Jose & Billy get the boot
As it gets down to the final four, So You Think You Can Dance deserves a littleR-E-S-P-E-C-T
It's been bothering me for some time that many of my friends, several of them critics, look down their long noses at So You Think You Can Dance. The weekly television dance competition is down to its final four contestants, and I feel obligated to get on my soapbox and demand some respect for all the extraordinarily talented artists who danced in the past weeks.
And yes, I mean to call them artists. Enough about how "hard-working" and "devoted" they are. Those are euphemisms, suggesting that they are well-intentioned but less than serious, all “flash" and no substance.
Those who couldn't survive the daunting demands of the show have paid with more than just their pride, reputation, and confidence. Many of them left with war wounds: Alex Wong's lacerated Achilles tendon, Ashley Galvan's pain-radiating rib, Billy Bell’s bum knee, and Jose Ruiz’s pulled groin are strong evidence. Lauren Froderman's mysterious malady on Wednesday, which medics seem to have repaired in time for Thursday night’s live broadcast, is even more cause for alarm.
This doesn't make SYTYCD an automatically artistic venture, but it does amplify my admiration for the contestants. As a writer, I don't have to put my skeleton in jeopardy every time I open a new file on my laptop. These dancers never know if they're going to walk off stage or be carried on a stretcher — in front of cameras, no less.
Edward Villella, the sullen and ancient artistic director of Miami City Ballet, looks down his nose at SYTYCD. He did this, at least indirectly, when he wouldn't let Alex out of a contract . What an extraordinary paradox from the man whose name became a household word in the 1960s thanks primarily to television, not to the choreography of George Balanchine, as my critic friends would have it. I watched Villella on the Ed Sullivan Show and other programs, in part because my mother had a serious crush on him. I knew exactly who he was when I was only seven. In 1975 he won an Emmy and appeared in many "made-for-TV" dance productions, including Nutcracker and A Midsummer Night's Dream. He was on The Odd Couple and the soap opera Guiding Light! And he can't support the television work of a young dancer like Wong?
Either Villella is jealous of Wong’s stellar youth, or just plain resentful, realizing that his company is not as culturally relevant to young people as SYTYCD.
Yes, the program is formulaic, the judging mostly inane (they are judges, not critics), and much of the choreography is crap. Some of it is gorgeous and sophisticated. But the dancers, like dancers anywhere, have to perform what they are given, and we shouldn't shoot these messengers.
I'm still reeling from Jose’s Bollywood number weeks ago and his Otis Redding hip hop performance this week. Mostly, I feel the producers have saddled him with flop after choreographic flop, poorly attenuated to his capabilities. The judges have been against him from the beginning. Why do they expect his body to transform overnight into that of a danseur noble? Is that what we want most from him? Jose’s arms are stronger and more versatile than anyone else on the show. He is more in tune with gravity, and still the most naturally musical dancer of the bunch, filling every phrase of even the worst dance with a smooth sweep.
Now that he is booted off, I eagerly anticipate his guest appearances as a B-boy, and would love to see him move into any sort of yoga-based choreography, dancing in a classic like Paul Taylor's Esplanade (where his thick waist would be right at home) or in some of the growing Capoeira-based contemporary work from choreographers such as Russell Maliphant.
If the judges didn’t get Jose’s B-boy background (they often referred to him as “untrained”), they were even worse to Billy. Last night Nigel Lythgoe said that America just wasn’t connecting with his “slightly androgynous” style. Look in the mirror, Nigel. Did the judges ever tell any of the straight boys to work towards getting more in touch with their feminine side? I cringed as week after week they tried to make a man out of Billy, when he had so many attributes they simply ignored.
On Wednesday the judges raved over his “homeless man” dance. “That was nothing short of art,” exclaimed Adam Shankman, who is often given over to superlatives. It is a theme close to my own heart, since my only brother lived on the streets for his entire adult life before dying suddenly at age 45. Believe me, dancing was not among his many concerns, and I don’t see any of him in Billy’s hackneyed portrayal. If liberals with rose-colored glasses want to feel better after watching this dance, so be it, but I’m not buying it for a second. Billy would do well to seek out a choreographer like Stephen Petronio, who would be able to exploit his natural elasticity and passionate stance, and who would respect his identity, whatever it might be.
The quartet that remains includes the strangely cheerful Kent Boyd, confident and muscular AdéChiké Torbert, lone-girl Lauren, and the mostly one-dimensional boy-next-door Robert Roldan. At this point I am mostly for Kent, who seems so gratified by every glowing comment from the judges. It’s a dangerous game he’s playing, but if his body can hold on, from my critic’s perspective he is the likeliest winner.