SYTYCD: Season 8, part 2

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As I dream of grand jetés, head spins, off center turns, and quirky wiggles to the floor, another week has quickly passed and I need to tune in to my favorite show. I realized this last night as I was wrestling my two-year-old Viking Princess to the floor to brush her teeth while simultaneously trying to convince Lady H she needed to put on her pajamas before she lost her privileges for the evening. Thank goodness for DVRs, because by the time I had my elfin spawn nestled into bed I had already missed a half an hour of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). Take a deep breath, detox, sweat it out.

This was another week of preliminary auditions. This time they travelled to Salt Lake City, New York City (my old stomping grounds), and Los Angeles.
But before we get on the televisual airplane we have to chat about today’s dancer. When I was getting my undergraduate degree at the University of N.C. at Greensboro, dancers really became seasoned at the college level. You would enter academia with Dolly Dinkle experience and four years later be fine tuned enough to try and audition for professional work, the operative word being “try.” In most cases, college was a dancer’s first foray into the wonderful world of Modern dance. I was luckier than most; I have vivid memories of Mummenschanz from my Sesame Street days. You remember, those guys dressed in black, pulling toilet paper from their faces and carving expressions out of soft clay masks. I saw my first modern dance company live in Minneapolis when I was ten, complete with my first glimpse of a bare male bottom. I fell in love with the modern genre at age 15 and joined a small local company. I was hooked. So when I got to college my love affair was in full swing. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing education, and I grew leaps and bounds, but I already had base going in.

This is not the case now and I think SYTYCD has played a huge part in this trend. Kids are starting younger, more importantly boys are being allowed to dance earlier. Boys in my day didn’t enter the studio until they had a little distance from their parents at the age of 18 or 19. That’s a very different experience than girls have; most little girls get put into studio dance class (tap, jazz and ballet) at least for a short time. But now all kids in dance are getting exposed to other forms and better technique. In urban areas street dance is flourishing and kids feel like it’s okay to practice their craft. It’s macho and cool. If I could do it again, I’d be a B-girl.

Another big change from my younger dance days is that today the level of technique exhibited at 18 is outstanding. I truly believe it is because for the last eight years America has been exposed to the brilliance of Mia Michaels, Wade Robson and other good choreographers through SYTYCD. In my opinion, we get to see just as much junky work as good, but the range is there for the audience to judge. I must mention Emmy award winning choreographer Michaels is no longer with the show and her presence is truly missed.

Okay, on with this week’s shows. They started off in Salt Lake City at the Capitol Theater where many of the show’s successful contestants came from, including season three’s winner, Sabra Johnson. Mary Murphy and Nigel Lithgow were joined by guest judge Robin Antin, the creator of the Pussy Cat Dolls. She was so impressed with the dancing that she started asking if the dancers could sing, putting her own agenda in play a bit.

Micah Clark and Devon McCullough started the evening with a stepping audition. It was a lot of fun and they were sent to the choreography round. I love it when people come in with partners because about 78% of the show is based around the contestants dancing with each other. Next we had the fiery Chyna Lee Smith followed by the spicy Annie Gratton, whose dad was also a dancer came up on stage to dance with her for the first time ever. He kind of stole the spotlight. Then B-boy artist Tadd Gadduang took it away with stylized break dancing. What I loved about him was that he used accordion and piano music for his piece and had the musical sensibility of a more traditional dancer. For me contrast is an essential element. Of course, all went straight through to Vegas.

The one thing I look forward to in shows like SYTYCD and American Idol is seeing the funny little disasters on stage. The horrible movers who have so much passion they are completely deluded about their actual abilities. I like to see the nervous, the uncomfortable, the sheltered and the just plain bad. The creators aren’t giving us much of this in 2011. All we are being shown are the very talented and the sad, but not the funny. Case in point, Samantha Miller suffered amnesia three weeks before the taping. She did fine, not great, and was sent to the choreography round. Nigel did appear to be aiming for silly fun when he made insensitive jokes about her not remembering things, which she responded to sweetly.

However, we did get to meet Brittany Star, who claimed to be the daughter of the real Ringo Star. The show followed her to her home to meet the kooky old guy and he was decked out in his Sgt. Pepper regalia. Brittany Starr also said that everyone has a twin in the universe and she thinks hers is Lady Gaga. She definitely looked and danced more like Ringo.

