Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Favorite Routines, Continued Again

4. This Woman's Work (AKA "The Cancer Dance")
Choreographed by Tyce Diorio
Performed by Melissa and Ade (Season 5)

A disclaimer: I'm not a fan of Tyce, Melissa or Ade. So that should go to show the power of this piece. This routine would not have been possible with a dancer less mature than Melissa, or less strong than Ade, or without Tyce's life experience. It was the perfect melding of artists. Not only is the topic of breast cancer obviously very relevant (and unexplored in dance, as far as I know), but the personal side and the dealing with the disease are rarely talked about. I can't heap enough praise on Melissa here, whom I'd hoped would be voted off the week before. Her performance is breathtaking, aching; she portrays a euphoric balance of hope and hurt. She shows weakness but strength, terror but faith; she is so beautiful to behold, dancing a wonderfully realized routine. And Ade portrays the "male" side of a broken relationship. Put yourself in the situation which he brings to life: your lover has been diagnosed with cancer, and not only do you not know if she will survive but there is little you can do to ease her pain. Beautiful. And that final image of Ade lifting Melissa onto his shoulders as she reaches into the distance is heartbreaking; we cannot go through something like that alone, and it's ultimately the relationships we forge which will bring us through the tough times.

3. Bleeding Love
Choreographed by Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo
Performed by Chelsie and Mark (Season 4)

Chelsie should have won season 4. She's a ballroom dancer who displayed the widest range of ability that season, and my love affair with her and Mark began with this NappyTabs piece. I love the originality the choreographers first displayed here, which (if you recall) is the first time anyone used the term "lyrical hip hop." They basically invented a new genre, or at the very least demonstrated that hip hop can be more than just sharp movements or fun routines. It can tell a story, even one that we generally wouldn't associate with the typical grittiness of hip hop: a suit loves his job more than his girlfriend/wife, and she wants more of his attention. That's a far cry from the days of Naughty By Nature or even from the other hip hop routine in my top ten (having sex with a mannequin!). And NappyTabs couldn't have hoped for a better duo than Chelsie and Mark, who poured their souls into this routine. When Mark steals her heart and she freaks out, I can't help but be amazed; it's one of my favorite moments in the history of the show. I remember the first time I saw this dance, I had been unimpressed with the night's performances. When this finished, my head was nearly on backwards and I immediately texted a friend with, "What just happened? That was kind of unbelievable." I still get that feeling years later.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

My Favorite Routines, Part 3

6. Gravity (AKA "Addiction")
Choreographed by Mia Michaels
Performed by Kayla and Kupono (Season 5)

I love what Mia has done here. By anthropromorphizing the "drug," whether it be a chemical or something emotional, as a dangerous and violent person, she has made the "disease" of addiction real and relatable. We all have something that we fall back on which we know is bad for us: drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, ex-lovers, food, anything potentially destructive. Mia shows us here that it is something we struggle with everyday and can overcome if we really want to break free. But that addiction will always be lurking in the darkness, waiting for the next moment of weakness to lull us back into a temporary state of forgetting or false comfort. Kayla is perfect in the role of the addict, her best showing all season. Kupono is also at his strongest, and as much as I love his overall performance (especially his beyond-creepy leer at the very end), I wish he were just a bit more masculine and controlling. That's the only reason this routine isn't ranked higher for me, though I know many who consider this their favorite dance in the show's history. For me, it's definitely unforgettable as well.

