As I sat watching last week's Live to Dance semifinals show, I was reminded of that old Wendy's commercial: the one where the old lady yells "Where's the beef?" when confronted by a disappointingly small hamburger patty.
(An apology for taking so long to post about this episode. Between blogging American Idol, which airs the same night as Live to Dance, doing my day job and having a life outside of work, I didn't get around to watching L2D until Sunday afternoon. But I digress.)
I continue to feel that it's misleading to characterize the semifinalists on Live to Dance as among the best dance acts in America. And that's not to say I think they're untalented. But some of them are novelties at best, like Roosevelt Anderson, and some are just rehashing things that others have done better before, which I would argue is the case with Tap Sounds Underground.
It also seems to me that Paula Abdul's credibility as a judge (although they don't call them judges on Live to Dance, they call them "experts") dropped a few notches with her seeming inability to award red stars to mediocre performances last Wednesday (and in saying that, I realize she did give a red star the week before to Du-Shaunt Stegall). She seems to be having a hard time stepping out of her mentoring role (she works with each semifinalist on their performances) and giving the ones that need it a little tough love.
Anyway, let's talk about the dance acts.
First up was Dance Town Chaos, a group of 12 young men from Miami, Fla., who combine lyrical contemporary dancing with acrobatics. The running across the stage with flags? Obscuring the troupe with a giant length of gold fabric? What the hell did that have to do with dancing?
Furthermore, if you're dancing as a unit and your moves aren't particularly unique or challenging, they should be perfectly in synch. Dance Town Chaos's moves were not. But to hear the judges tell it, they had just done something mind-blowing onstage. Paula was out of her seat applauding at the end of the routine.
I couldn't help but wonder if the experts' praise had as much to do with the young men battling prejudices against male dancers as they did with the actual dancing. Paula (who said seeing their routine in rehearsal had left her feeling "like the dorkiest little kid experiencing Disneyland for the first time") had a message for "any naysayer who thinks that the only athletics and excellence can come in sports. I tell you, what you do is equally important to a baseball player who's trying to get a home run and a football player who's scoring a touchdown."
Travis Payne said the troupe had surpassed their audition performance and praised their "artistry, the attention to detail, the expertise. It was fun, it was beautiful, it was masculine the way that gentlemen are supposed to perform" (I find that a slightly offensive statement; androgynous or feminine males can be beautiful dancers, too).
Once Kimberly Wyatt weighed in, it was gold stars all around.
Next up were Jill and Jacob, the teen almost-a couple from L.A. These two had great chemistry in their audition performance that made up for any imperfections in their dancing, but they messed with that against Paula's advice. Jacob tried to turn Jill into a hip-hop dancer and it didn't work. And as the experts pointed out, that special chemistry that had made them so watchable was almost non-existent.
"Where was the loving young couple we fell in love with?" demanded Travis. "That was like married people divorcing ... I felt like you were trying to tell a story, but ... I didn't feel any sort of real connection."
Travis gave them a red star as did Kimberly. But Paula tried to have it both ways, lamenting the absence of the connection "that won America's hearts over" and of Jill's "beautiful technique," but praising them for believing in themselves and coming a long way since rehearsal. She gave them a gold star.
Roosevelt Anderson from Brooklyn (above) was up next. He does something called "sky walking," where he appears to be floating (there were moments when his feet did leave the stage thanks to wires), and "bone breaking," where he contorts his limbs in ways that look painful and a bit gross (hence host Andrew Gunsberg's jokey exhortation, "Don't try this at home").
Roosevelt seems genuinely stoked about what he does, but I found the routine repetitive, boring and kind of freaky during the bone-breaking bits.
Kimberly singled out Roosevelt's "geniuine passion for dance ... but there just wasn't enough tonight" and gave him a red star.
Paula's gold star seemed to be more about how "delightful" Roosevelt was to work with and how he celebrated his "niche."
Travis also gave Roosevelt a gold star, praising his control of his body.
Kimberly played the heavy again with Tap Sounds Underground, two tap-dancing friends from L.A., awarding a red star to Paula and Travis's gold ones.
I had been encouraged when I saw the dancers rehearsing with a ramp, thinking we'd see some extreme tapping, but I found their routine safe and ho-hum.
Paula praised the men, Gregg Russell and Ryan Lohoff, for being "one of the most amazing acts to work with" (which shouldn't have anything to do with the critiquing). And she gushed that they are "the closest thing to perfection as far as tap dancing goes" and that master tappers the Nicholas Brothers, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Donald O'Connor were smiling down on them.
Kimberly rightly pointed out that they didn't meet her earlier challenge to breathe new life into the genre. Paula vehemently disagreed. Myself, I don't think they did anything that the tap greats of earlier eras haven't done and done better. (Google Nicholas Brothers in Stormy Weather or Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in "Mose Supposes," from Singin' in the Rain, for a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.)
Up next was another one of the novelty acts, Shore Thing, a group of 19 kids from Cape May, N.J. They had been challenged to work on their timing and acrobatics, a challenge that they met, but the routine was a bunch of tricks -- tumbling, flips and contortions -- and very little dancing.
This time, all three judges gave out gold stars.
Last up was Kendall Glover, a lyrical jazz dancer from Phoenix, Ariz. Although I find Kendall a bit intense for an 11-year-old, not to mention a little underdressed and overly made up, I found her routine the most complete as a dance performance.
There were gold stars from Kimberly and Paula, but red from Travis, to big boos from the audience, who criticized Kendall's lines and found her performance more athletic than artistic.
In the end, the experts chose Dance Town Chaos to move to the finals. The public chooses the last act, with the result announced when the finals begin this week.
We also learned at the beginning of the show that the act that got voted through from the previous week's semifinals was Twitch, the contemporary troupe from Miami (no big surprise there).
Going into the finals so far we have The Vibe, D'Angelo and Amanda, White Tree Fine Art, Twitch, Dance Town Chaos and one act still to be named.
Will you be watching on Wednesday? Lots of people aren't in the U.S., where last Wednesday's show drew just 4.5 million viewers. If you're still hanging in, I'll be blogging Wednesday's show sometime this week (but not Wednesday, too busy with Idol).