Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dance of Death

On last Wednesday’s episode of So You Think You Can Dance, choreographer Tyce Diorio created a dance dedicated to a friend with breast cancer. It featured contestant Melissa, her head wrapped in a scarf (presumably after chemotherapy) and dressed in a simple outift that evoked hospital attire, flinging herself mournfully into the arms of her partner, Ade. (See the dance here.)
It was impossible not to be moved by this dance—or by the real tears Melissa shed when the dance was over.

And I think So You Think You Should Dance should never do anything like it again.

This is not the first time a choreographer has dedicated a dance to a sick, dead, or dying loved one. Last year, Jean-Marc Genereux devoted a waltz to his severely disabled daughter. Two years ago, Mia Michaels created a dance where a childlike female dancer (a stand-in for Mia herself) met with her recently deceased father in heaven. Both dancers threw flower petals and wore white.

The quality of these dances is not really the issue. For the record, I prefer my art a little less explicit. But I’ve always applauded So You Think You Can Dance for bringing even something resembling art to primetime TV (on Fox no less!)

The issue is this, So You Think You Can Dance is a competition. And it’s impossible to judge these dances fairly. Maybe, just maybe, show creator and head judge Nigel Lythgoe could preface his critique by saying something like this, “That piece had a powerful and moving message that I think we can all relate to. But now let’s analyze the dance separate from the emotions it evoked.”

But he doesn’t do that. In fact, he does the opposite. He revels in these dances. He boasts about how moving they are, how unique his show is to bring people such heart-wrenching material. He cries. He stands and applauds. He needs a moment to compose himself. The other judges follow in kind.

These reactions may very well be genuine from Lythgoe and crew. Who knows? (Lythgoe, a natural hawker, makes PT Barnum look like Willie Loman). No matter what the case, such dances should be removed from a competition. It immediately puts the other contestants at a disadvantage. This show is supposed to be about great dancing, right? Not about which contestant was lucky enough to draw the most tear-jerking dance of the night.

A natural response may be: But wait, a lot of art tells a story. Indeed, much of the choreography on this show has a narrative aspect. So where do we draw the line? Simple: No more choreography about dead or dying loved ones. There it is. Seems harsh, but it levels the playing field.

Oh, and as if you need to ask, both Melissa and Ade were voted safe on Thursday’s results show.

Friday, July 17, 2009

When Worlds Collide: Reality TV edition

Did anyone else have their mind completely blown when Taylor Momsen—Jenny on Gossip Girl—showed up on last week’s episode of NYC Prep—aka the reality TV show that purports to be a “real life” version Gossip Girl?
For those who missed it: The hair flipping prep school stud Sebastian took a friend to some sort of exclusive rock concert for and by Upper East Side private schoolers. As he waited in line to get in, Momsen just kind of showed up. She was dressed, Jenny style, in a leather jacket and leggings with her trademark bleached blonde shag and look of permanent teen annoyance.
“The girl in the leather jacket is hot,” said Sebastian’s friend.
Not, “Check it out, there’s Jenny from Gossip Girl!”
Not, “Does that chick look familiar to you?”
Just, “The girl in the leather jacket is hot.”
It was like the real Jenny had somehow broken through the fourth wall of Gossip Girl and was now mingling with the kids from NYC Prep, sort of like that Aha video where the singer gets drawn into the comic book.
My head is spinning with the meta-ness of it all.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