5. Tore My Heart
Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh
Performed by Jakob and Ellenore (Season 6)

I'll say it now: I think Jakob is the best dancer to ever appear on the show. He is so technically brilliant and so radiant on stage. He's a natural-born dancer, and I love him. This number, with Ellenore, was his best showing of the season and probably Sonya's best showing overall. It's very violent, both quietly and outwardly; like the addiction piece above, it has something very real to say about abusive relationships, but it's still also just about the very basic "want what you can't have." I love that Sonya played with genres as well, as if the two were about to dance a tango that went horribly wrong. Jakob is so powerful, as is Ellenore in her own right; perhaps she isn't as dominant as Jakob, but her character isn't supposed to be. She plays the part wonderfully while still establishing her own technicality and beauty as a dancer. Her moment of being "stuck," and then melting away is pure magic. And seriously, this entire routine is so sensual and tense and just exploding with eroticism... I love it. Jakob's hips are amazing. And his final pose makes me quiver. And Jesus, those extensions.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Favorite Routines, Continued

8. In the Morning (AKA "Mannequin")
Choreographed by Dave Scott
Performed by Lacey and Pasha (Season 3)

I realize that so far every single entry has been from season 3, but I can't help it; the third and fifth seasons were brilliant, in my eyes. Tis hip hop routine by Dave Scott is not only my favorite from that particular season, but it's also one of the funniest and most energetic to ever be on the show. For me, every male ballroom dancer doing hip hop will have to measure up to Pasha's performance here. Is it flawless? Absolutely not. But he is clearly having fun, and even when he messes up he just keeps going with that same immense energy. It's one of the best overall performances he ever gave. Lacey is so sharp and perfect for the character Dave Scott created for her. And this is probably also one of the more difficult hip hop routines to be featured on the show, and it was danced by two people whose primary training is in some other genre. It's impressive, to say the least. But I dare you to watch this and not smile.

7. True Romance (AKA "Willy Wonka")
Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh
Performed by Evan, Ade and Brandon (Season 5)

Everytime I watch these three men perform this dance, I get chills. Sonya's choreography is fresh, quirky, joyful, and surprising. Aside from the fact that they all dance their little hearts out, the difficulty of this routine needs to be taken into consideration. They do synchronized standing back tucks, for crying out loud. It's insanity. To see three men throwing each other around that stage like dolls (or, in this case, Ooompa Loompas) is so shocking but seems so natural also... because they're just so damn good. This is easily one of the most successful group numbers in the show's history, for me. The dancers are engaging, the choreography is jaw-dropping at times. It's pretty close to perfection.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Favorite SYTYCD Routines

I love looking back every summer and remembering my favorite routines from seasons past. I like to see how the current dancers compare to those who have competed before, how choreographers have grown (or regressed), and how lasting an impression some of these people can leave.

10. Sweet Dreams (AKA "The Board Room" and "The Table")
Choreographed by Mandy Moore
Performed by Neil and Sabra (Season 3)

The tension between these two dancers is palpable. For me, this was the moment Sabra won the competition. Her strength, both as a dancer and as a powerful female figure, is gorgeous. Neil's technique and performance are flawless. This was the first of the "office fantasy" routines (of which we've seen many since this was performed), and it was hands-down the best. Mandy Moore was nominated for an Emmy for this routine, and rightfully so: this is without a doubt one of the strongest jazz routines ever done for the show.

9. Dancing
Choreographed by Mia Michaels
Performed by Lacey and Kameron (Season 3)

Aside from this dance exposing the world to a beautiful song, this is one of the saddest but at the same time most joyful routines I've ever seen. Lacey was my favorite of this season, and she got off to an amazing start with this being her first routine on the show. She is a part of every moment of this dance, from the limp beginning all the way through to the mirror-image ending. Her leap into Kameron's arms (well, his shoulders) was surprising and gorgeous. This is one of Mia's less-appreciated routines, and I can't figure out why. Every second is heartbreaking but beautiful.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Top Ten Elimination Performances

Top Ten Group Performance (Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh)
This was everything a group performance should be. It featured the strongest dancers in the style (jazz), but didn't make those who were weaker stick out like sore thumbs... unlike last week's group number. Sonya's choreography was dangerous, sexy, provacative, and strong. Is it just me or does the stage seem really crowded, even though there's only 10 dancers? It's very strange, but this one managed to rise above; very enjoyable.

