The Thursday finale
Lauren Froderman syndrome: Do you have to be a clean-cut American cliche to winSo You Think You Can Dance?
AdéChiké, we hardly knew ye.
The talented young dancer who hails from Brooklyn is the latest exile on So You Think You Can Dance, which brought its ranks down to three for Thursday's finale. And while I realize that there can be only one winner, I found the slightly brooding AdéChiké’ Torbert’s departure particularly difficult.
We finally saw a bit of his softer side, learned something of his struggles as a teenager, and heard about the difficult environment from which he emerged to reign, albeit briefly, on the celebrated dance competition series.
We also saw him deliver some of the best dancing of the season, though you’d never know it from the judges’ confused comments. I’m not the only one who thinks it’s very possible that these white judges have a problem with ethnicity, or just difference in general. It’s without doubt that the final trio (Robert Roldan, Kent Boyd, and Lauren Froderman) is decidedly wholesome, the boy-and-girl next-door types, charming but generic.
Do you have to be an American cliché in order to win?
The writing against AdéChiké has been on the wall for more than a few weeks. But I’m still trying to figure out exactly was so wrong with him.
In last week's opening Guys and Dolls pastiche, everyone on the team met with positive comments from the judges, until the indecisive Tyce DiOrio starting picking on AdéChiké.
“I want to see the fight,” he said.
Does that mean he hoped AdéChiké might figure out how to upstage the other dancers, in other words, to “fight” for more attention at this crucial point? It was an ensemble dance, and if he had emerged unnecessarily, he would have caught even more flack for that.
There was tension in the air and it might have been the reason for Cat Deeley’s miserable hair-do, which seemed to be falling apart right in front of the cameras. Maybe it’s just the subtle, shifting nuances in her body language, but I think she favors AdéChiké as many of us do. She seems to light up just a bit more as he comes downstage for his post-performance judging, anticipating the moment that she gets to drape her arms over his muscular shoulders.
But no amount of doting could save him from the assault he received after his first solo, a stunning African/Jazz-based duet by Sean Cheesman set to Ralph MacDonald’s The Path.
It was one of the most personally-tailored dances given to AdéChiké this season, with a story-line that traces a path to freedom. Cheesman explained that he intended it as a metaphor for the young dancer’s journey on the show: “It started out-of-focus and got clearer, and then he started to rejoice.”
Nigel, as usual, started off the judging and it felt immediately like he was the first greeter in a funeral reception line.
“It’s a good fun routine, good fun choreography, it’s a deep story,” he said with a sense of foreboding. Then he admonished AdéChiké for his straight back, a curious complaint. The dancer’s face took on a grave expression as Tyce asked Nigel, “What are you talking about?”
Then, with a cruel chuckle he said he was just kidding, digging in as well by saying the dance should have been about exhilaration. "There’s using your center and then there’s deepening within it,” he asserted. He added that “the heart of the dance lies within the story line,” whatever that means. It’s a curious criticism, since the story line of the dance was conceived by Cheesman specifically with AdéChiké in mind.
At least the whining Mia Michaels was honest, saying that she liked the piece but not the execution. She chose her words well, since this judging felt exactly like, well, an execution. But she admitted that she was picking it apart because there is only one week left in the show. AdéChiké’s large eyes filled with sadness.
While I was contemplating his plight during a commercial break, I went to look at Mia’s website about herself. “She has a way of touching people’s lives with passion, emotional expression and style of dance,” Michaels has written about herself in the third person. And, she might have added, “a way of dismissing aspiring young dancers without any hesitation.”
Adam Shankman, it seems, didn’t agree with the other three judges at all, but saved his words, telling AdéChiké to “forget we’re all here and dance for your life.” It was his way of saying “so long and farewell, and we’ll probably laugh about this someday.”
The judging became even harsher when AdéChiké performed a thrilling duet set to Melissa Etheridge by none other than Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, two demi-gods of contemporary dance. It finished with a striking unison passage that could have won over even the coldest of hearts. If he wasn’t giving his “all” here, then I am simply crazy.
Nigel, in an extraordinarily arrogant moment, reminded the young dancer how honored he must feel dancing for the stellar choreographers. Then he went on to say how AdéChiké has “lost his wind,” and that he bent his leg in one of the jetés. Tyce sounded like an annoying kindergarten teacher when he said the young man still has a long way to go. Once again it was Adam who offered the only congratulations, but what were they for? Mia said she wanted more.
Well, I for one want more from Mia. More insight-and certainly no more empty maxims.
I hope that AdéChiké will give Rhoden and Richardson a call in a few weeks. They will give him the guidance he needs as he takes his next career steps. When the young dancer was a student at LaGuardia Arts High School, he received the Tamiris Award. Arthur Mitchell once received the same award.
AdéChiké, don’t worry, you’re in excellent company.