Thursday, July 12, 2012

I'M THE KING OF THE WORLD/I'M A FELINE CASANOVA, HEY, MY OH MY: There were 20 dancers on SYTYCD last night, and I have neither the time nor, given the relatively narrow band of quality on an overall top-notch dancing night, the competence to talk about them all. But I did want to assert one thought and one question.

The thought: it occurs to me that this is only secondarily a competition show, and primarily a show about a bunch of choreographers who the show treats as characters. Jason Gilkinson is the ballroom martinet; Sonya Tayeh the charismatic rebel; Mia Michaels the overemotional mom; NappyTabs the back-of-the-class cut-ups who secretly get good grades. Right now the big narrative arc is Travis Wall's Welcome Back, Kotter story, but it's well deserved: Travis Wall's choreography clearly is the star of the show right now. The dancers -- all of whom ranged from pretty good to excellent (aided by an extra week of rehearsal and, in some cases, some pretty big favors from choreographers) -- are kind of secondary to that. This season has an extremely high level of technical competence and charisma, something that really ought to be nice for the choreographers.

The question: how exactly are they going to handle the eliminations? There's no elimination show now. Somebody on the web pointed out that this suggests that people will have to learn a new piece even though they won't be competing. That can't be true, though, because if the eliminations split up pairs, they won't be able to do the dance. My guess is that they will tape an elimination in front of an audience and then reveal it the following week. I guess we'll find out pretty soon.


  1. Nowhereman4:55 PM

    I thought I read somewhere that they would announce the "bottom" dancers at the beginning of the following week's show, then those bottom dancers are up for elimination. They then dance as normal on that weeks show, and they are eliminated at the beginning of the show after that (when the next set of "bottom" dancers is announced), giving the judges an extra routine on which to judge them.

  2. Carmichael Harold5:06 PM

    I think you're right.  I was only half paying attention, but I think this is what Nigel said at the outset of last night's show.

  3. Craig Pearlman5:56 PM

    My understanding is that they'll dance normally and elimiations are at the end of the show. The extra dance does affect the jidges' decision-making, so it's not a total loss. The dancers have to put in all the work either way, so they'll at least be allowed to perform it (given that it could also be a backdoor audition for something, it's good to let them shine).

    But, normally they'll announce the bottom two guys and bottom two girls and they get to do a standard dance for your life and the jidges decide who goes home from that group (one of each). Next week, it's a bottom three since they have a double elimination to make up for shorter shows and being off-air for the Olympics (apparently; so said Cat on Twitter earlier today, IIRC).

  4. Watchman5:57 PM

    Can I just express displeasure and some contempt for the notion of two winners?  Ugh. 

    When everyone's super, no one will be.

  5. isaac_spaceman6:28 PM

    I'm okay with two winners.  Really, the skill sets of the men and women are different, and, unlike a lot of competition shows, the talent pool is deep enough for more than one winner.  Think of how many really great dancers have not won this show -- Danny, Kathryn, Twitch, Pasha, Katee, Kayla, Ade, Mark, etc.  Frankly, competitive ballroom aside, the idea of the kind of dancing they do being competition instead of noncompetitive performance is a little silly; it's just the only way to generate and sustain interest for a television audience accultured to competitive reality shows. 

  6. How I understand it is that the voting last night determined the bottom 6 dancers but they won't find out until next week's show who they are. They will keep their partners and learn new routines for next week. The judges will choose which 4 of the 6 are leaving, at the end of the show, based on those performances, as well as this week's performances. Correct me if I'm wrong.

  7. janet8:50 PM

    As I was watching Travis' choreography this week, I was thinking about how well he understands the kinds of pieces that will grab the judges' and audience's attention on this show. He certainly benefited (season 2) from dancing one of the show's first thematic pieces ( Mia Michaels won an Emmy for the choreography, and it (along with a few other early pieces) set the standard for the kind of tell-me-a-story-in-90-seconds work that continues to get the most impassioned responses from the judges.

    He has probably had a wealth of creative ideas inside all along -- you can't choreograph these kinds of pieces merely by learning the craft of stringing movements together -- but I'm certain he has also really watched the kinds of works other choreographers have created, the responses that they've received, and patterned at least his direction after those who have been most successful. 

    His piece for this week was, typically for him, dramatic and romantic, but it was also very musical, and his dancers had the technical, artistic, and musical abilities to make the work shine!

