Periodically, I plan to feature entries that discuss art and media other than film, since ultimately, the film world is not in a vacuum, but often dialogs with television, internet, recording, and various forms of live performance and exhibition.
To kick off this new column, I’d like to share a clip from one of my favorite reality shows, So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD). Modeled off of American Idol, the show holds dance auditions in cities around the country before narrowing the pool down to 20 dancers. The top twenty compete weekly for phone-in votes that determine the bottom three dancers of each sex. The judges then make the final decision about who should go and who should stay after each dancer performs a solo.
As mainstream reality TV goes, the show offers an astounding breadth of styles. Of course, there are very problematic elements to the show, particularly during the auditions. It seems like every year, genderqueer and plus-sized individuals receive the harshest critiques, even when they exhibit strong technique. Race also tends to shape judge’s expectations of dancer performance, such as when a white ballroom dancer performs hip-hop or a black street dancer learns ballroom. Nevertheless, I’ve found the show to be far more entertaining than Idol, due to it’s experimentation with dance forms, staging, and costuming.
Auditions bring out some of the most interesting performances, such as this pair who invented a style called Mutation.
I’m fascinated by the use of contortionism in this form, as it clearly subverts the standards of grace and fluidity prescribed by more classical forms. In essence, the body is made strange by the dancers’ stilted movements. The concept fascinates me as well, since it draws heavily from goth and science-fiction.
Of course, this melding of horror and dance is nothing new. Who can forget the choreography from Thriller? In case you did, here’s a short dance segment:
Thriller clearly inspired one of my favorite SYTYCD choreographers, Wade Robson, who actually taught himself the Thriller choreography by the age of three. His impersonations of Michael Jackson were so spot-on, he was invited to perform with the mega-star when he was five years old. It’s no surprise, then, that Robson’s work replicates many of the macabre themes of Jackson’s most famous music video. Below is the routine most obvious influenced by Thriller, performed during Season 2:
Such routines keep me coming back to SYTYCD every summer, in spite of the show’s many flaws. I look forward to seeing new, inventive choreography this season, hopefully with some of the same dark overtones of Robson’s work.