Thursday, June 16, 2011

Week One: Top Twenty Performances

I'm trying something new, adding the clips from YouTube of the individual performances. As they're inevitably taken down by Fox for copyright violations, I'll delete them so they're not taking up space. But for now, you can see the performance I'm critiquing and reference the video for specific comments I make. Have fun!

Jordan and Tadd (Afro Jazz by Sean Cheesman)

For the most part, I found myself entertained. This wasn't the choreographer's best work (that will forever be his "princess and the frog" dance from season six). There were some mild flubs, notably the slow turnaround in the awkward inside out moves. And the concept was a bit fuzzy for me; how exactly does one replicate the movement of lava? I didn't really get that from the movement on display, but to each his own. Jordan was clearly the star here, though I found it odd that her strongest moments were in the more "afro" sections than the straight "jazz" ones. Tadd was strong and held his own. A decent opening to the season.

Sasha and Alexander (Contemporary by Travis Wall)

I loved this routine the first time it was danced, when Kayla and Kupono... wait, that was a different piece? Could've fooled me. So we basically get "Gravity" part two, and I'm okay with that. This piece had a number of great moments of its own, I'm not taking that away from it. But the way the concept (a man's conscience manifesting itself in the form of a woman he wronged) was executed was very Mia-esque with many movements directly recalling her earlier work from the aforementioned season five piece. Sasha was very good, 100% committed to both the character and the choreography. Alex, on the other hand, was bland and underwhelming, though still capable. He just didn't match Sasha's intensity, nor did he seem to connect with her on any level. Strange, because that's exactly how I felt about Kupono dancing next to Kayla in "Gravity"

Oh, and the costume department already has an epic failure with the ghastly messes these two were wearing.

Clarice and Jess (Broadway by Tyce Diorio)

Yes, I'm already calling "bullshit." First Sasha and Alexander, both contemporary dancers, get assigned contemporary; and now Jess, the only Broadway dancer this season, gets Broadway. Funny how that works out sometimes. Anyway, I digress. This routine didn't help my opinion of Jess as a tool, since he got to play a ridiculously cheesy character; he didn't seem to have any qualms about overwhelming his partner, which is never a good sign. Your goal isn't to look better than the person dancing with you, it's to look better than the people dancing against you. I'll admit his turns were fantastic though. I have no opinion of Clarice; she was fine. And the choreography was probably the best Broadway-style dancing that Tyce has ever put on that stage, so that's a plus. I just wasn't as wowed as I wanted to be.

For someone who's been on Broadway three times, I expected much more from Jess.

Ryan and Ricky (Hip Hop by Christopher Scott)

I hate this idea that so many choreographers have of hip hop as awkwardly robotic. What's the point of these stiff, bent arms that look like they belong on Rosie from The Jetsons? For one example, go to 0:22 in the clip. Hip hop is so much more than this type of choreography; for proof, go back and watch "Bleeding Love." Having said that, I didn't like this one at all. The choreography was weak, and like the judges I was confused by the emotion (and still am, even after the explanation... try harder to get your point across next time, Christopher). Ryan was clearly more comfortable than Ricky, who doesn't have enough control over his insanely long limbs to make this style work for him.

Caitlynn and Not Mitchell (Jazz by Sonya Tayeh)

Well, we're off to a great start! One performance (not even in competition!) and a dancer is already injured. I found it hard to concentrate on Caitlynn's performance because I just kept thinking of all the different pieces Sonya has choreographed in the past that look exactly like this one. Her work is unlike any other choreographer's on the show, but each individual piece is completely indistinguishable from another. How many times can you choreograph strength, fearlessness, woman power? How many dances have there been by Sonya with her two performers clad in torn leather? I tend to enjoy Sonya's work, but I'm getting bored with the repitition of themes and concepts. There's a reason why choreographers like Mia Michaels and Nappy Tabs are so popular with audiences: they are constantly reinventing themselves and pushing their own boundaries.

Side Note: How exactly is the voting going to work for this? Mitchell is automatically in the bottom three, so is Caitlynn there too? Because you're required to vote for couples, but Caitlynn is going at it solo. Will there potentially be a bottom four?

Miranda and Robert (Jive by Jason Gilkison)

Good Lord, Robert is so annoying. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't love every second of this performance. It was sheer perfection, from the music (and I hate Bruno Mars) to the costuming to the choreography to the characterization to the performances. My only complaint is that I wish they had given Miranda different shoes, because the boots obscured her feet so that they looked like stumps when she was doing the quick flicks. It was so lively and energetic and fun. They both did an excellent job (with some small exceptions for Robert's often-flexed feet), and Miranda has now leapt up to being one of my favorites. This will probably end up being my favorite routine of the night.

Missy and Wadi (Jazz by Sean Cheesman)

In the first 20 seconds, I was in love. In the last 20 seconds, I was in love. Everything in between, I was disappointed. The choreography slowed to a grinding halt, and the performances left the building at that point. There wasn't much of anything "demonic" about either dancer; I feel like when you're working with this kind of concept, the movement should be uglier and grittier. There were a few moments of that, like when Wadi dragged Missy across stage by her leg with nothing but her head and shoulders touching the ground (1:17 above), but they were too few to make this dance work for me. Wadi was also clearly concentrating too hard on the steps, because he had no facial expression throughout. Definitely a bit of a letdown.

Melanie and Marko (Contemporary by Travis Wall)

Can you say "power couple?" While I didn't enjoy the performance as a whole as much as I wanted to, there's no denying how fantastic both Melanie and Marko are. They are brilliant in their own right, but their coming together was something unbelievable. Nevermind how utterly stupid the concept was, once you get past the headscratching, the choreography was really beautiful and the movement was superb. I just wish Travis would have conceived this as something more simple and, um, not ridiculous. Just a personal mental block. But this was definitely one of the best of the night, and it was probably Travis's best showing since his first routine was danced back in season five ("If It Kills Me").

P.S. - Nigel, everytime you think a dance will be nominated for an Emmy, it never is. So stop jinxing them.

Ashley and Chris (Hip Hop by Christopher Scott)

Where are all the choreographers? We've had two routines from Sean Cheesman, two from Travis, and now two from Christopher Scott. Where's Mia? Where's Nappy Tabs? Mandy Moore? Stacey Tookey? Dee Caspary?

But once again I found myself confused by the emotion of the piece again. I'm assuming it was supposed to be campy and cheesy? But I don't exactly see cheating as something funny, so I don't really get it. But the performances rose above the material, even in spite of the poor characterization. Ashley especially impressed me, reminding me a little bit of Comfort only easier to watch and more personable. Chris was good as well, if a bit too broad in his movement at times (see 0:47 above). Overall this was more enjoyable than Christopher Scott's other routine of the night, but still not on a level anywhere near the usual fare from other hip hop choreographers on the show.

Iveta and Nick (Quickstep by Jason Gilkison)

And another repeat choreographer?! There are a dozen ballroom choreographers in rotation on this show!

I hate the quickstep, so I won't have much nice to say. But I will say that Nick is so funny and adorable in interviews and behind the scenes, but he is so generic and mediocre on stage. He plasters a giant smile on his face and attempts to distract from the fact that his feet are awkward (what is it with these tappers and their awkward feet?) and he doesn't really know how to do much. Yes, even in the clip they showed after Nigel raved about Nick's great feet (at 0:23 in the above clip)... if you looked at his feet, they were awkward; he wasn't dancing on his toes, so he looked flat-footed. Iveta was, of course, great. But the whole thing left me cold, as most quicksteps do.

My Bottom Three

Mitchell and Caitlynn
Missy and Wadi
Clarice and Jess

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