The Bottom Three: Cristina, Melinda, Robert
I don't agree with Cristina and Melinda being in the bottom, but I'm also not surprised. Voters are stupid, plain and simple. They vote for cute boys with nice smiles and fun personalities. It's "America's Favorite Dancer," not "Best Dancer." So Cristina gets the boot, even after a decent solo. I'm shocked that Nigel wanted to get rid of Melinda, but at the same time it just goes to show how much of a douche he is; he blamed Melinda's being in the bottom as "people not connecting with her." I'm assuming he came to this conclusion because she danced well and shouldn't have been there this week... but the same thing happened to Cristina, and he voted to keep her on the show and send Melinda home. Clearly he has some biases. Perhaps he found Cristina more attractive than Melinda. Who knows, I just don't like him. Melinda's solo was fun, moreso than the other two; Robert's looked desperate, and if I were the judges I would've eliminated him. There just wasn't enough spark or technique or fun in his solo. It was boring. But instead Cristina goes home, and we're left with only 3 girls: Melinda (who'll probably be gone next week at this rate), Ashley (whom I can't stand), and Lauren.

The Guest Dancers: RemoteKontrol
I love that this guy is back, because he does something so unique. But this was by far his weakest performance, as it was all about his new crew. The other two dancers were far more impressive (those bends! HOLY SHIT!). And I don't understand this obsession with dance crews wearing ugly, dollar-store masks. What's the point? It made them look like dancing C-3POs. But they had fun, and I had fun watching. Not much to say really.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Week Two: Top Ten Performances

Cristina and Pasha (Paso Doble by Jean-Marc Generoux)
I think this one started realtively sloppily (check out Cristina's feet when she dives into Pasha's arms for the first time). I'm not a fan of the paso doble (like, at all), and this didn't do anything to make me like it more; in fact, it may have done just the opposite since it didn't feature the one thing I've come to enjoy about the dance: anger. The anger of the paso doble, and the level to which it is expressed, is the one thing I can appreciate in a routine that doesn't generally tell a story or allow much personality to be shown (see Brandon and Jeanine's duet from the final night of competition in season 5). So I can't say I was a fan of this particular paso doble or of Cristina dancing it. I also think the judges overreacted horribly to how good this one was; I didn't find it all that special.

On a separate note, why are the all stars now facing the judges as well? I think allowing them to have a say takes away from the fact that we're supposed to be voting for a newcomer, not a personable familiar face.

Adechike and Allison (Contemporary by Mandy Moore)
Yet another beautiful routine from Mandy Moore, but once again Adechike wasn't completely in it. He vastly improved over last week's embarassing turn, but he didn't seem to lose himself in the feeling of the piece. Compared to Allison, who was completely inside the music and the material, he looked downright stoic. Because of that, there was a disconnect between them. Technically, this looked great though. I agree with what Nigel said in that Adechike only looked "emotional" when he wasn't thinking about what step was coming next; but in preparing for the next big movement, he often let his face drop into blankness.

Alex and Lauren (Broadway by Tyce Diorio)
Tyce, thankfully, gave this couple a little more to work with in terms of chemistry; they at least got to touch each other. But he seems to put his dancers in a totally different space from the other couples; his two Broadway routines this season haven't really been "partnered," so there isn't much connection between them. Here, Alex and Lauren were often dancing completely different styles. Alex was often in the background doing tour jettes and other technical elements (which is when he was at his best), while Lauren was sexing it up in the front. I agree with the judges that Alex just didn't have enough style for this genre, especially considering it wasn't traditionally showy Broadway but Fosse; Alex is great when he's outwardly expressive (see his jumps in this number), but weak when internalizing.

Ashley and Mark (Jazz by Travis Wall)
I'm a much bigger fan of this piece than Travis's piece last week... probably because, like the judges said, it was more contemporary than jazz, an area in which Travis excels. I don't have much to say about Ashley (or even Mark), except that I didn't understand the motivation behind her dancing; the introduction made it seem like this should've been an aching routine for her, but she smiled throughout. Are you happy to be breaking up with Mark? It was very lift-heavy and didn't give Ashley much of a chance to just dance, but the choreography was good enough to get her through without much thought anyway.

