Thursday, August 11, 2011

Week Nine: Top Four Performances

This was one of the worst episodes I can recall of the entire series. The guest judges were uninspired and completely useless, and the performances were mind-numbingly boring. So let's get to the final cutting of the season.

Melanie and Marko (Disco by Doriana Sanchez)

Why did it take the entire season to finally get a disco thrown into the mix? The disco routines are usually audience favorites (including mine), and they're difficult on top of it so it shows how committed and versatile many of the dancers truly are. Disco performances have highlighted some of the best attributes in dancers (Brandon and Janette in season five, etc.) and sometimes also the worst (Nathan in season six, etc.). I think this performance falls into the latter, unfortunately. Melanie danced as if she were bloated, like she'd just scarfed down a chili cheeseburger backstage right before going on. She looked weighed down, turning in one of her weakest performances of the season. She and Marko just couldn't muster the necessary energy, and it showed particularly in the lifts. And those lifts! They should've been so much more impressive, but Marko was moving too slowly and couldn't get Melanie all the height the lift required. And the awkwardly midtempo music didn't help matters either.

Sasha and Mark (Jazz by Sonya Tayeh)

I sincerely hope this is Sonya's last season as a choreographer. Her choreography is so repetitive and (now) unimpressive, because we know exactly what to expect: woman power, female domination, underutilized male dancers, dramatic pauses, heavy twitches, and slinky floorwork. It all looks and feels the same. This routine could've been danced by any two dancers at any point in the last three seasons. It's great to have a unique style (which Sonya does, as you can immediately recognize her work), but when she presents nearly identical pieces nearly every week, it gets old. I didn't care for this piece for that exact reason: Sasha has played this part half a dozen times already this season, and so have the other female dancers. Boring.

Tadd and Joshua (Hip Hop by Lil' C)

I've never cared for Lil' C's style of hip hop, which is very grounded and "filthy," as the judges would say. For some reason I see arrogance in his choreography, from the opening moments where Joshua and Tadd slapped hands before actually dancing. It comes across like they're about to do something unbelievable, and the choreography didn't live up to that impression (and neither did the performances). It felt repetitive, like they were only doing five motions but in a different order each time. The floorwork was really good, but the rest of the routine was forgettable. I didn't buy Tadd as a "hustler."

Melanie and Robert (Contemporary by Stacey Tookey)

I'm so sick of seeing Melanie dance contemporary. She's brilliant at it, but enough already. This is her third or fourth contemporary performance of the season; I can't recall that happening in any other season where a dancer gets his or her own style so often. I get that the choreographers want to work with certain dancers, but it feels like cheating. And the same goes for Sasha, who seemingly dances jazz and/or contemporary every single week. Having said that, I can't even admit to being a fan of the concept or choreography this time around. Yes, Melanie danced beautifully. But we all knew she would. She's a wonderful actress; no one else this season (or in many recent seasons, either) has brought emotion to life the way she has. But I want to see more. I want choreography that blows my mind, concepts that make me cry. As with Sonya, Stacey has choreographed a routine nearly identical to ones she's done previously (this one used the same concept and ending as "Jar of Hearts" from last season and "The Lonely" from this season). I'm so utterly bored with seeing the same type of routine being danced week in and week out.

P.S. - Let it be known that I said out loud that Melanie would make a great Baby in the Dirty Dancing remake about two minutes before Kenny Ortega and Cat Deeley did. Just sayin'.

Sasha and Marko (Broadway by Spencer Liff)

I loved the choreography Spencer Liff gave these two, but something didn't gel with me. It could've been Marko's over-the-top comedy (seriously, he was channeling Jess), or it could've been Sasha's lack of elegance. Or both. From the beginning when Marko placed the napkin in Sasha's lap and she sat with her legs open, I didn't get coy or playful... I got vulgar. At that exact moment it bothered me immensely that Sahsa could not channel even the slightest bit of regality and elegant control that was ever-present in Gwen Verdon, Cyd Charisse, Chita Rivera, Ann Reinkin, and Bebe Neuwirth (all undoubtedly inspirations for this piece). She came across as very flat and unappealing in this style. Marko bothered me less, so though I would have liked a little less hamming and a little more dancing.