NYC Prep: Who Am I Trying to Kid? I’m Totally Into It

I distinctly remember being at a party in high school where I thought long and hard about the way that I leaned. I wanted the lean to suggest social indifference, coolness, but not quite inapproachability. I truly believed that people noticed—and cared—about how I propped myself against a wall.
Of course, at some point, as an adult, I began to realize that while life is all, indeed, a stage, sometimes your audience has gone to the loo. Or maybe is too busy staging their own personal drama to notice yours.
I mean, we all come to this realization, right? Unless, of course, you’re a wealthy teenager living in New York city.
Then, your extreme narcissism is not just adolescent navel gazing, it’s actually grounded in some empirical reality. From Gossip Girl to Born Rich to the Real Housewives of New York, to pretty much every television series that sets up NYC as the ne plus ultra of fame and coolness—you have been repeatedly told that you are extremely fascinating, that your lives inspire envy, and that people really do care.
You could say, then, that the teenage terrors in NYC Prep have been waiting for this close-up their entire lives.
In particular, the show’s breakout star—the dandyish, sexually indistinct P.C.—has so much to say about prep school mores and customs, it seems he must have keeping these thoughts in a diary of sorts: “Things To Say When I Am the Inevitable Star of My Own Reality TV Show.”
P.C. is so eager to share his every waking thought, he has actually allowed the Bravo cameras to follow him into his therapy sessions. (I understand why a 17-year-old boy would do this, but what on earth is the therapist thinking?)
Viewers both hate and love P.C. They hate him because he is, inarguably, absurd: He affects an aura of jaded world-weariness that is simply ridiculous for a teenager (he calls his fellow teens “children.”). He thinks his studied ennui makes him seem worldly and sophisticated. Instead, it makes you want to give him a timeout.
But we love P.C., too, because he is entertaining—a cub Tom Wolfe, with bon mots that may not be as bon as he thinks they are, but are still much more amusing than we have any right to expect from a teenage boy—and because his sexual orientation seems as much a mystery to him as it does to us. P.C. talks about sexing up the ladies, but it’s hard to believe him. Does any straight boy really wear scarves and skinny jeans and turned up blazer collars with such regularity? And why does he have no male friends—just a series of female friends, exes, and spiritual advisers.
Chief among these female friends is Jessie, the meanest of the mean girls on the Upper East Side, and P.C.’s ex (“It just didn’t take,” they explain. . . hmmmm.) Jessie is way into fashion, volunteers for the Operation Smile charity, and can cut down a potential rival with one blistering stare. She’s also hopelessly, futilely in love with P.C, although she convinces herself they’re just good friends. As with many of the girls on NYC Prep, I can already see Jessie as a blowsy 35 year old. She’s not so much a child as a Real Housewife in training. Still, I feel sorry for her, because it must be hard to put out all that toxic energy—especially when you just want to be loved by a boy who is either gay, or just not that into you, or both.
Next, there is Sebastian, the hair-flipping super stud of the bunch. Fellow bloggers have wondered why he is such a success with the ladies, to which I say, “Really?” A kid like Sebastian—with his girly hair, soft, Sean Cassidyish features, and faux cosmopolitan manners (he speaks French, poorly)— is catnip to the teen set. Plus, his name is Sebastian. For god’s sake, it may as well be Mr. Darcy.
Finally, there are the brunette girls, all essentially interchangeable in my mind. If I have this straight, Kelli is the one with the especially indifferent parents (quite an accomplishment, considering that adults gets more play on the Peanuts than they do on this show)—they live in the Hamptons most of the year and leave their 17-year-old daughter to her own devices in NY. (Quick, call the authorities!) Moon-faced Camille is the over-achieving yenta of the bunch, who doesn’t seem to think she’s worthy of a boyfriend of her own, as she’s always ministering to the romantic needs of her gal pals. And then there’s Taylor, who’s supposed to be our plucky heroine, but in my mind is a sort of an All About Eve character. She pretends she’s just a shy public school girl learning the ropes, gently poking her toe into those intimidating prep school waters, but clearly she is a pint-sized predator. She wants Sebastian, she wants the best parties, she wants the coolest friends. She wants it all. Watch out, Jessie.
I do worry about these kids. After all, coming to the realization that all eyes aren’t on you is sort of an essential component of growing up, right? But what if you skip that step entirely? Are we looking at future sociopaths? Blissfully happy adults who never have to check their youthful narcissism? Or just chronic reality TV subjects? Whatever the case, I’m so there.