Monday, September 02, 2013

So You Think You Can Dance - 10x16 "Top 6 Perform"

One of the concepts that I've developed and carried with me for a while is that reality programs -- especially but not limited to the competitive types -- are inherently moralistic, and that their morality is built on what viewers believe the people on the shows deserve or don't deserve. Just recently, though, two other shows (Breaking Pointe and RuPaul's Drag Race, if you're keeping track -- and for lack of time, I won't be able to delve into them deeply) have foregrounded one of the commonest and most important elements to this morality: humility. Ironically, I haven't noticed the importance of humility on SYTYCD because it's everywhere, which has the paradoxical effect of camouflaging it, at least not as such.

I tend to think that Nigel practically mandates that the dancers at least put up a humble front. First, think of the ever-present sob stories of contestants who come from humble beginnings (pun intended), and consider those rare moments when privilege gets flaunted: Nathan saying that when he gets stressed he likes to unwind by jet-skiing and consequently getting a verbal beatdown from Nigel. Of course, Nigel as executive producer had to have known that Nathan was going to mention jet-skiing -- somebody had to have the footage ready of the kid on the waves -- he may have been using Nathan to warn other dancers against flaunting privilege; conversely, if dancers come from a stable, nuclear background (which reads as privileged for the sake of this argument), they have to mention how fortunate they are to have such a loving and supportive family.

That's when they get to speak -- usually, the contestants' chances to speak are carefully managed by the show. The prompts during rehearsal packages corral the dancers so they stay on anodyne territory, and the ones who are hep to the game use the opportunity to press our moral buttons (e.g. inspirational relatives, deceased friends and family, etc.), and the rest of the rehearsal packages are edited so that the dancers only speak about the choreography (about which I'll revisit). They seldom speak during their critiques, and almost never to argue with the judges, who are almost always right, besides.

(What's more, they have to accept the judges' notes without complaint or correction.) Even when they're eliminated, they apparently follow a predictable script: the best thing about their time on the show is their partner and working with the choreographers, and the thing they'll miss most is all the other dancers, and then the requisite hugs and tears. From the auditions to the end of their runs, part of the way to succeed on this show is to play a narrow selection of roles and to emphasize the fraternal bonds among the dancers (whether or not they're in fact that close) (lol MySpace).

And above all, you could say that the choreography-centered nature of the show also limits self-expression, since the dancers are performing someone else's work. (Of course, that's the case with a lot of dancers outside of SYTYCD.) Instead, the only consistent avenue they have for self-aggrandizement is their solos, and few of the contestants really have the vocabulary to put the chance to good use, but the show has lately been seeking to diminish their importance on the show (even going so far as to forgo them this year) so that all other instances of the show's entrenched narrative remain central.

So Fik-Shun's virtuosic solo -- popping and gliding to the hyperkinetic Busta Rhymes track -- only goes so far as an individual statement against the institutional pressures that the show represents. But wow, what a statement.

Paul has proved himself to be one of the most athletic guys of this season, as he really gets to show off his stuff with Kathryn in the Jazz.

Credit to NappyTabs for letting Hayley butch it up with Joshua, and of course for Hayley getting her hips down in this. On the choreography side of things, I'd only question Hayley's slow-motion punch-out of Joshua (which sends him into a back somersault) because it looks kind of dorky (though the camera angle collapses everything in an unflattering way), and the weird, dissonant self-KO which is cute but otherwise jars in such a serious routine.

It almost seems that Nigel is convinced this is the last season and so he's going to blow whatever budget he has left by building props or even sets for (nearly) every routine, which is my explanation for why Spencer's routine for Aaron and Melanie is kind of a dud. I mean, it's a Broadway number, if anything is going to get props, this should be it.

Fik-Shun's wearing Latin pants in his Foxtrot with Witney, which is my explanation for the lack of rise and fall (which deflates the feel of the style).

I'd totally forgotten about Jasmine and Neil's contemporary piece, which is odd because I made a mental note about it. As much as I hate to admit it, Neil pulls his weight and maybe even earns his place as an All-Star. Like I mentioned last week, the show strives to avoid explicit reference to things that might disquiet the tweens and plays only upon their sentiment (as well as avoiding one of the most idiotically contentious debates in American policy today), leaving no mention of the likely cause for the sudden upsurge in city-scarring storms. I wonder what the point of this routine is supposed to be, because its nebulousness doesn't exactly call for action or even Gladwell's favorite sort of easy activism -- more likely Tasty has found a niche on the show as the Artist in Residence of Sentiment, churning out vaguely issues-inspired work whose sole aim is to sop up viewer pathos and Emmy nominations.

I can't take seriously any routine that's set to a song about how a banana would walk 500 miles.

Aaron and Jasmine's jazz is almost great.


Anonymous said...

"So Fik-Shun's virtuosic solo -- popping and gliding to the hyperkinetic Busta Rhymes track -- only goes so far as an individual statement against the institutional pressures that the show represents."


Daniel said...

That picture of the NappyTabs baby FTW! HILARIOUS!

I was on the border of loving Tyce's routine for Jasmine and Neil, and then he had to go and do that voice-over himself, and have the most unbelievably self-satisfied look on his face when the piece was over, which only served to remind me just how much I hate his stinkin' guts.

Also, THANK YOU, Jesse Tyler Ferguson for bringing some much-needed, completely open homosexuality to this show! The way that "I have a crush on you!" came out was ridiculously endearing, and Aaron's reaction was very classy. That being said... BACK OFF, QUEEN. Aaron is MINE (his solo was like manna from heaven for this tapper).

I feel you on Aaron and Jasmine's jazz, but for me, her outfit totally pushed it over the top. That thing made her body look AMAZING - especially when standing in between the other two girls at the end.

I'm pretty sure this is the first time the Final Four has been two original couples, which is astounding. And, considering this season, absolutely deserved.

Running with your whole morality/humility thing, I was wondering what your take was on Paul being sent home before the finale. The fact that he won the Armenian version of the show was only brought up once after his audition (and I'm pretty sure it was Nigel who said it), but that seems like exactly the sort of thing that would hold any other competitor back. Paul's charm and smile (his teeth are perfect. I hate him) make up for a lot, but there's been surprisingly little grumbling about the fact that another country's winner made it this far. Natalie Fotopoulos (from the second season) went on to the show in Greece, but as a choreographer. I'm not putting this well, but I feel like there's something just under the surface worth talking about.