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I had such high hopes for NBC’s new show, Superstars of Dance, but in the end it was a disappointment. There were a few nice moments, but ultimately, I turned the TV off before the show ended.

Superstars of Dance is billed as an international dance competition, with categories for solos, couples, and groups. It is hosted by Michael Flatley (aka The Lord of the Dance) and Miss USA Susie Castillo. The executive producer is Nigel Lythgoe, which explained why the whole thing felt like a sort of second-rate So You Think You Can Dance reunion.

Countries represented in the show are the USA, Russia, Argentina, China, South Africa, Ireland, Australia, and India. There is a judge from each of those countries, who must sit out on the voting when their own country performs. I was frustrated that not all the judges were introduced. I would have liked to know what their dance background was. A friend mentioned this morning that it felt like they were trying to make the show into a faux Olympics, complete with the conversation with the dancer and the “coach” afterwards.

A lot of the dancing was sort of ho-hum. Some of it was spectacular but more for a “wow” factor than for artistic quality. For example, a modern/hip hop group from Australia had fantastic tricks and rhythm but it wasn’t anything close to a revelation– more like pandering to people whose ideals of dance are formed by MTV and SYTYCD. Robert Mourain, the one-trick pony we saw doing contortionistic popping and locking on SYTYCD was back representing the US in the solo category; why? Also, talk about perpetuating sterotypes…why are Riverdance-type dances the only ones representing Ireland. Could it be because of Michael Flatley’s role in the show? It was so cheezy.

The two high points for me were the couple representing the US (Eric Luna and Georgia Ambarian) whose partnering skills I really admired, and the Argentine tango. Despite the horrible camera work and mediocre production format, they managed to keep it together and show viewers a peek into their art.

The low points were pretty much all in the solos. In particular, China. The woman danced with such long scarves it was hard to see any body movement. It was supposed to be a traditional folk dance, but it was set to a euro dance beat. The “Zulu” dancer representing South Africa looked more like a Rockette with all the high kicks than any African dance I’ve ever seen (feel free to call out my ignorance here if I am totally off the mark).

Too bad that another dance show has come up short. I’m glad to see so much dance on TV now, but we definitely need a quality increase. Some new faces would be good too. Nigel Lythgoe changed the face of TV with American Idol and SYTYCD, but it’s time for some fresh ideas. On the upside, my Monday nights are still free so I can go to dance class.

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A million thank yous to Salsa Gigolo for bringing this MadTV spoof on So You Think You Can Dance and the presidential race to my attention. Not only was the Baroque Waltz hilarious, but the judge impersonations were totally spot-on.

I’m still wiping the tears from my eyes.

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t blogged at all about this season’s So You Think You Can Dance. At first I was feeling bad that I was letting my readers down, but this is my blog, not yours, and let it be known that I am taking a break from TV right now. It’s not so much an intentional thing, but a time issue. I am in either rehearsal or class pretty much every night and weekend day. When I’m not dancing, I’m spending time with the real life human beings that I care about– my husband, my family, my friends. Real life rocks and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Given the choice, I’d rather be dancing (or at least participating in the dance of life) than watching it on a little screen.

Philosophizing aside, maybe the excitement of these shows has worn off for me. After so many years where dance was not the thing to do on TV, it was so thrilling to have shows like SYTYCD that brought dance back to the awareness of the public. Now we have almost reached a saturation point where there is a dance show on pretty much every network and channel, of varying quality and target demographic. I think it is great. There used to be just one or two nights where I could watch the one show on TV where people danced. That’s why it was so sacred to me not to miss it. In some ways, it also inspired me to want to dance more and dance better. It also in some measure inspired me to seek out real life dance watching opportunities, to delve into the distinctions and overlaps between art and entertainment.

We are now in the fourth year of this era of dance on TV. The public is now more educated about dance, and hopefully that will translate into inspiration to dance and see dance in real life as well. Judging from the number of blogs and blog posts that have exploded on this topic in the last year, the dialogue is alive and well.

 

…is that one of the contestants (the high school teacher from Miami…forget the name) danced to one of my favorite salsa songs, Aguanile by Hector Lavoe. It’s great to see such a good salsa song get mass media exposure.

An enterprising LJ-er scoured the net to find out what past So You Think You Can Dance contestants are up to now.  Among the highlights:

  • Musa Cooper is touring with Alicia Keyes
  • Jaime Goodwin will be a principal dancer in High School Musical 3
  • Lauren Gottlieb is on tour with Mariah Carey
  • Neil Haskell is in Altar Boyz (off Broadway musical)
  • Blake McGrath is a judge for SYTYCD Canada.

