Flabbergasted

Okay, I must admit, since SYTYCD began this season, several of my most intelligent friends would, if they were lawyers or writers, roll their eyes and snicker, or if they were serious arts journalists, make much more pained faces, whenever I chirped poetic about the show. They found it, at best just a silly waste of time, at worst demeaning and harmful to the art of dance. I would get really angry: my friend was on the show, and he’d had so many ups and downs, had just come out of a long illness, the ballroom competition judges who ruled his world could be so very nasty — I was so thrilled that he was finally getting his due, that the public supported him the way it did. I’d never really watched the show in prior seasons, and I couldn’t understand how my friends couldn’t see how amazing the show was to give people like Pasha such brilliant opportunities. Now he’s off, along with my blinders; I hate to say it, but my friends were so right.

First, the dancers who are left … they’re just nothing like what I’ve seen live, and it’s such a shame. Just because Danny is from ballet doesn’t mean he’s a perfect representative from that world. To me he doesn’t have the charisma, the personality of, say, Angel Corella, or my favorite. And he doesn’t have the virtuosity of David Hallberg or Ethan Stiefel — his legs don’t fully extend out into the splits when he jumps, like theirs do, and he doesn’t do hard combinations, he just does a bunch of turns, then a bunch of jumps, then a bunch of turns again. And what was all that crazy gymnastics at the end? Why didn’t he combine things into a difficult routine? The public is being cheated if they think this is real ballet. Yeah, he’s technically better than the others left on the show, but who cares when everyone’s a bore? Who wants to watch a show with no competition?

The good thing about Pasha was that he was so good at something so different than Danny. So, the public was seeing two very good dancers who excelled in their own styles — it was like people got a good taste of two wholly different points of view.

I think both because Pasha’s gone and because Danny’s not making ballet come alive to me, Danny’s completely wrong cha cha, which might otherwise have been cute since it was wrong but was ballet-dancer wrong, instead totally annoyed me. I remember seeing Jose Carreno dance salsa in his native Cuba in the film Born To Be Wild and thinking, hehehe, that’s not Salsa, that’s Ballet-Salsa! The reason ballet dancers can’t do Latin properly is because you have to settle fully into your hip in order to look properly grounded; ballet dancers have a natural turn-out, so if they settle properly, into a turned-out hip, they’re really going to grind to bits whatever cartilage is there, which means end of ballet career. So, no settling, no grounding, no proper hip action. But watching Jose in that movie was charming, because then you got to see him perform an absolutely breathtaking, beatific Don Quixote right in front of Castro. So, you got to be blown away seeing him do what he DOES. Not so here with Danny. And you don’t get a proper version of Cha Cha since Pasha’s off. And Lacey and Neil’s Lindy Hop: eh, they did what they could with it, but it’s just that if you’ve seen real Swing dancers, you know how not there it really was.

Second, what the HELL was that choreography — particularly the so-called contemporary? The Swing and the Cha Cha were fine because those dances are supposed to be cute, not meaningful, not thought-provoking, not profound, not poetic, not moving the viewer to a higher level. (Not that Latin can never do that — I very badly one day want to see Bodas de Sangre, the Latin dance version of the Garcia Lorca play.) But, those are the reasons we go to see concert dance. What was that hideous fox thing whoever choreographed for Lacey and Sabra? How am I supposed to be moved by mommy and baby fox-people doing whatever in God’s name they were supposed to be doing to each other? What was I as a viewer supposed to get out of that? And what was that 80s Adam Ant thing Mia Michaels forced poor Danny and Neil to do with each other? Is it too much to ask for serious choreographers? Lar Lubovitch for a male duet, anyone? Twyla Tharp for contemporary combined with social to brilliant effect, anyone?

No, you see, real choreographers are used to dealing with professionals. More than anything tonight I was absolutely appalled at the extreme immaturity of those dancers. Pasha never would have acted like such a child. Making fun of the choreographers to their faces, making fun of dance, making fun of a foreign language? I’m so embarrassed for Lacey that she doesn’t know better, that she doesn’t know how horridly unsophisticated she looked. I’m so embarrassed to admit that I can’t understand spoken French very well, and she’s flaunting her ignorance like that. I just … on so many levels, I’ve never seen such puerile, such beyond juvenile behavior. I just, I’m honestly in shock. I liked Lacey too before tonight.

Melanie LaPatin — bless that woman. God bless her. For the first time, she actually gets her day as choreographer, out from Tony Meredith’s shadow. Let me tell you, that woman is a slave-driving hard-ass — one reason I love her. She makes you work like you’ve never worked before in her studio — unlike Tony; he’s a softie :) In a good way — we love him too, just for that :) But Melanie takes no shit whatsoever, and I really thought she was going to lose it here. You know she didn’t because she had to smile pretty for that stupid ass camera. Bless her soul; she’s a far bigger woman than I am.

