It is a really interesting question: what would happen if the dancers on So You Think You Can Dance? were better than the choreography? That is, what if the choreographers, who appear to regularly bring their B- game to So You Think…?, failed to give the dancers what they deserve? Well, I think that’s the question we meet with on this particular week. And it says a lot about the relationship between dancing and choreography, something kept well-hidden in the previous two seasons.
In the previous two seasons, there were so many struggling dancers. The inability to get the choreography down leads to, well, obviously, mediocre-to-bad dancing. When you see that, you see how some foundational skills are necessary for embodied expression. There were real limits to previous dancers, and those limits were immediately exposed in the inability to internalize the choreography to the point of owning it, making it part of the Self that dance, and so on. It certainly made it easier for viewers and judges to stomach the “cuts” well into the top ten.
Not true this season. This season, the choreography hasn’t been much of an issue for dancers in terms of mastery. The dancers – even the “untrained” ones (I hate that phrase from the judges) – get it, internalize it, yet, this week especially, I’m not entirely convinced that such an internalization is leading to real embodied expression. I’m not convinced that we’re learning about the dancers in the dances given to them. It’s almost as if the dancers have to do the choreography against their dancerly selves, like good actors with a bad script, rather than inhabit the choreography’s form and character in order to bring unique spasms of expression. Mia Michaels has been a real exception in the past, but even this week she joined the group of mediocre composers. If her piece was actually bleak, twisted, or complex, she needed to clue in the dancers. They seemed clueless, so they were caught in just repeating the movements prescribed for them, rather than finding themselves as dancers in a challenging series of themes, positions, and so on.
There has not been much to inhabit lately or even most of the season. The choreography hasn’t made much of a home for the dancers, really. So, as with any sense of “home,” you don’t see the real person in the dance unless the choreography creates a comfortable, inhabitable space for expression.
More Alex da Silva. Seriously. (Remember when he drove up in his classic car at the end of last season? Oh my.) And Benji Schwimmer’s composition seems so much better every week retrospect. It was already strong, even stronger in this growing context.
The strength of choreography helps us see the dancer. It just does. I’m thinking in particular about Benji’s piece and how both the moves and the music allowed Sara to flourish, whereas a weaker, more wandering piece would have brought attention away from her energy and presence as a performer. As well, to go back a few weeks or so, I’m thinking about Jesus and his partner’s dance, which had nice movement and Jesus was quite excellent, yet the music completely got in the way. I’ll post the videos if I can find them…for now, I think one blogger is right: choreography is the unmentioned “X-factor.” Especially when you get Dan Karaty’s “hip hop” routines. Ugh.
I think choreography really did Hok in this time around, though in general his size was a disadvantage. For better or worse, the ballroom-thing is difficult to pull off when you’re a short male dancer – which might say a lot about the dance form and ideals of masculinity, national this-and-that, something I’ll set aside for now – but even the modern dance stuff was weak. His final performance was terribly put together, completely confused in its choreography. Think about it: he was supposed to be an old man animated by a fantasized spirit of dance. Well, that’s more than a little lame as a theme (can you really get more cliche’?), but that’s not my point. The confused choreography led to the unsurprising, yet strange judgment from judges. “I didn’t ‘get’ that you were an old man.” That was the refrain. Still, was that Hok’s charge, to sort out the meaning of the choreography? Was he an old man? Or was he a young man in dance, only old in clothes? Unclear. And that’s the choreographer’s problem. It shouldn’t have been up to Hok to settle the ambiguity. I felt a little bit the same about Lauren and Neil’s stuff from Mia Michaels, though I also feel like, um, those two are not the brightest. So maybe they just weren’t, uh, “equipped” to think it through. Who knows. It was confused, for sure, in terms of the performance.
Finally, a note as a fan: I’m shocked that Lauren is staying, especially given the changing idea of “what counts” when someone is eliminated. Final dance, then past dancing stuff, final dance again. I guess. I was really wondering if the judges would cut in the interest of the tour-thing that happens for the final ten. Don’t think so; Hok was a total crowd pleaser in ways I can’t imagine Neil is or will be. Alas. Hok and Neil needed to go. For me it was a toss-up.
Next week’s pairings will be so interesting. Your partner can make or break the television-image, of course.