Many more contestant updates here.

Thanks to Beto for sending in the link.

I haven’t really been able to watch the show this season. As usual I am busy busy busy and have not been able to be at home when it is on. I’ll make more of an effort (or at least try to remember how to program my VCR…yes, I still use a VCR) when we get to the top 20, but in the meantime, what do people think of the new season so far?

Dude, I can’t believe I spaced out on the season premiere of So You Think You Can Dance. I caught the tail end of the second half of it tonight, with the LA leg of the auditions. The judges went gaga over a girl with bad technique, dance competition-esque fake smile and awkward choreography. I enjoyed the latin ballroom couple, and the guy who popped and locked was ridiculous.

I kind of wish something felt different from previous seasons, but the judges are the same and are acting the same. Mary’s laugh entertained me for two seasons, and now it’s just plain annoying. I’m looking forward to getting to the top 20. I always find the audition process relatively annoying.

The title of this post is an age-old philosophical question, but I think it’s good to ask ourselves this question from time to time. Particularly as dance becomes a more common element in mass media, it’s important to think about what we value in dance and in art. Some might argue with even the practice of putting labels on things, but this is a blog about dance, I am passionate about dance, and given that, there are obviously some boundaries in my mind as to what constitutes dance and what does not.

I also ask, is all dance art? And if all dance is art, then how do we classify movement that is not art? What is art?

The source of all this soul-searching was this video that Loren sent me:

Without question, this is an incredible video. According to YouTube, these are the 100 dancers and acrobats of the Great Chinese State Circus; I believe the title for the work would be “Swan Lake on LSD.”

The ballet in this is not bad at all. Very technically proficient, and beautiful lines. I can’t fathom the amount of center and control it takes to dance en pointe on that guys’s head and shoulders while he is walking around. The frogs were very frog-like and very entertaining. But I ask, if all the acrobatics and head pointe dancing were taken out, would this video have had over 3.3 million hits on youtube? More importantly, would it be seen as anything special by dance and art lovers, other than another nice execution of swan lake?

Are acrobatics dance? Are acrobatics art? The following video of the Pilobolus “Dance Company” (I’ve added the quotation marks, more on that later) made me ask those two questions when I first saw it on Ariel’s blog:

For me, this is definitely art– a fantastically creative and sculptural treatment of the human body. But I’m not so sure that it’s dance. To me it falls more into the categories of acrobatics and contortionism.  Yes Pilobolus calls itself a dance company. Is that because it holds that movement + art = dance? Yet take some of the mindless pap you see on shows like Dancing With the Stars…it’s definitely dance, but it sure ain’t art. At least not in my book. Even on the shows I enjoy, such as So You Think You Can Dance, acrobatics are often thrown in the mix in order to pander to attention-deficient viewers who need explosive movements and crazy physical feats to hold their attention. The line between dance and acrobatics is often blurred, as is the line between what I consider art and what I would not consider art, but nonetheless find fun and entertaining.

Just when I thought I had better things to do with my time during the non-summer months, along come the Aussies with their own version of So You Think You Can Dance.

The show is an exact clone of the US version, employing the identical formula for auditioning and eliminating dancers. Cat Deeley has been replaced by a woman with an impossibly long last name and a propensity for hugging people, Natalie Bassingthwaighte. There are three judges—a young hip hop type (Dan Karaty clone), Nigel Lythgoe’s wife Bonnie who has got to have made the greatest quantity of inane comments I have ever heard in my life (combo of Nigel and Mary), and some other guy with spiky blond hair who seems to be the only one who makes any true critiques of the dancers (male Mia Michaels). Read the rest of this entry »

My year of concert dance exploration and discovery continues. I had the opportunity to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the first time in person this past weekend. I had seen Revelations on video before, but nothing else from the company’s repertory, and none of the dancers from the current company.

The performance I saw was the final one in a six-day run at the Kennedy Center. Each performance had a different lineup of pieces from the company’s repertory, but all of them included Revelations. While Ailey has premiered some new works this year, such as The Groove to Nobody’s Business, our program was full of classics: Firebird, The Golden Section, Reflections in D, and Revelations. Given that it’s all new to me anyway, I was just excited to see them.

While  I found moments of delight in each piece, The Golden Section and Revelations stood out as the strongest.

