Tuesday, August 30, 2011

So You Think You Can Dance Season 8 Awards

Thank you for standing by during last night’s technical difficulties.

And now the awards!

Best in Ballroom: Iveta & Pasha in “Ven A Bailar On The Floor” (Jason Gilkison)
Best in Contemporary: Sasha & Alexander in “Stupid” (Travis Wall)
Best in Hip Hop: Sasha & Twitch in “Misty Blue” (Christopher Scott)
Best in Jazz: Sasha & Melanie in “Game On” (Sonya Tayeh)

Sasha & Melanie in “Game On” by Sonya Tayeh

Best in Housewives: Melanie & Sasha, “Heart Asks Pleasure First” (Stacey Tookey)
Best in Statues: Melanie & Marko in “Turn to Stone” (Travis Wall)
Best Contemporary Concept: The Nightmare in “Precious Things” (Tyce Diorio)

Allison & Ricky in “Precious Things” by Tyce Diorio

Best Use of 80s Music: “Another One Bites the Dust” (Mandy Moore)
Best Use of 80s Music (runner-up): “Fashion” (Charles Klapow)
Best Performance (Comedy): Marko in “Whatever Lola Wants”
Best Performance (Drama): Melanie in “Skin & Bones”

Melanie & Marko in “Skin & Bones” by Dee Caspery

Best Performance (Mohawks): Sasha & Mark in “Raise Your Weapon”
Best Bird: Jordan as a vulture in “Brotsjor”
Best Bird (runner-up): Miranda as a woodpecker in “Break Ya Neck”
Best Flying Leap: Melanie in “Total Eclipse of the Heart”

Jordan & Tadd in “Brotsjor” by Travis Wall

Best Solo: Melanie, “Cracks”
Best All-Star: Allison
Most Welcome All-Star: Ivan
Most Improved All-Star: Lauren
Least Charismatic All-Star: Robert
Male Contestant Who Got the Shaft: Nick
Female Contestant Who Got the Shaft: Miranda
Most Annoying Judge Favorite: Ryan
Most Tiresome Judge Refrain: Sasha’s “hard life” and its effect on her dancing
Best in Choreography: Travis Wall for “Stupid,” “Turn to Stone,” and “Brotsjor”

Melanie & Marko in “Turn to Stone” by Travis Wall

Best Judge Comment: Jesse Tyler Ferguson: “Travis took the classic ‘vulture stalks boy, boy almost succumbs to vulture, boy kills vulture’ story that we all know so well… we’ve seen it over and over… and he took it and he made it this brilliant, beautiful thing…”

Monday, August 29, 2011

So You Think You Can Dance… Contemporary

Last fall I wrote about how I was supremely bored with competitive reality television and wondered why, as the talent pool has improved over the seasons, these shows have become so boring. This is particularly true of the last couple of seasons of So You Think You Can Dance, which recently closed its eighth season with Melanie and Sasha, two incredible dancers, as the final two.

Melanie & Sasha in “Heart Asks Pleasure First”

While the seventh season was plagued with injuries (mostly due to the fact that there has been a marked uptick in the number of dances these contestants are expected to perform on a weekly basis), which impeded any real enjoyment the season’s progression, the eighth season was relatively injury free. And, yet? Sort of boring.

I think I’ve identified the problem. Despite the fact that this show has become extremely demanding in one sense, in another sense these dancers were extremely coddled. While this was somewhat discussed regarding Melanie, it actually applies to almost all the dancers, who were far less challenged outside their style than dancers in earlier seasons. Gone are the days when one drew a different style and partner out of a hat every week. (And, producers, no one actually believes these dancers are drawing their style out of a hat, so why don’t you give up that farce right now.)

If you compare the dance styles assigned in the first five episodes (those with the most dancers) of Seasons 2-4 with those of this season, the reduction in ballroom is stark. Seasons 2-4 are pretty consistent, with an average of 43% ballroom dances, 33% contemporary (including jazz and broadway), 23% hip hop, and 1% disco. But, by Season 8, the majority of dances (51%) are contemporary, with only 26% ballroom, 19% hip hop, and a couple of stray styles like African jazz and Bollywood.

Allison & Ivan in Season 2's “La Cumparsita”

As an example, by just the fifth episode in Season 3, we had seen all ten formal ballroom styles* as well as other ballroom dances such as Argentine tango, mambo, salsa, and West Coast swing, sometimes more than once. On the other hand, Season 8 saw far fewer ballroom styles, with many of those quite watered down technique-wise. When the only great ballroom number is in the “Meet the Top 20” show (with “Ten Dance” world champion Iveta, before they kicked her off for younger, contemporary blood), you know there’s a problem.

This is a shame, given some of the superb numbers we’ve seen in the past, for example, Heidi & Benji’s mambo, Allison & Ivan’s Argentine tango(s), Lacey & Danny’s samba, Melissa & Ade’s rumba, Karla & Vitolio’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” quickstep, Caitlin & Jason’s “Minnie the Moocher” foxtrot, Janette & Brandon’s Argentine tango, Jeanine & Brandon’s “Matrix” paso doble, Ashleigh & Jakob’s cha-cha, and Mollee & Jakob’s “Ordinary Day” waltz.