I was so mortified, after the show ended, I had to go outside and take a long walk, had to reassure myself there were were people with pulses, with brainwaves, on this planet, whose eyes had not been glued to their TV for the past two hours. Sure enough, wine bars were overflowing with twenty and thirty-something hipsters engaged in conversation, take-away ice cream parlors with happy-faced children and parents, coffeehouses and bookstores with people engaged in mental activity. Ah, people with lives. As of now, count me one of them.

17 Comments

  1. Oh, now I hate that I missed the episode, so I could see the contemporary piece you wrote about. I cut it off half way through!

  2. Brilliant comments, Tonya. I enjoyed Danny and Lacey in their slow piece, and Neil and Sabra in their lindy, but the two foxes thing was beyond stupid, matched only by the duel for the two guys. The rest I’ve already forgotten.

  3. Tonya, I agree with everything you said. This finale left me bored, as well as extremely annoyed. Wonderful Pasha- who managed to master every style that was given to him and never really got the praise he deserved from the judges – was sent home in favor of these four. I’ll admit they’re talented dancers, but nothing blew me away and none of them possess the poise, class, and appreciation that Pasha brought to every moment he was on the screen. I was absolutely gutted when he left and really the show died for me at that moment. I hope you’ll keep us updated on how he’s doing in the future with his career, his health, etc. I know he could have used that prize money so badly, with his medical expenses. I’ll miss his quiet dignity, goofy charm, and beutiful face. Long live Code Name Sparklepants !

  4. Thanks you guys (thanks, Larry :)) I’m glad I’m not the only one who felt that way! Yes, Rachael I will definitely keep you posted, if he comes back to my studio! I imagine I’ll be seeing him around NY anyway, when he’s not touring with the show :) Haha, those pants — if I’m not mistaken, I think they were originally Tony Meredith’s (who owns the studio Pasha taught at) and they’d be passed around to all the guys whenever anyone wanted to wear them for a showcase. Pasha wore them once, Jacob Jason, another teacher there, wore them once — the were THE hot pants! I wonder if Pasha and Anya are going to be on the finale tonight?! I’ll be out at a play, so won’t be able to watch it live — I’ll be scouring the internet for info as soon as I get home!

  5. I’ve been pretty meh about the show since they cut Hok, and cutting Pasha was the nail in the coffin.

    I thought the finale was exactly what you get when you ask dancers to learn three choreographies and prepare a solo in the span of 5 days. The rushed time frame really showed in the quality of the dancing. I’ve heard all four of the finalists are nursing injuries, including Lacey being seriously hopped up on Vicodin due to a back injury, which may have contributed to her strange and inapropriate demeanor in the rehearsal videos.

    the foxes piece was obviously a desperate grab at recapturing the magic of the Hummingbird-and-Flower piece from earlier in the season. The Adam-Ant-ish two princes routine I actually enjoyed… Of course, I liked the Adam-Antish-ness of it all, and I liked the acknowledgement that they are actually competing against each other, instead of 3 minutes of fakey-fakey friendship. Anyway, the choreographies have been generally lame all season, so I didn’t expect any more for the finale.

  6. Yeah, Natalia, I know the choreography was not the greatest throughout the season — especially the contemporary. Maybe ballroom and hip hop are better suited to this kind of show because they’re supposed to be fun and playful and not really moving or provocative — and how can you do that in the two some odd minutes they have? I think the contemporary piece I liked the best was the Mia Michaels’ one about her father, in terms of it being sweet and sad and evocative, but I still thought it could have gone a lot farther than it did (and perhaps could with different dancers). Call me ridiculous, but I just would have really enjoyed something along the lines of Lubovitch’s Iago and Othello pas de deux for the two men — not as intense (and obviously not as long), but just more serious than what we got. But then I guess it wouldn’t have been so “poppy” — I still think audiences would go for great choreography though; I don’t think everything has to be “dumbed down” for TV — the viewers are not dummies and they deserve better!

    Oh that makes sense with the Vicodin, because I’ve never seen Lacey that way before. It’s just funny how all the other dancers seemed to join in though, like they all thought yeah, let’s be cool like Lacey and talk back to the choreographers and make fun of them and even their silly foreign accents… Maybe everyone was just loopy from all the pressure…

  7. First, Yeah! I agree with a lot of what you said. My standard response this season to watching any of the ballroom dances is, “Yeah, that was fine [or, that really sucked], but it would be so much better if Pasha and Anya were doing it.”