My [more knowledgeable than me] companions informed me that Firebird was originally choreographed for classical ballet– en pointe– and the role of the Firebird was originated by the legendary ballerina Maria Tallchief. In Ailey’s take, the dancers are barefoot, and the Firebird is played by two men. Set to the Stravinsky symphony of the same name, Firebird seemed to portray a bleak and grey conformist world where the people– attired in grey pajama like closthes– pin their hopes on the brilliant red Firebird, implying a sort of utopian allegory. Initially represented by a red spotlight, it is replaced by the first of the aforementioned male dancers in a bright red unitard (I’m unfortunately not going to be able to attribute any dancers in this writeup because I’m currently on the road and neglected to bring my program with me). I would describe this dancer as explosive and forceful, bringing fire and incredible athleticism to the role. Towards the end of the piece, the first Firebird collapses/dies and though he remained prone on the stage, he was replaced by a second Firebird. This dancer was in contrast, heartbreakingly liquid, with a sort of infinite quality to his movement. Although his role was brief, these few seconds of dancing were one of the program’s highlights. (damn I wish I had my program!), although the rest of the piece didn’t leave as much of an impact on me.

The Golden Section, with choreography by Twyla Tharp and music by David Byrne (of Talking Heads fame) left me grinning. Tharp’s choreography is unrelentingly ebullient and kinetic… nonstop movement and a display of feats of the human body so endless it’s almost humorous– and in a good way. I’ve recently read chatter on the blogs about how certain dance shows on TV are overly portraying incredible athleticism, glistening abs and rippling muscles. Well, let me tell you honey– before there was SYTYCD, there were the Ailey dancers and Twyla Tharp. Clad only in tight little gold hot pants, the men of Ailey certainly had their rippling, glistening abs out there for us to see and there were no complains on my part. The women weren’t bad either, also clad in scant little gold numbers.

But really, I’m not that shallow. Did I mention the dancing? It’s really hard for me to be able to put the piece into words. I think it’s generally hard to describe Tharp. I have no idea what the whole thing meant, but I know that I liked it, that it transmitted a sunny exuberance, joy, and delight through movement, all visual assets and athletic feats aside. I know that the Golden Section is another term for the Divine Proportion, which is a number used in geometry, architecture and engineering, but am not sure how or if that related to the piece. There is also a description of it on Twyla Tharp’s website that provides some insight. It was nonstop motion, with small groups of dancers coming across the stage, sometimes in unison, sometimes dancing with each other in pairs or groups.

I was a little concerned going into Revelations because I knew it had been on the program every single day and we were attending the final performance of Ailey’s DC engagement. Happily, Revelations felt like one of the freshest things on the program. It is easy to understand why it is such an important part of the Ailey repertoire and of American dance in general. Having seen the video version several times also underscores for me the importance of seeing important works live. It’s a different experience in which I can connect on a more personal level with the piece. The audience loved it, too and rewarded the dancers with an extended standing ovation.

Absolute highlights for me were the gorgeous, sensitively danced duet in Fix Me, Jesus and the darkly infectious Sinner Man. I also loved the quality of movement of the women crossing over the water in Wade In the Water. The hip motion is wonderfully evocative of afro-caribbean dance.

I have heard some criticisms from others who saw this season of Ailey that the company is not as strong as in the past and that they were left underwhelmed. I will say that intellectually I felt that I should have been wowed by Firebird but aside from one brief solo was left feeling ambivalent about it. Although The Golden Section did awe me, I did see that there were a couple parts that could have been better rehearsed, with better unison in places where it seemed that should be happening, and a little cleaner. However, this being my first time seeing Ailey live, I have no past basis for comparison, andI think it should be clear from this writeup that despite any reservations I may have had, I left the concert feeling really happy that I had gone and feeling that I can’t wait to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater again soon.

———–

After the jump, videos of some of the pieces I referenced in this writeup.

Read the rest of this entry »

This is better than in New York,” Michelle Turner-Goldsmith, a 21-year-old Frederick resident and George Washington University alumna, said of the line’s length outside. Turner-Goldsmith, who trained at Twinbrook School of Ballet under Phyllis Blake, plans to do a mixture of ballet and African dance for her improvisation.

Every year, it seems that people feel the need to fuse a variety of dance styles for their audition to stand out, when in fact that trend seems to be occurring in the majority. It’s only 15 seconds for crying out loud! I feel that the people that focus on doing one thing well tend to stand out for their technical ability and expression. Ballet + african really just seems to = modern, no?

Let’s face it, the judges just want to you be able to have extensions that go past your nose, to dance “sexy” if you are a woman and dance “masculine” if you are a man, to be able to do at least 10 consecutive alternating pirouettes/fouettes, and have leaps that clear at least 6 feet.

