Tuesday, September 05, 2006

So You Think You Can Choreograph

Thoughts on choreography in general, as well as season 2 of the Fox TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

(Yes, I know that I'm way late on this post, since the finale was three weeks ago. I wrote most of this on vacation and didn't get a chance to pull it back until now. There's a picture of Q if you make it to the end.)

Even the most beautiful dancers will look bad when the choreography sucks, as illustrated in several soundtrack medley/dance revue fiascos in past years at the Oscars. However, a brilliant choreography just might be able to save a weaker dancer.

SwingDaddy and I had never heard of Mia Michaels before, but were tremendously impressed with her work. The “Why” duet for Ivan and Alison gave me goosebumps, and the sunflower number for Travis and Heidi showed how emotionally moving the contemporary form can be. (Edited: Correction from Lady O to say that Tyce Dioro was actually the choreographer of "Why." We admired several of his pieces too.)

Digression: SwingDaddy and I have mixed feelings about what used to be called “modern” dance, because there was a period of time in the late 90’s where the most dreaded event of our entire year was the annual modern dance student recital. Courtesy required us to make an appearance since we were heavily involved with the department, so we’d grit our teeth and watch the students writhe angstily to bad or no music in twitchy “choreography” of their own making.

Then one year, a faculty member, Diane Frank, contributed her own choreography, which made us understand that modern could be good, interesting and fun to watch. We went out and got tickets to Alvin Ailey, Pilobolus, and enjoyed some amazing performances (including some at subsequent years of that same student recital).

Back to the TV thread: Choreographers Mia Michaels, Shane Sparks, and Ron Montez all tailored their work to the dancers they were assigned each week. Ron even included a little hip hop riff for Ivan in one of the ballroom numbers. Other choreographers took a different attitude, saying, "Let's see if they're up for this!"

An authoritarian, non-collaborative choreography style may provide a truer reflection of the dancers' abilities, but I think also shows a limitation on the choreographer's part. In particular, there was one ballroom instructor who just about doomed all her dancers with lame material. She didn't make a return in following weeks, so the producers must have realized it as well.

Judge/executive producer Nigel was right that the greatest beneficiary of the show was probably the art of dance itself, rather than any one performer. Millions of people watched the show, and a small but important fraction of that audience will be inspired to buy tickets to a local performance and support dance theater.

The cash prize to the show is not big - $100,000, compared to $1 million for Survivor. It’s sort of an indicator for the field – very few dancers make a cushy living through performance alone. Let’s hope the show helps a few more make it! I'm looking forward to season 3.

Me too, mommy!


Jenny said...

Ohmygod I totally want to joint the troupe just for the clothes.


You totall need to do a video post of some troupe dancing. Or have you already done it and I missed it?

Graham said...

+1 on Mia Michaels. I never expected to like "contemporary" dance, but a lot of her stuff just blew me away. And good point about working with the dancers. I found some pre-SYTYCD videos of Benji and saw several of the moves from some of his flashier choreographies on the show. So they were clearly working with his known abilities.

fourthbreakfast said...

The "Why" number was really good, and I thought the encore performance of it was much better than the first one. Ivan did the arms movements much better.

The number, if Wikipedia is to be believed, was choreographed by Tyce Dioro. I remember Mia requested it for the finale because she first saw it on TV.

Mayberry said...

Ooh I second Jenny! Thanks for your thoughts on SYTYCD. It's great to hear an insider's perspective.

So do you think the job that Benji won is a good prize? As you said, few dancers make a living by performing, but would he be better off pursuing his own interests/style, vs. joining that troupe?

Mary P. said...

My daughter loves that show, but I confess I've never watched an entire episode - I can't stand how brutal some of the judges are.

Bob said...

Great write up on choreographies.
I just realized the "chore" in "choreography".

Nice touch in hinting there's a picture of Q at the end to keep grandparents interested in case they are not into dancing.

Lady M said...

Jenny and Mayberry - thanks! I'll pass along your kind words to my costume co-conspirator who spent two crazy weekends sewing with me. Pre-baby, of course! I haven't posted any video, but I'll look into it. :)

Graham - Amazing how a good choreo makes a difference, isn't it.

Fourthbreakfast - ah that makes more sense. I was wondering why Mia said that she wasn't there in person to see the number. I'll correct it on the main page. Thanks!

Mary P - I have to admit that we usually fast-forward through the judges comments besides Nigel's. I think he usually gives useful criticim - how to improve, etc, instead of being cruel.

Bob - yep, trying to provide those baby pictures wherever we can. :)

I think I'll write a followup on Mayberry's question about whether the Benji's job offer at the Celine show is a good one. See you there soon!

Mamacita Tina said...

So is Q working on his own dance moves?