    That said, my biggest complaint last night was that the final four contestants are boring because they all seem the same to me. Watching them dance side-by-side made me see very clearly both how similar and similarly limited they are. I pick Danny as the best of the bunch, but I didn’t find any of them particularly interesting. The dancers I found interesting (Anya, Hok, Pasha, Sara, Jessi) are mostly long gone, but I spent the night thinking that it was a shame because they’d have really brought some unique qualities to the stage, even if they weren’t the absolute best at everything they tried. Last night, I thought the dancers were both bland and not the best at everything they tried. But I look at it like this: this show isn’t a real competition. None of these shows are. They’re popularity contests, sort of like junior high, and if you go into it knowing that, the show can be really enjoyable because the kids on it are always charming and seem to have lots of fun.

    I enjoyed that prince dance. It reminded me of Madonna’s “Vogue,” which I’ve always liked. I also thought the waltz was pretty, and I liked the Cabaret routine ok. The cha-cha was really sloppy, and I thought the lindy hop looked too thought-out and therefore not fun at all. Isn’t Lacey a swing dancer? I know she’s WCS, which is different from East Coast Swing, but is there no transferable thread? That hip hop was the most disappointing; Sabra and Neil looked like normal people in a nightclub, not professional dancers.

    I also have to admit a bit of a bias: I’m very rarely a fan of contemporary dancers. I feel like mostly, they’re “adequate at lots of things and really good at nothing.” Ballet dancers, ballroom dancers, tap dancers…they specialize, and when they’re good, they’re excellent at what they do. They also are usually really well trained and able to transfer that training to different styles. Contemporary dancers always look sloppy and slow to me, even when they’re dancing contemporary routines. I thought that Anya’s contemporary and Pasha’s hip hop were better than any of the people trained in those styles, but no one was better than them at ballroom (though Danny does a beautiful waltz). And it really irritates me that ballroom dancers get the shaft on this show, usually for solos that are fine anyway.

    As for the rehearsal antics, I agree with you. I think it’s disrespectful and unprofessional, but I also cut the kids a lot of slack because that’s how you win this show. Calm, professional rehearsal clips don’t get you very far with the voting public. Back when Anya was eliminated and I was livid about it, someone at work tried to explain why she didn’t stand out. He said she didn’t show any personality in the rehearsal clips, to which I responded, “She was working!” and then “Yes, she did!” But I think he was sort of right. That kind of work ethic will hold you back in this environment. If you’re rude and silly and act like a dumbass, the kids who make up this show’s primary voting base will think you’re funny. If you’re adult and professional, they’ll see you as a bore.

  8. Oh! And I also wanted to say, I really hated that fox routine. I’ve never been a fan of Wade Robson; I find his choreography and personality to be way too sexist and elitist for my taste. But it was typical of this show. The girl routine is always boring and the boy routine is always exciting, as if women are only sedate and men are only energized. I wish they had some balls and could do a girl hip hop or an emotional boy number or SOMETHING that shows these “genius” choreographers aren’t just towing the line. But then, it’s FOX, so likely they’re paid to tow the line.

  9. How funny! The father-daughter dance was my least favorite contemporary routine of the season (one of my least favorite overall, but I think the spanish-themed vienese waltz debacle was probably still worse) it felt to me like a choreography that was constructed to repeatedly hit the audience over the head with the poignancy of it all, like she was so dead set on making her point that she never let the choreography come together organically. it felt artificial and over-engineered to me.

    My favorite, by far, was the hummingbird-and-flower dance. It was the only one the whole season that managed to exted into a non-dance movement vocabulary (calling on Hok’s nearly-unmentioned years of martial arts training) to do something interesting and different. Though it felt to me as if the original choreography was probably looser than some of the others, and Hok and Lauren filled in more of the movement themselves, which I think helped a lot.

    Wait, that one was “Jazz”, not “Contemporary” – in that case, I don’t think I liked any of the contemporary pieces.

    As for the loopiness, if it’s true that they’re dancing from 7am to midnight every day, then I’d be surprised if they’re getting more than 4 hours of sleep at night, and a few days of that will make anybody stupid. I’d be surprised if she was the only one on heavy pain killers either.

  10. I’ve found this show completely exasperating from the beginning, I only tuned in because Danny was on it and I’m grateful for any opportunity to see him dance. I’ve also enjoyed watching Pasha & Sabra over these last few weeks but I would never watch this show on a regular basis without the lure of a dancer I truly love. I thought most of the contemporary & jazz choreography was awful, and the whole concept of the show ridiculous. As Melinda noted, the viewer base here seems to be mostly teenagers who want to see a colorful, ditsy personality – I don’t think Lar Lubovich would go over very well with this crowd! And it’s no surprise that they encourage & reward immature behavior.