Off to New York City, this time Mary and Nigel were joined by the director and choreographer of Burn the Floor, Jason Gilkinson. New York started off with whacking expert Samara “Princess Lockaroo” Cohen. She was one of my favorites this week. Cohen is gorgeous and looks like a Ninja who moonlights as a Dominatrix. She rotated her arms around her body super fast, like a helicopter propeller, to the melody of “Flight of the Bumblebee.” Although she wasn’t a technical dancer, she was an amazing performer. I fear for her in Vegas. But you can tell she is tough and if she spends 10 hours a day in a studio doing the Cliff’s Notes of basic dance technique, she might pull through. If she does, she will be exciting to watch. I am keeping my fingers crossed for Princess Lockaroo.

We also had street krumper Brian Henry, who said Brooklyn was taking the dance form back from the main stream. Although he ruffled the judges feathers a bit by being disrespectful of long time contributor ‘Lil C and season six winner Russell Ferguson, the boy could dance.

New York really had it all. We got to see everything from whacking to contemporary to krump to Irish step dancing. Not to mention hip hop and musical theater. New Yorkers are intense, passionate and are willing to fight for what they want. It was no surprise that they were all very good and inspiringly entertaining.

Last stop this week was Los Angeles. Celebrity choreographer Tyce Diorio joined the panel of judges. “Naughty, Naughty, Naughty girl,” said Tyce to the first contestant, Jordan Casanova, who was all good technique, legs and sex.

Derion “D.C.” Chapman was a real treat. At first, he spat out all this street jargon, none of which I understood. Was there something about a wheelchair? I made a note to myself that I needed to watch it again in slow motion to catch what he was saying. Honestly, I have no idea what street styles he was doing, but whatever they were, he knew them inside and out. He used an old fashion song to present his choreography and the performance was real and present. I live for dancers from stage or street who are thoughtful and artful about what they are doing. I get tired of being bombarded with many series of steps, all which I can name. There are so many more layers involved in dance.

Arielle Coher, self proclaimed SYTYCD groupie, confidently walks on stage donning teal hair. Apparently she has auditioned many times before and has gotten to work with some of the show’s finalists. Not only did she move me, but she had a great attitude as well. In a profession where getting disheartened is extremely easy, she vowed she would keep on coming back even if this proved not to be her year. Well… she got a ticket to Vegas.

Hiro McRea popped and locked her way straight to Sin City. Joe “Big C” Doyle disrobed in front of the judges. He was a giant of a man, with his beard and hair painted white referencing Santa, hence the “Big C.” I was sorry that he had to make a joke of himself. Even though he had the body of an average “Joe,” his dancing actually had potential. Alexis Mason, the little sis of season five’s winner, Jeanine Mason, passed the test with flying colors. She was maybe a bit to schmaltzy for my taste.

The next highlight in Los Angeles was androgynous looking drummer dancer Patty Anne Miller. If we didn’t know her name we might not have known she was a girl because she didn’t dance like any of the ladies that auditioned before her, in this or any other season. I loved that she popped and locked like one of the boys, and so did the judges. What really put the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae was that she got emotional and cried just a bit when the judges told her they loved her. She is going to have to do it all if she wants to make it through Vegas. I can’t imagine her in a pair of character heels, but I’m looking forward to seeing her do a Viennese waltz.

Sisters Natalia and Sasha Mallory ended the night. They bickered their way through the interview, but their dancing was beautiful and harmonious. They had heart and technique and proved themselves to be contenders in the choreography round. They will be joining the ranks at the final call back.

I’m afraid I’ve gotten a little long winded but my task was to cram in three hours of some pretty decent dance into one article. Next week the dancers who have moved on to the next stage of the competition get to push themselves to the limit physically and mentally. It is going to be rough. Happily, in this case, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay there, so tune in Wed. and Thurs. at 8pm and let me know what you think. If I have piqued your interest and made you curious about the show, go ahead and watch it, I won’t tell anyone.

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1 Comment

  1. Amy

    June 16, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Interesting theory. Do you think the proliferation of television dance has also meant the general public is more discerning about the quality of training their children receive at local studios? Or do you think it means that teachers are feeling the result of competition from better teachers and the awareness starts there? Or are expectations higher because people can see really good dance coming out of the general populace as opposed to only from professional companies? I ask because I definitely think the quality of training across the board is better than it was, say, 25 years ago. There have always been exceptionally good teachers and studios, but it seems to me there are more above-average places to get dance training than there used to be.

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