Friday, January 16, 2009

Commentary on SuperStars and America’s Best Dance Crew

Please forgive me for delaying this blog. I took two dance classes this week and they did me in. Its hard being an old dancer with a willing heart and failing joints. But I will carry on.

There isn’t much more to say about SuperStars of Dance: its pretty much a flop. So I will comment on only two things: Robert the Popper and the director’s flipping camera work.

The public first met Robert when he auditioned for SYTYCD. He made the cut but quit at some point (I don’t remember). But the producers were so taken with his quirky popping contortions they invited him back to perform on the finale show. Then he shows up on SuperStars competing as a soloist for the US. I was surprised because I thought he was a one-trick, completely idiosyncratic pony…and I was not alone in that judgment. But in this weeks episode of SSD, he defended himself by reminding us that he too is a true student of dance. He prepares his body, he rehearses, he exchanges movement ideas with other Bboys. Plus he improvises his stage performances which takes skill and confidence. So in what way is he really different from a ballerina at the Bolshoi? The contestants on SYTYCD were expected to be able to adapt to a variety of dance forms, but I doubt the ballerina would be anymore flexible than was Robert. Is he the best popper? I don’t think so, but he deserves to be in the competition.

Regarding the camera work on SSD and SYTYCD: it infuriates me. The cameras are moving around at warp speed. They pan across the dancers, change angles and distances, close in and pull out. The dance is cut to bits losing all continuity and diminishing the power of the performance. They do completely idiotic things like showing a close up of the dancer’s face while her feet are stamping out complex rhythms and patterns. They will move to a new angle at a crucial point in a lift. SYTYCD viewers complained about this last year but SSD seems even worse. I don’t know where I learned this, but Fred Astaire is said to have insisted that the camera show his entire body at all times. Watch one of his musicals again: we don’t lose a second of his dancing to the editors. A dancer dances with her whole body. The overly directed style of SSD only distracts us from the art of dance and insults the efforts of the dancer.

But there’s good news, too: the new season of America’s Best Dance Crew debut this week. What a contrast to SSD! These dancers really are among the elite in their genre. The level of excellence surpassed even last season. Again, we saw some old friends from SYTYCD. In addition to breaking, popping, and locking, we saw strong influences from rock, clogging, and stepping. It was fun to debate with my husband, shout in amazement at a clever sequence, or groan in empathy and fear at their unnatural contortions and life-threatening tricks. The show worked…and, after the failure of SuperStars, I wondered why. That’s when it occurred to me that, unlike most of the dance forms on SSD, competition is part of the historical tradition of breakdancing, and for that matter, stepping and clogging. I have long been interested in competition dance, so look for a special blog on the subject in the near future.

In the meantime,
Think globally, Dance locally

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