bernie" is a thing! That was one of my favorite moments from that adorbs bellhop number. I do notice that Amy can't quite pull it off; she's actually moving her arms instead of letting them hang and flop. Could be that exact move that Napoleon was talking about when he said she needed to be looser. But Fik-shun pulls it off enough for the both of them.

I'm surprised Mariah keeps being in the bottom, actually. She's a heck of a performer, and personally I love the whole "white girl krumper" thing she's got going on, though I agree her solo was lackluster. Speaking of race, I almost wonder whether those who are not white girls (like me) are the ones who are not determinedly not voting for her.

Ellie said...

No updates in a month. Lee, how can I be expected to watch SYTYCD without properly understanding how to deconstruct the tropes of reality dance television? I look forward to your insights every week. Why have you forsaken us?

Anonymous said...

I miss your posts. Come back Lee!

Talia said...

I still check this blog multiple times a day. Leee, we miss you!

Anonymous said...

Have you guys noticed the new comment moderation feature? Perhaps he is planning on returning now that he can censor commenters that challenge him?

Leee said...

If you're genuinely curious, I haven't changed the comment policy in a long time -- don't remember when, but it predated my hiatus by a lot. Anyway, Blogger has a standard feature that enables comment moderation for posts that are older than two weeks, which sometimes are the targets of spambots.

Anonymous said...

why haven't you been posting?