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.