Auditions were held for the third season of my favorite TV dance show, So You Think You Can Dance, today right here in Washington DC, at the Atlas Center for the Performing Arts. I think it’s great that the Atlas, which has been at the heart of one of DC’s most interesting urban renewals (real renewal as opposed to gentrification), is going to get such huge exposure when the show airs.

I’d hoped to make it over there during my lunch hour to check out the crowd and ask people how it had gone, but it just didn’t happen.

A great video, photos and a little recap of the day’s people and events is up at the Baltimore Sun’s Reality Check blog. Apparently, first round is continuing tomorrow with callbacks on Saturday and Sunday.

Were you there? Did you get in? Did you audition? How did it go? Who did you see? What was the process like? We’re dying to know!!

Leave a comment or email me at timetodanceblog [at] gmail [dot] com if you have a first-hand experience from the DC auditions to share.

I’m being freakishly prolific tonight. Insomnia will do that to you. The theme today seems to be pop culture. I apologize for the lame post title– I just couldn’t resist.

According to tech blog GigaOM, Stanley Burrell, aka MC Hammer, is launching tech startup DanceJam.com, a dance-centered social networking site.

DanceJam aims to bring together various dancing communities. The site will include videos from aspiring dancers everywhere as well as Hammer and his celebrity pals. It will be driven by contests that include offline regional meetups, and be monetized through ads and contest sponsorship. The company — which is based out of a few offices in the Bay Area — hasn’t given us a firm launch date. The latest word is “mid-January” — but last week it opened up part of its site to the public so as to solicit videos to have ready for the launch.

GigaOM interviewed Mr. Burrell/Hammer for its video podcast. One term that he constantly threw around was “dance culture,” as in “Dance Jam is a place where the dance culture can hang out.” From what I can tell by exploring the pilot of the site and watching the interview is that dance culture for the purposes of Dance Jam is dancers who want to win money and fame in show business through competition and casting deals. This does not appear to be a venue for exalting the art of dance, but rather to advance the business of dance as entertainment– sort of a lovechild of HotOrNot and So You Think You Can Dance– and to monetize the technology in the process through related advertisements for instructors, competitions, and the like.

While its implications for the world of dance as art are limited, I think we need to view things like this for what they are and use that as a starting point for our appreciation (something I have said many times about SYTYCD). As with any social networking site, its success and quality will depend on a critical number and activity level of the users. One valuable role that I think that Dance Jam does have the potential to play is to sift out the videos that are worth watching [from an entertainment perspective]. There is lots of dance video footage on YouTube, but you certainly have to sift through a lot of crap to find the good stuff.

This just in from movmt:

So You Think You Can Dance just announced the dates for the 2008 auditions. Entering its forth season on FOX next summer, the hot series from the producers of AMERICAN IDOL and “American Bandstand” should be hosted for the third time by Cat Deeley, one of the UK’s top television personalities. Once again So you think you can dance promises to keep America moving to a different beat, as dancers skilled in everything from the “street” styles of hip-hop, krumping, contemporary and popping to “the best of ballroom” – salsa, quickstep, jive… – compete to be voted by the public America’s Favorite Dancer.

– Dallas Texas: January 17th
– Charleston, South Carolina: January 31
– Washington, DC: February 21
– Los Angeles, California: MARCH 6
– Milwaukee, Wisconsin: March 20
– Salt Lake City, Utah: April 3

Casting is open to persons between the ages of 18 and 30 at the time of the auditions who are either US citizens, permanent residents or possesses a current legal visa to seek employment in the US without restriction as to employer.

Auditions will be held in DC this year!

There’s been no Dance on the Web for so long because I’ve been majorly behind on keeping up with my blog feed lately. I’ve whittled it down a bit now, but a few days ago I had about 800 unread dance posts in my feed, and that didn’t include any of the non-dance blogs I keep up with! Here are a couple highlights I’ve come across as I dig myself out from the backlog:

  • We can now enjoy So You Think You Can Dance year-round thanks to the Australians (and the Canadians) and the wonders of internet video [Blogging SYTYCD].
  • Justin Peck of the New York City Ballet documents his transformation into Mother Ginger for the Nutcracker. Pretty incredible and incredibly amusing [The Winger].
  • Artists who do not write about their work are allowing others to speak for them [Dancing Into the Future].
  • The San Francisco Ballet has commissioned a piece from Wade Robeson, my favorite choreographer from SYTYCD [Dance Outlook].
  • What salseras want [Salsa Gigolo].
  • “My posts will be brief but full of useful info. The shorter it is, the more you will retain.” [The Winger].

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