Billy and Comfort (Krump by Li'l C)
I agree that Billy was too sweet to be taken totally seriously here. His inherent charm and goodness comes through no matter what, but I love that he immersed himself in the style anyway. Some of the other dancers could learn something from that ethic. And for the first time, I liked Comfort! What I didn't like, however, was how easily and rudely the judges dismissed Billy's wholehearted attempt here. It obviously was not perfect, but it was at least as good as Kherington's attempt at krump two years ago (for which she was praised). However, the judges refused to look past the dancer and just judge the performance; they didn't see a contemporary dancer attempting krump, they saw Billy Bell attempting krump and couldn't let go of their notions of how he should be dancing. It's frustrating, especially considering how forgiving they were of other dancers tonight. Robert is praised by Nigel for doing Latin dance so well for a contemporary dancer; Jose is praised for bringing an element of joy to Bollywood even though he danced it horribly. The judges can see these two dancers objectively but only see "Billy Bell" doing krump. Craziness.

Robert and Anya (Argentine Tango by Jean-Marc Generoux)
This wasn't as terrible as it could have been, but it was pretty awkward at times: Robert frequently looked like he had lost his place (he had "unsure feet" often), and his quick footwork didn't seem quick enough. It didn't help that Anyay (once again) completely outshined him. I think Nigel truly overreacted again, and I would tend to side more with Mia here: Anya ate him alive, when it should've been the other way around. He was just too weak next to her to be convincing. Having said that, I'd like to tell Anya to SHUT UP, saying "I wouldn't look this good without him." Yes, you would; you always look good, no matter who your partner is.

Melinda and Ade (Contemporary by Stacey Tookey)
This was a beautiful concept, and it was executed wonderfully. There was no trace of the awkward-legged Melinda of last week (Seriously, how were her legs perfect this week when they were so ugly last week? Is Jive really that hard?). She earns the most-improved award from me this week. On the other hand, the wardrobe department commits Epic Costume Fail #2 with this one: a green dress with silk, craft-store flowers sewn limply onto it, flopping helplessly with each movement.

Jose and Kathryn (Bollywood by Nakul Dev Mahajan)
I'll agree with one thing the judges felt: this was a noble attempt. But it failed horribly. Not only was Jose's technique abhorrent, but he was always a half-beat behind the music. And he knew it. He knew this was going to be a shitshow, so he tried to make up for it by cheesing the entire time. And the judges bought it. Ugh.

Lauren and Dominic (Lyrical Hip Hop by Tessandra Chavez)
So I was less-than-enthused with Tessandra's group routine last week, but this one blew me away. It was pure perfection for me. Lauren was so in it (Adechike, pay attention), and her hip hop technique left little to be desired. Powerful, emotional, hard-hitting, relevant, beautiful. My absolute, hands-down favorite piece of the night. This routine felt not only like a great routine but like an accomplishment; afterward I felt much the same way I did after seeing Tyce's "Cancer Dance," Mia's "Time," and Wade's "Hummingbird and Flower:" ecstatic but winded, like a happy punch in the gut. Bravo.

Kent and Courtney (Jazz by Tyce Diorio)
I didn't get the theme Tyce was going for here ("want what you can't have"); it just looked uncomfortable. That probably had something to do with the fact that Kent still hasn't learned to hide his own discomfort, so that is projected onto the audience. And because of it, every step looked too tentative, as if he had to brace himself for what was coming next. Once again, I agree with Mia: Courtney was devouring Kent alive on that stage when he should have been the dominant dancer. Oh, and here's Epic Costume Fail 3: Kent's gay leather fetish wear. Huh?

