“So You Think You Can Dance”: Looking for the oomph

UPDATED with results from the first elimination show! Competition really begins, and Alex Wong makes me cry

Topics: So You Think You Can Dance, Television,

"So You Think You Can Dance": Looking for the oomphAll-Star Neil Haskell and contestant Ashley Galvan

Here it is, ladies and gentleman, the first competition show of “So You Think You Can Dance,” season 7! This is when choreographer, dance style, technique, and show-person-ship must fuse into one divine expression. Sometimes it’s transcendent (Alex Wong, I’m talking to you!) and sometimes it’s flat, like year-old Keystone Light (sorry, Melinda). I’ll say right off the top that I was glad to only have to focus on one dancer per routine, a direct result of the “All-Stars” format this year. Yes, yes, yes, I’m a convert. Naysayer to yay-sayer.

The judges spent a lot of time Wednesday night talking about what happens “in between the steps,” the little extra bit of oomph and emotion and movement-without-moving that the most successful performers infuse into each number. I see it as the difference between a chorus member and a Broadway star, or a character actor and a lead. Because it is, really, the ability to act that makes certain dancers haunt you later. They make you believe that they are someone’s naughty office daydream (thank you, Kathryn, for being so exquisite I never saw AdéChiké.)

I was only knocked out a couple of times during this maiden competitive voyage — Alex produced my first tears of the season, right about the same time all of the judges lost it too. Granted, his piece was a perfect storm of Jeff Buckley, a mature and powerful partner in Allison, and Sonya’s choreography landing well within his comfort zone. But what an incredible display of control and barely contained fever that was. I couldn’t even take notes while it was happening. I loved Robert and All-Star Courtney’s African jazz routine at the end of the show, too. Without the usual heavily percussive music that accompanies most African dance I was able to tune in to the joyousness of the movement itself, the expansion and contraction and uplifted arms, instead of being entranced by the downbeats and the forcefulness. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the thrumming sexual animal that was … Kent? OK, he wasn’t all that manly, but he out-butched Billy Bell by a mile and actually made me say, “Holy crap.” Kent the Gleeful was the only dancer tonight to look like he was having the time of his life, and his little hips moved with shocking independence from the upper half of his body (essential for a cha-cha, right?) My first thought when I saw him partnered with Anya was “he’ll be ground into a fine, virgin-y dust.” And he almost was! But my pocket-sized precious shook his ass off.



On the other end of the spectrum were the disappointments, of which poor Billy was the first. Straight out of the gate, he’s doing Broadway to “Footloose” and looking like an extra from “High School Musical.” Not working for me. Next, it says something about AdéChiké’s chances if the best things about his piece were his partner and the Florence + The Machine cover of “Addicted to Love.” I need to download that.

Melinda, oh Melinda — the second she threw her arms in the air with her hands stuck at right angles I cringed, and it just didn’t stop. I don’t think tap prepared her very well to use her body as one long, continuous instrument. In ballroom-type numbers I’m always looking at the couple’s hands when they join together, how effortless the clasps are, whether or not they have to fumble for each other. The fluidity wasn’t there. And her gratefulness during the judging seemed suspiciously feigned. She’s gorgeous, but out of my top three.

In fact, I think the girls are going to have a really hard time this year. Alexie can’t get past the “cute” thing (and my mama has harder hip-hop hits), Melinda’s got very little authentic warmth, and Ashley isn’t popping off the screen yet (and ix-nay on the funny voices). I’m excited to see Lauren break open and spill her emotions on the floor like a busted pinata, but whether she will or not remains to be seen. Cristina stands the best chance of all the girls after this week, since she showed impressive range for a ballroom dancer and didn’t let my gorgeous Mark show her up during her “I’m a snake” routine.

Things I learned this week: Cat Deeley does not always make impeccable sartorial decisions, evidenced by the honey pot on her head and that teal and gold ice skating costume. Yoga will make you a better b-boy, but Jose needs to work on his “stank face.” Tyce Diorio was a subpar student at LaGuardia, which just goes to show fancy private schools are useless. Adam Shankman judged a mini-Alexie on “Star Search” in 1991 and looks almost exactly the same as he did then. He might be a vampire. Or Dorian Gray.

My bottom three predictions: Melinda, AdéChiké, and Ashley. I’ll post an update to this recap after the elimination so I can own up to my mistake or gloat because I’m all-seeing.

Quick P.S. to the judges: as a radio broadcaster for 14 years I know how hard it is to think on your feet and land a joke live on the air. There’s a space in between the thought formulating in your head and your mouth actually saying it, and I want you to use that space to reflect on what you’re about to say. “True Hood?” “Beauty and the Weaved?” Tsk tsk.

Quick P.P.S.: last week I wrote that if Alex Wong is a “goofball” as he claims, I’m the Maharishi. Well, the lovely Juliet sent me a link on Twitter (I’m NerdAlert19) of Alex and friend busting some sick moves to the “Mortal Kombat” theme. I respectfully pass the fun to you. 

UPDATE, with spoilers, duh: Before you even think it, do not mention the words “Justin Bieber featuring Usher” to me. I felt violated, and old, and I don’t care to discuss it further. As for the show, I was only right about one of the bottom three dancers, and I thought Cristina’s inclusion in that group was a miscarriage of justice. Melinda, sure. And when Nigel told the tap-dancer she lacked warmth, I was like, “he read my recap! I said that!” It’s possible, you know — I tweet him. In the end, Alexie lost on the same night the Lakers, her ex-employers, won their championship. The upside being she could go downtown and jump on some cars and she would blend right in.

I have to mention what has always been one of the very best parts of “SYTYCD,” something that makes me look forward to every elimination show. The chance to see professional dancers with years of experience go out on that stage and teach the babies how it’s done. Broadway is one of my favorite styles, and I’ve never been to a show in New York, so to be able to watch artists from Twyla Tharp’s “Come Fly Away,” was, in a word, thrilling. Keith Roberts and Karine Plantadit were fire. The living element of fire on a stage. I’ve never seen a dancer throw her body around an environment with such willful abandon and ferocity. It made the hairs on my entire body stand up. Mouth. Gaping.

‘Til next week, when we, for realsies, only have ten to choose from.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>