  8. Patrick10:24 PM

    Well said, Isaac.  The two winner format would've made winners of Melody, Donyelle, Danny, Katee, Brandon, Kathryn, Kent, and Marko, and I don't have a problem saying that all of them are worthy.  Sure there've been some years where we'd have protested that both girls are better than both guys at the end (thinking Melanie/Sasha) or vice versa, but really, what Isaac said about competitive dance being a little silly.

  9. J.O'Connor1:46 AM

    I've had similar thoughts about Travis Wall's choreography but haven't been able to express them nearly so cogently.  One thing I'd add is that, although I think he has perhaps the highest batting average of the choreographers currently on the show (never awful, rarely mediocre, often really good), he has perhaps the narrowest thematic and emotional range.  Not does he make each piece a 90-second story, that story is almost always a romantic duet (or maybe the right term is a pas de deux?).  Sometimes the lovers end up together, like the Titanic piece from last night or the Jason-Jeanine/heart-necklace/Jason Mraz piece from several seasons ago; sometimes they don't, like the Neil-Kent/same-sex/stab-in-the-back piece from two years ago, but it's always a love story.  As far as I recall, he's never stretched to do a piece that was purely comic or abstract.  The closest I think he came was a piece last year involving black feathered costumes, aptly described by guest judge Jessie Tyler Ferguson as "the old story of boy meets vulture, boy loses vulture, boy gets eaten."

  10. janet8:06 AM


    BTW, I forgot to mention that I really liked the office scene group piece that started off the show because it was different from the choreographers' typical approach to using the group: relatively stationary, predominantly postural and gestural, making great use of props and furniture, and set in a familiar environment. These elements combined to make the synchronization (or lack thereof) very apparent and striking. And instead of every person having a tiny moment to do their own tricks, the rare solo features -- especially Dareian's perfectly timed 8 pirouettes in the same number of musical counts -- really stood out against the otherwise unison corps work.

  11. isaac_spaceman11:08 AM

    As always, Janet, thanks for lending us your expertise. 

    Two things about Travis's narrow range:  First, it doesn't bother me, because there are so many other pieces on every episode that you can get the variation elsewhere.  Napoleon and Tabitha will do an alley cat thing, and Tyce will do a Broadway comedy, and Jason will do a paso doble, and somebody will step up and do a piece about a social issue that makes Mary cry, and you don't get romance fatigue.  Second, Travis's wheelhouse is always very flattering to the dancers, and I'm sure they know that, so you never see them fighting the choreography. 

  12. J.O'Connor3:40 PM

    I wouldn't say I'm bothered by Travis's narrow range.  I think I've just bought into the show's choreographers-as-stars narrative you illuminated in the initial post.  Aesthetically, I'd be happy to have him keep on productively tilling his narrow field; as a dramatic narrative, I want him to "grow," even if I suspect I may not like the results as much. 

    It also struck me that Travis may have professional reasons not to want to branch out much beyond his specialty.  Because all his pieces are thematically similar, he's pretty much guaranteed to only be asked to design one piece per episode.  The output of more stylisticly diverse choreographers who get called on to do multiple numbers per show, like NappyTabs or D'Orio, often seems to suffer diminishing returns.  

  13. isaac_spaceman5:27 PM

    I don't think of NappyTabs as stylistically diverse.  They always do the same thing -- something they call "hip hop" but that probably is more accurately described as "pop star backup style," where it's mostly big leg and arm movements (stomps, kicks, punches, little things like turning feet in and out), some squat/lean/assisted-flip stuff, and occasional real hip-hop elements (mostly a few seconds of popping or some b-boy spin/freeze combos) if the dancers can handle them. 

    And it's always a hyper-literal story, like "this dance is about a good girl who is in love with a bad boy who is an alcoholic, and it makes him homeless, so she brings him home, but there is a rabid bat at her house, so they have to beat it down with a broom, and then they break the broom, and they are unable to sweep the house, and there is a ton of dust, and the boy is asthmatic, so he dies, and the girl has to bury him, and she is sad."  And then the dance features the most obvious props possible for everything I just mentioned -- leather jacket, bottle in a paper bag, prop bat, broom, glitter dust -- and also high-tops, because high-tops are the way that NappyTabs tell you that it's hip hop, and whatever Tabitha told you the dance is about is literally what the dancers do.