My Bottom Three:


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Top Eleven Elimination Performances

Top Eleven Group Performance (Choreographed by Tessandra Chavez)
- I just didn't understand this routine at all. It looked weird, there were awkward solos (what the hell was that random break with Melinda doing body rolls and then tapping barefoot?), and it really didn't showcase anyone very well. It just made everyone look manic. There were some good moments, such as the final few moments as a group (right after Melinda's weirdness), but overall I thought this was a mess.

The Bottom Three: Alexie, Melinda, Cristina

While I can't completely disagree with these three, I don't think Cristina should have been there; Adechike should've taken that spot, but I can see why viewers may have been underwhelmed by her. That being said, none of these girls deserved to stay after those solos. All were boring, all lacked passion, all could've been the eliminated dancer. I would have persoannly sent Melinda home over Alexie, but I was fine with any of the bottom three leaving. They were simply unimpressive with their solos, and both Melinda and Alexie were unimpressive in their performances the previous evening.

The Guest Dancers: Cast of Come Fly Away

I loved this show when I saw it on Broadway earlier this month, but I don't understand why the producers keep putting this particular segment on television broadcasts (as it was also the number performed at last week's Tony Awards). Karine Plantadit was nominated for a Tony for her performance, so I understand wanting to feature her.. but she has some tremendous moments in the show, including ones that involve more than one other cast member and feature more varied choreography. But she is a force of nature, and I'm glad this show is getting out there to a broad audience. And I'd rather see something like this, a show that people can actually go buy tickets to see, featured instead of random "speciality" dancers, as good as they may be. It really promotes dance outside of the series, not just shows the audience what the dancers on the show have to work to become.

And Alexie goes home... oh, well. At least she got her shot and can stop auditioning year after year.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Week One: Top Eleven Performances

Billy and Lauren (Broadway by Tyce Diorio)

I thought this was a great, cute, fun routine. I never would've known Billy was out of his element with Tyce's choreography, as he never let on that he was at all uncomfortable. I wish Tyce would have given him more interaction with Lauren, as this didn't really feel like it was a duet; there was no reason for her to be there. For me, that explains why there wasn't much chemistry or connection.

Oh, also... I'd like to officially start the campaign for Billy Bell to play Ren McCormick in the Footloose remake since Chase Crawford and Zac Efron have both dropped out.

Cristina and Mark (Jazz by Sonya Tayeh)

This was not one of Sonya's better routines. The inspiration of the snake didn't really come through for me, except in the overt instance when Mark wrapped Cristina around his neck. Overkill, for sure. But Cristina was very impressive, especially considering her genre is salsa. As Mia said, many of her technical elements were nearly flawless. It just wasn't all that exciting of a routine for her, though it was wonderful seeing Mark dancing another piece created by Sonya; those two were meant to work together. The wardrobe department also committed its first sin this season in dressing Cristina in a bizarre brown bodysuit that I'm sure they were intending to look like snakeskin, but it just looked puzzling.

Jose and Comfort (Hip Hop by Tabitha & Napoleon D'umo)

Like the previous number, this one was built around an idea that wasn't really strong enough. It came off as cheesy when choreographed, especially seeing Jose howl at the moon. Sometimes these choreographers need to realize that dance can explore a theme without you having to put such obvious images into it. Anyway, I still don't like Comfort even though she has a great personality on stage. Jose's breaking was boring, and I know he can do much better; that was B-Boy 101. But it says wonders about the quality of dancers and choreography when all Mia really cared to comment on was the fact that she couldn't figure out if Jose was wearing a weave or if that ugly fake hair was part of his costume.

Adechike and Kathryn (Jazz by Travis Wall)

This was easily Travis's worst showing as a choreographer. The idea was cliche (An office fantasy? It was done just last season as a hip-hop routine, plus it's pretty similar to the boardroom routine by Mandy Moore in season three), and the dancing was rather weak. Adechike was completely unremarkable in every way. He had no personality whatsoever, and though Kathryn was clearly trying harder than he was... there still wasn't much there. It reminded me of a dance recital piece: all technical, devoid of emotion. It looked especially weak in a night full of jazz and contemporary pieces.

