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*This post first published on San Diego News Network’s Culture Cruncher blog

Well, friends, what did we learn this week on SYTYCD? Apparently Nigel likes curly hair (okay, whatever), Mary’s had a little work done (no!), and the most pleasant surprise of all – we’ve got a pretty freakin’ fantastic Top 20.

Frankly, the past few weeks of auditions didn’t give much of an
indication of what we’d get when we got to Hollywood. Sure, we saw
some strong solos but nothing to compare with Wednesday night, which
proved to be a particularly strong evening of dance across the board.
I’m feeling a bit Adam Shankman here, but the first real evening of
competition among the top contenders was downright special.

At the beginning of the show, Cat Deely squealed “I have new babies!”
and I admit to sharing in her joy. But the question was, who exactly
were these new children? And would they do us proud?

Jeanine and Phillip got us off to a great start and I was reminded why
this show excites me so. The hip-hop pas de deux offered a touching
little domestic scene in only two-minutes. Yeah, it was kinda sweet,
but it also expanded the idea of what hip-hop can be, infusing
character and story into a genre most people recognize only from the
background of music videos.

So if hip-hop can do it, why can’t other styles transcend their
stereotypes? Caitlin and Jason performed a Bollywood routine that
felt like a caricature of the form. The choreographers on the show
take great freedom (to a degree) with jazz, contemporary, and hip-hop
dance, taking them out of their traditional musical boxes and
aesthetics.

Yet rather than embodying the style, Caitlin and Jason looked like
they were dressed up for Halloween. There was something very
artificial about it, and a missed opportunity to show us how Bollywood
can find a place in American culture, not just as a borrowed novelty
from another.

Similarly, Jeanette and Brandon could not escape the constant
comparisons to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their fox-trot
routine. Drowning in that billowing pink gown, Jeanette looked
classy, classic… and totally old-fashioned. Must this be the case?
Must ballroom stay in the past while other styles incorporate new
influences? Or must ballroom always look back to maintain its purity?

I don’t intend to critique the style and frankly this show is my only
glimpse into that world – admittedly a very narrow perspective. But
it’s strange to watch some forms move in fresh directions while other
forms hold fast to their origins. Perhaps its because we wouldn’t
recognize them any other way.

Taking the show to new artistic heights, as usual, Wade Robson’s
crash-test dummies piece confirmed contemporary dance’s ability to be
avant-garde, but also its capacity to be witty and charming at the
same time. With all the other performances, even though most were
pretty great, we were still watching two dancers execute a routine.
Impressive and clever though the choreography was, the dancers
remained the focal point.

Yet Robson’s piece trasncended the personality of the dancers and to
Ashley and Kupono’s credit, they disappeared in the overall concept of
the piece and allowed the idea to come to life.

For those of us who love concert dance, we sometimes get bored or
frustrated when virtuosity and the skill of the dancer becomes the
show. What interests us is the art of the dance itself, what it tries
to convey, what ideas it expresses, or what world it creates for us to
inhabit.

Nigel said that this piece brought him into another world and it
brought me there as well. Adam proudly claimed that, “No other show
will bring this type of diversity of art into the American home” and I
think he’s right – certainly not on this scale. As Nigel pointed out,
“Whether you like it or not, you’re talking about dance.” And that’s
a dialogue we welcome.

It was heartening to see that the audience agreed with the judges and
that Kupono and Ashley were safe this week. Three other couples were
not so lucky and there was really no surprise at who was in the
bottom. As the show’s first Top 20 casualties, Tony and Paris got the
boot, deservedly so. Their routine was a bit generic and their solos
were unspectacular. That said, I quite liked them both and will
especially miss Tony’s energy and humor.

But hey, that’s just me. What do you think? What routines stood out?
Who should have gone home instead?

Until next week…

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