    Tonya, I understand your disappointment in the limitations of Danny’s balletic style/technique vs what you’ve seen live but don’t forget – although he’s a trained ballet dancer he’s not dancing ballet here & his style on this show is much looser than it was when he danced with ABT. He was recognized as a phenom with them(on a par with Hallberg) but he left the company after only 2-3 yrs and just when he was being given soloist/principal roles to dance like the lead in Spectre and Eros in Sylvia. I have no inside info so I don’t know if he left because of conflicts or he didn’t like the hierarchy at a major ballet company or if he found the classical style too limiting, but he made the switch from classical ballet to contemporary dance several years ago and hasn’t danced with a classical company since.

    Boy, would I love to have seen him trot out the Ali solo from Corsaire (in full costume, of course) for a solo “in his own style”, but considering that he was almost done in by what this audience perceived as arrogance I’m sure that would have resulted in instant elimination. He’s altering his approach in an attempt to win, which is the whole idea of the show – showing versatility and learning new styles. Unfortunately, incorporating contemporary, ballroom etc means that the technique gets looser, which is the antithesis of ballet technique.

    I liked the Mia “Princes” routine for what it was – I thought it really showed the guys off and emphasized what they did well. Unfortunately for the girls I think the “Foxes” piece sabotaged their chances to win. It did show their ability to create characters but it didn’t showcase their technical dance talents. For the past several weeks I’ve thought that Sabra was going to win, but after last night I think it’s going to come down to Danny or Neal. My assessment of the top 4:
    Danny – best dancer, period
    Neal – most improved, cutest (never underestimate the cute factor)
    Sabra – most versatile, most consistent
    Lacey – most likely to garner the teenage boy & straight guys votes

    By the way, they said that the top 10 (or maybe top 20) would be back for tonight’s show – I think there will be some group dances.

  11. I’ve really enjoyed your blog these last few months during SYTYCD, and I loved Pasha and cried when he got kicked off, but please, please don’t bash on Danny! I really don’t comprehend how anyone can find him boring! From the first glance, I was profoundly moved by the way he moves, his lines and extension, and perhaps by the fact of his sad life pre-Denise Wall. I said well, this is going to be a boring season for the show because it is sooooooooooo obvious he will win, how on earth are they going to drag it out? Why don’t they hand him the check and start the season over? (I was so young and innocent a couple of short months ago! Now I don’t even know if I believe any part of the show is real. Do they even count votes?) I was pretty much obsessed for a couple of weeks looking up anything I could find and dances he’d performed, how can you say he doesn’t have charisma???? I can’t drag my eyes away when he’s on stage. I’m not a fan kind of girl as a rule and was surprised I cared so much and then was totally and completely bewildered by all the arrogance storyline and having a wall up so people couldn’t feel anything rhetoric. I was, WHAT???? He seemed so shy and sad and delicate and most of the other dancers were saying all kinds of cocky things, so I was completely confused how they could choose him for the arrogant edit? I guess beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder because every time he’d walk on the stage, I’d be moved to tears by the sheer beauty and excitement of his movement. It does make a person wonder who was being manipulated more? Was it the teens buying the arrogance storyline, or his older defenders who were driven to vote quite possibly for the first time? Or perhaps to post on someone’s blog in his defense when obviously he doesn’t need me to defend him? : ) The past couple of weeks when the judges seemed to manage to make him “come out of shell” and act as silly as all of the rest of them I wasn’t so excited since what he had was special before the cheese machine got ahold of him, but still….I’m not a teen and I’ve never voted for anybody before, but his passion for dance got me and there I was hitting the redial button when I had many other things I should have been doing and wasn’t sure if votes really count, but felt as if I were on the tv show Lost when they keep pushing the button to save the world eventhough they think it’s a psychology experiment because what if it’s real? I agree with the previous poster that the show made Danny play a game and dumb his stuff down so he could compete with a cutie pie blond gymnast, and I’m sure the judges were patting themselves on the back for encouraging all of them to act stupid in front of the camera, but in Lacey’s and Danny’s defense I was also always taught it was as rude to speak in a foreign language in front of other people as it was to whisper, so the choreagraphers weren’t exactly blameless, (although I hang out with foreign people all the time and really don’t care if they want to rest their brains and converse in their first language for awhile) not to mention the 17 hour days with exhaustion and injuries, painkillers, topped with pressure to “show your personality” rammed down their throats. I taped the shows this year, but I definitely won’t be watching any of the act-goofy-for-the- cameras-kids practice footage! And for those of us who don’t live in NYC or anywhere with a great ballet company? We have to say thank you to SYTYCD and Danny for the beauty you’ve brought our lives this summer.