Melinda and Pasha (Jive by Tony Meredith & Melanie LaPatin)

Jives are hardly ever my favorite routines, and this was no exception. Pasha was fun to watch, as it was clear he was letting go and revelling in the cheesy campiness of it all. Melinda showed signs of that at times, but overall she was stiff and awkward. It look as if her feet and her legs were two completely separate entities; like, she's been tapping for so long that she forgot how to use her legs and only knows how to move her feet. It made the kicks look really ugly. Definitely one of the weakest of the evening.

Alex and Allison (Contemporary by Sonya Tayeh)

And Sonya makes up for any shortcomings in her previous outing of the night with a truly wonderful routine featuring two wonderful dancers. While I think the judges overreacted (I definitely wouldn't call it "the best thing ever danced on any SYTYCD stage anywhere" as Mia did), it was beautiful. The emotion was real, the technique was flawless. This is one example where I think the pairing of a newcomer and a veteran SYTYCD member worked well; Allison clearly pulled something out of Alex. He was more connected to this material than we've seen from him before (in solos, last week's intro episode, etc). Overall, a memorable performance, probably the best of the night.

Alexie and Twitch (Hip Hop by Tabita & Napoleon D'umo)

NappyTabs has failed to impress me for a while; I feel like they peaked with "Bleeding Love" and will never get back to that point. "Mad" was close, but they haven't grabbed me lately. This routine was cute, but nothing more. Boring. Twitch still has not learned not to upstage his partners, and that annoys the hell out of me. But Alexie didn't give him much choice here, since she brought no excitement to an already pretty dull routine. Yawn.

Lauren and Ade (Pop Jazz by Mandy Moore)

I love Mandy Moore. I love that she takes bad 80s songs and makes great routines out of them, centered on moments rather than on storytelling. This one was very well dance, though I don't know why Lauren is suddenly hiding her sexuality. Her first audition found her rolling around on stage, but now the sex appeal is missing. But she was still interesting to watch and brought a lot of happiness and energy to the evening.

Now, an open request to Nigel Lythgoe: GET OVER YOUR MASCULINITY ISSUES. Why must every critique include a sports reference? We get it: you're straight, even though you love dance. Stop rubbing it in our faces as if you need to qualify your heterosexuality.

Kent and Anya (Cha Cha by Tony Meredith & Melanie LaPatin)

I don't have much to say about this one, except that Kent was clearly outside of his comfort zone but didn't do a very good job of hiding it. He was all about cheese, while Anya was all about sex. It was confusing, since I didn't know if this was supposed to be like a drunken dance at a wedding or an intense show of hypersexuality. Something small I've noticed about Kent is that he has very awkward hands, like he doesn't ever know what to do with them. But he'll go far based on the fact that he's outgoing and always adorably flustered.

Ashley and Neil (Contemporary by Tyce Diorio)

I'm annoyed by Ashley. She's the one they never show you during auditions so you have no idea why she's on the show, and now that they're focusing on her... I realize why she was left out previously: she's boring. You get to tell America one interesting thing about you, and you choose to do a robot voice? Ugh. She's a great dancer, but my annoyance coupled with the fact that she didn't seem to connect to Neil or the material made for an unmemorable routine. Plus, this paled in comparison to the night's other contemporary routine.

Robert and Courtney (African Jazz by Sean Cheesman)

I love AfroJazz, and I loved this routine. I thought both dancers did very well, even though Robert was dancing a little too "pretty" for such an earthy and wild genre. Courtney understood the genre better, but I was surprised to like Robert as much as I did. His core is fantastic (check out his torso as he twists... it's perfect), and I can see him doing great things.

My Bottom Three:

1. Melinda
2. Adechike
3. Alexie