Maybe I’m just getting desperate, but it seems to be getting better. At least the dancing. When the two contestants from Team Bruno — Charity and Kelsey — had to sing for their lives, I nearly had to cover my ears they were both so off key. Of course they sounded fine once the recorded background singers joined in, which makes me think that what’s saving the team performances is just that. As singers, I’m really liking Mariel and Lacey and the rest I’m not so sure about. We got to hear a bit more from Chris this time — and those girls in the audience obviously love him — and he had a nice clean voice, always on note … although I’m not sure it’s memorable enough to make him “American Idol”-worthy. When Bruno announced that the award for the winning team would be a Hollywood recording deal, I thought hmmmm…
Anyway, the dancing. Overall it wasn’t really that of polished, professionals, but the choreography’s getting more fun and challenging. The opening 50s number was cute and I absolutely loved the jitterbug aerials, although none of the girls got enough speed on their jumps — or help from their guys — to propel them up very high. And when the girls jumped on the guys’ backs and did the kicks — cute but they looked nervous and the kicks were half-assed; legs should have gone up much higher. But again, with the singing and dancing combined, those require a lot of energy (not to mention fearlessness) to do them properly, and, like I said earlier, you can’t go doing barrel turns all around the perimeter of the stage while belting out Aretha Franklin lyrics; combining song and dance necessarily limits the range of movement.
Speaking of the jitterbug aerials: the background scene between Bruno and Lacey, where he taught her to trust, looked scripted, and it probably was at least a bit. But it makes sense that that he had the whole team doing that typical psych ‘fall back and trust your teammates to catch you’ excercise, given those opening aerials. Lifts, and even just some dips (I noticed throughout several chokehold dips — where the guy holds the woman up by wrapping his hands around her throat) –they can be frightening, and the woman must absolutely trust the man or both of you can get hurt. Just another thing that marks them as non-pros, but I guess that’s part of the point of the show, to turn them into real dancers.
So, it was Motown night for the team matches. I loved all the Step dancing, seeing as how I just wrote about it. I guess with all these movies — “Step Up 2” and “How She Move” — it’s making a big comeback. Everyone did surprisingly well with it too — lots of lightening-speed grand battemant kicks with underhand claps. Team Bruno’s first number, “Think (Freedom)” by Aretha Franklin, worked both because of the great use of Step dancing, and Lacey’s deep luscious voice belting out those words. Carrie Ann was right when she said it wasn’t balanced; that only Lacey shone, but don’t you need to go with what you have and put the best up front?
One thing — I think it’s rather ridiculous that they don’t have outside judges. Of course Carrie Ann and Bruno and going to prefer their own teams and criticize the other’s. I realize the public vote counts for 100%, but can’t they still hire some outside, neutral arbiters? Generally, Carrie Ann is less critical of Bruno’s team though, and more self-reflective about her own. And I think that is partly why she won the first match. She’s simply coming across as more likable than Bruno.
Carrie Ann got her team back into the team spirit with that studio football match. Kind of corny. But I like how she asked her group whom they were paying tribute to before they went on. Sometimes beginning performers forget the point of what they’re doing and it becomes just about the steps.
Overall, my favorite of the night was Team Carrie Ann’s first number, The Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” It began and ended with simple steps — a lot of basic jazz side steps, step-togethers, with a foot brushed smooth and slow on its way to meet the other. But it had attitude galore and you could tell the team was so into it. And I loved how she sped it up in the middle to create a completely different atmosphere: calm, cool and collected, turned into mad crazy fast Step dancing, then back to the smooth cool. The piece had movement and structure and the dancers showed their versatility. Too much smoke though — the team was nearly engulfed by it at one point!
I was more impressed with Bruno’s second number and less so with Carrie Ann’s. It’s like each choreographer can only come up with one good number per week. Bruno’s “Caught Up” began with the dancers wielding sticks, which they used for good effect, to steady themselves as they performed bluesy swings of the head. The rhythm sped up and the middle portion, my favorite, was like a real Step dancing competition, with all members in pretty good unison dancing around those sticks. And it ended with some acrobatics by the men — flips and falls to the ground into a one-handed handstand. Tricks like this would bother me if they were the central focus, but Bruno used them only to spice up the routine and drive it to a culminating crescendo.
Carrie Ann’s “Upside Down” to the Diana Ross song, was pretty bland, and didn’t make much sense. It began with the women standing in picture frames, and the men coming to escort them out and to the center of the stage. Why? What exactly does the song have to do with woman as art object and the man as a kind of rescuer? Then, most of the choreography consisted of women doing simple stylized walks all over stage with a few upper body isolations. The movement can be simple, as long as it has attitude and meaning, and as long as it goes somewhere interesting. To be sure, Alyssa had a lovely arabesque near the end and there was a high over-the-shoulder lift, but they came too late and seemed more for effect than organic to the song. It was here that Carrie Ann should have asked herself, what am I paying homage to.
And then Team Bruno, as I had predicted, lost and Bruno had to choose a member to eliminate. Interesting set-up here. What if one team ends up losing most of its members well before the other? That’s going to be very unbalanced. And wouldn’t the season end prematurely?
It’s a toss up for me this week: I liked Bruno’s second number and Carrie Ann’s first. I’m going to go with Bruno though, since of the pieces that were so-so, I preferred his.