  12. Thanks again for all the well thought-out comments you guys!

    Susan, I know Danny wasn’t doing straight ballet, I guess I just wanted him too! (like you!) I know, I would have loved an all-out Ali solo; I wish it wouldn’t be perceived as arrogance because I think it would be so cool to just have him for once do classical ballet, without trying to make it “contemporary” — which, by the way, I don’t really fully know what that is. My professional critic friends don’t really either — they say it’s just the label shows like this put on something when it doesn’t fit into a specific category. I guess it’s just kind of ballety, kind of moderny, but not without a particular modern influence – Graham, etc. — and maybe combination of gymnastics and martial arts and other stuff?! Ballet influence + the kitchen sink = “contemporary”? Still, I wish with his solo he would have thrown in, say, that crazy combination Ethan did in Center Stage — where Ethan and Sascha are having that silly man competition and they’re trying to outdo each other, and Ethan wins with his final, insane combo. That would have been fun, even if he then went back into some gymnastics or whatever…

    But I also wonder, even if Danny was a replica of Angel or David, whether it would look the same to me on TV. I’ve never seen Danny dance live so I can’t tell; I’m comparing live performances that I’ve seen on the Met stage to a televised one. I’ll be excited to see the Morris / Live From Lincoln Ctr. thing on PBS to see how that looks filmed. It’s an interesting issue — the filming of dance / filming of ballet…

    Melinda, you’re probably right about the behavior scoring them brownie points with the audience, unfortunately.

    Yeah, east coast Swing / Lindy and west coast swing have the same exact footwork, just a different styling and energy and speed at which they’re danced. There are more crazy lifts in Lindy too. Most if not all teachers teach both, even if they specialize in one. So, Lacey’s definitely very familiar with lindy even if she prefers WCS. And funny but she really has a great body for Lindy. It didn’t look so good on me, but traditional east coast swing generally looks great on someone with meat and curves! I thought she would do better than she did. And I think her saying there was a big difference between East and West coast was a bit of an excuse…

    I guess, as Natalia says, everyone is really tired at this point and this is what you get when you have a bunch of routines and four days to learn them all. I mean, it’s like NYCBallet:) Just kidding. Just kidding! — those are huge pros of course :)

  13. Thanks for commenting, J’Nev — I just received the comment. Well, personally, I wasn’t enthralled by Danny but still think he’s a great dancer technique-wise. But, I still don’t understand the arrogance thing. I NEVER thought he seemed arrogant, so I don’t know where that criticism even came from! I always thought he seemed kind of shy and meek, actually, and just really low-key. I was annoyed too when he started to act like the others on last night’s show, but I guess, like people have been saying, that’s what everyone’s tempted to do… Anyway, I have to go, but thanks for reading my blog and for commenting!

  14. I went and looked it up at the beginning of the season… From what I read, Contemporary is generally a fusion of modern and ballet, that was originally developed as a category of competition dancing. A number of sources also cite African dance as an influence, but as far as I’m concerned, flexing your foot is not enough to qualify as African anything! (Anyway, I hate the label “African dance” – Africa is a very big continent, and every area has its’ own traditions)

  15. I just wanted to say thanks for your blog and I’m envious of what a fascinating life you seem to lead. Yeah Tonya! We’ll be cheering you on in your legal career/ Swan Lake Samba Girl/ and Writer Extraordinaire! Where do you find the energy? I’m exhausted just reading about it.
    P.S. Ironically enough, now that Danny didn’t win, I’m more in the mood you were when you first posted today! Darn SYTYCD. Maybe I’ll manage not to watch next year? We’ll see. If you see Pasha again, please tell him how much we loved and admired him. He really is a Prince Charming.

  16. Thanks, J’Nev :) I know, isn’t it upsetting when the one you’re rooting for doesn’t win! Oh well, Sabra’s cute, and the bottom line I think is that they all have fantastic dance careers ahead of them!

    Oh that’s interesting, Natalia — yeah, I agree with you about the African — I’m not sure I really see any of that in contemporary, or at least not what they perform on the show.

  17. I have a very uncharitable theory about that…

    There’s a certain looseness to most sub-saharan African styles of dance. The dance is often very raw, and I know a lot of people who are unfamiliar with it think it consists of basically just wide stances and ass-shaking.

    Because of that, the idea of people who have never studied any form of African dance “fusing” it into their dance style comes across as an excuse to be less precise with their ballet and modern technique.

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