Thursday, July 31, 2014

Grace under pressure

So You Think You Can Dance is a television show which purports to select "America's favorite dancer". Amateur and some specialized professionals (hip hop, ballet) dancers in many genres go through an audition process and a small group is invited to a week long selection camp. Twenty dancers are then chosen for the televised competition. Each week the dancers are paired with one fellow competitor and matched with a dance style and choreographer. After a few hours with the choreographer and a couple of days of rehearsal they must perform in front of a live audience and judges. The dance styles include everything from contemporary to hip hop and ballroom and unusual genres such as Bollywood and African jazz are also represented. Competitors are almost always required to dance outside of their own genre. Each week at least one male and one female dancer are sent home, based on judging by the public. In the end, the individuals with wide skill sets, the ability to learn quickly, a strong work ethic and the capacity to perform under pressure rise to the top. 

This week was an important one in the scheme of the program. The field was reduced to ten competitors from fourteen. The top ten go on tour and from hereon in are matched with "all stars" from last seasons with whom they perform until they are eliminated. At the outset of the show last night, six dancers (three women and three men) were put in jeopardy based on having the lowest vote totals after the show last week. After receiving that news they were then asked to dance their competitive routines.

One couple, Casey and Jessica, have been perceived to be front-runners ever since the auditions. It was a surprise to see them in the bottom six although Jessica has received some fair criticism for her facial expressions and inability to connect emotionally. Last night they were given a contemporary routine by choreographer Travis Wall, who is himself an alumnus of the show. He has turned into an amazing choreographer who has won Emmy awards and has his own dance company. In the context of SYTYCD, dancers who draw the 'Travis card' are guaranteed a spectacular routine but that places more pressure on them to live up to his work and reputation. Imagine the stress Jessica and Casey must have felt as they took the stage knowing that their time on the show was likely dependent on this single performance.

Here is what happened.

Spoiler alert: I will reveal at the end of this post whether this remarkable display of grace under pressure was sufficient to save Jessica and Casey from elimination.

For a taste of more of the wonderfulness that is SYTYCD here are a few more videos. As you watch them remember that there are tap, ballet, contemporary, jazz and hip hop dancers in the mix. They will be penalized if they are unable to perform in the style they are given and match the movements of the others in the group numbers.

This performance is from the first show of the season which served as a showcase for the top twenty dancers. The competitors were paired with others in their own discipline. Here Jessica danced with Ricky, the strongest dancer this season. The choreographer was Sonya Tayeh.

For the last two weeks the producers have let us enjoy group numbers by the women and men. From last week, here is Travis Wall's group number. 

And here are the top seven girls from last night in a number choreographed by Mandy Moore.

And the men, back with Travis Wall.

Spoiler alert:

Jessica and Casey preserved their spot on the show, at least for one more week. Four other dancers were sent home.

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