Sasha and Tadd (Cha Cha by Mark Ballas)

First of all, it was so exciting to see Mark Ballas choreograph on this show. I've wondered often what he would do with his choreography if he wasn't being held back by a beginner partner as he is on Dancing with the Stars. I wasn't too impressed with what he came up with, but the choreography wasn't helped by the performances at all. Tadd was just terrible; he looked terrified, and at times you could tell he just wasn't even doing the choreography given to him. Sasha's legs and feet were insanely awkward (seriously, she was just as awkward as Melinda was doing ballroom last season... remember that trainwreck?), and she seemed to constantly slow everything down during her arm extensions. Neither of them had quick enough hip movements, and neither of them seemed to want to be dancing with the other. If this routine had come up two or three weeks ago, I think Tadd would have easily been eliminated and the judges' opinions of Sasha would have suffered.

P.S. - Kenny Ortega and Katie Holmes are the most useless guest judges this show has ever had.

Marko and Lauren (Contemporary by Tessandra Chavez)

Now that's what I'm talking about. This is the kind of choreography and performance I expect from the finale. There was some excellent choreography here and some wrenching acting (especially from Lauren, who just proved again why she deserved to win last summer) from the dancers. The repeated lifts were stunning and flawlessly executed, and the moment where they broke apart and leapt backwards praying was amazing. The amorphous soundtrack was an inspired choice as well. This is how you feel dance. This is how you bring emotion to life.

Melanie and Tadd (Jazz by Ray Leeper)

Ok, for starters: how ridiculous was it to watch Melanie dancing in only one freaking shoe? I was so distracted by it that I didn't see a single moment of the first thirty seconds. Judging by how lame the rest of the choreography was, I'm guessing I didn't miss much. Let's break it down. I know that whenever I'm fighting with someone, my first instinct is to rip his shirt off. It makes perfect sense to tear off your boyfriend's clothes after you just caught him cheating. I'd definitely strip him down before kicking him out of the house. No wait, I'd rip his conveniently-easy-to-remove pants off too. Because when I'm angry, I want people to be naked.

Ridiculous concept, awful choreography, cheesy performances. Sorry, I'm not as forgiving as these judges. I don't see something silly and stupid without any actual dancing as a great way to finish the season. If this were week one, maybe it would've been at least cute and a good way to establish two dancers' persoanlities. But with 250 grand on the line, it was absolutely annoying.

Melanie and Sasha (Contemporary by Stacey Tookey)

This might have been the worst storytelling all season. Having Stacey Tookey explain her concept and then seeing how it was executed... what the fuck? Apparently Melanie and Sasha were neighboring housewives in the 1950s, confined to unhappy lives who find the strength in each other to break free. Except none of that came across. At all. The time period was totally lost (you couldn't style this in any way to resemble the 50s?), the story didn't come across, and there was no resolution. They looked like two schoolgirls frolicking in their adjoining backyards; I got no sense of desperation or confinement, nor any real sense of sadness. And they never broke free, either, since both dancers returned to the same positions in which they started. I got more of a sense of lesbian longing (especially from Sasha's intense stare at Melanie at the end) than anything else. And the movement itself was totally basic, nothing showy or memorable to be found.

Marko and Tadd (Gumboot Stepping by Chuck Maldonado)

I was hoping the season would end with a bang considering how intense and fast stepping usually is. But this was a total snooze. I don't know if it was the stupid boots they were wearing or exhaustion or what, but both Tadd and Marko were dancing like they had just taken an Ambien. They had no energy, and they moved like their shoes were filled with rocks. Tadd was actually slightly better, but that's really not saying much. The setup was reminiscent, in a bad way, of last week's janitor routine, and the actual performance was jus totally lacking excitement.

My Pick for the Win: Melanie

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