Jeanine & Brandon in Season 5’s “Tetsujin”

One can only hope that this imbalance will be corrected next time around because I think having so many contemporary pieces became fairly repetitive, or at least seemed that way. Even if some of the dances were quite beautiful, I’m not sure they will stick in my mind as well as Travis & Heidi’s “The Bench,” Jaime & Hok’s “Hummingbird and Flower,” Courtney & Mark’s “The Garden,” Randi & Evan’s “Koop Island Blues,” Kayla & Kūpono’s “Eyes on Fire” and “Gravity,” Jeanine & Jason’s “If It Kills Me,” Melissa & Ade’s “This Woman’s Work,” Ellenore & Jakob’s “Tore My Heart,” or Ellenore & Legacy’s “Machine Gun,” to name just a few.

Still, tune in tomorrow for the awards!

*The ten dances include the five Standard dances of foxtrot, quickstep, tango, Viennese waltz, and waltz, as well as the five Latin dances of cha-cha, jive, paso doble, rumba, and samba.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Crossing the Rubicon

Alea iacta est.

Les jeux sont faits.

Yes, yes, I’m finally on The Twitter.

What finally got me there? Was it @javachik and her incessant haranguing about all the cool kids being on The Twitter? Or Audition author @swkehoe with her “innocent” questions about whether I tweet travel?

No, it was barbeque. That’s right, barbeque. You know those days when things don’t quite go according to plan? Well, as I headed up the hill from the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market this afternoon, much later than usual due to a fabulous (but late) game night and morning (well, afternoon) hike out in the East Bay, I saw that the relatively new BBQ place on Hyde was open. Apparently, it doesn’t open until well after lunch which is why I’ve never seen it in action before. Sometimes, not being on schedule is a very good thing.

With ribs smoking out on the sidewalk, how could I not stop? And, well, they had me at Bourbon Cornbread. I resisted the Sweet Potato Rum Pie, but I already regret it. As an extra bonus, their sweet tea was decaf so I could actually try it (verdict: a bit too sweet for me, but with an interesting mapley flavor). Anyway, as I later googled to get the exact name of this slice of heaven (Hyde Away Blues BBQ & Gumbo Café at 457 Hyde Street at O’Farrell), I found their official website, which turned out to be a twitter page—where they tweet what is fresh out of the oven or hot off the grill. All I could think is: “I want to go to there!”

And, thus, @sly_wit was born.

I don’t yet know what I’ll be doing there, but, yes, I’m finally on The Twitter. Stop asking.

However, as God is my witness, I’ll never join Google+.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Opera 101—H.M.S. Pinafore

I am the monarch of the sea,
The ruler of the Queen’s Navee,
Whose praise Great Britain loudly chants.
(And we are his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!)

When at anchor here I ride,
My bosom swells with pride,
And I snap my fingers at a foeman’s taunts;
(And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!)

But when the breezes blow,
I generally go below,
And seek the seclusion that a cabin grants;
(And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!)

Last night, I saw yet another marvelous production by the Lamplighters.

Michael Belle as Ralph and F. Lawrence Ewing as Sir Joseph Porter.
Photo by Lucas Buxman, 2011.

H.M.S. Pinafore (or The Lass That Loved a Sailor) was Gilbert and Sullivan’s first real success and remains one of the most popular of the Savoy Operas. Really, with its infectious melodies, it’s hard not to like Pinafore—after all, even a modern Major-General can “whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.” One of the highlights of last night was the joy of the elderly couple in front of me who couldn’t resist bopping along to the music.

Overall, the cast was uniformly strong and confirmed the wisdom of my decision to commit to a subscription this year. F. Lawrence Ewing and Behrend Eilers, who I loved as Jack Point and Wilfred Shadbolt in The Yeomen of the Guard this past February, were fabulous as Sir Joseph Porter and Captain Corcoran respectively. Another Yeomen veteran, Robby Stafford, really made the most out of Dick Deadeye, one of my least favorite roles in the canon.

Bill Bobstay (Chris Uzelac) and Dick Deadeye (Robby Stafford).
Photo by David Allen, 2011.

While not my image of Ralph Rackstraw, I certainly hope to see more of Michael Belle, a newcomer to the Lamplighters with a terrific operatic voice. Another impressive Lamplighters debut was that of Lindsay Thompson Roush, who played Josephine.

Lindsay Thompson Roush as Josephine. Photo by Lucas Buxman, 2011.

If you can, try to catch one of the remaining performances tonight at 8pm or tomorrow at 2pm at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, or next weekend in Mountain View.

Note: Pinafore is the Lamplighters first production of the 2011-2012 season. They will continue with their annual champagne gala and auction in November (which, had I known was titled It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Amazing Race Around the World in 79½ Days!, I might have added to my subscription), The Gondoliers (or The King of Barataria) in January, and a singalong Pirates of Penzance in March.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Great Unread—Summer Reading

“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York
The Tragedy of King Richard the Third

Although I fell off a bit in this year’s challenge, I used much of my reading time in July to get back on track. I completed my June challenge book, Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, as well as my July selection, The Tragedy of King Richard the Third, which I’d been meaning to read since the Royals and Rulers salon in April. Richard III was also the basis for one of the plays I saw this month at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, so I had extra incentive to finish it before the month was out. It is one of the longest Shakespeare plays, but it’s so good that it wasn’t difficult to get through. I also had the help of Arkangel’s audio version* for the car—It was great to combine reading with the audio, so I may be making my way through more of my Oxford Complete Shakespeare set before the year is through.

While more Shakespeare is well and good, my real accomplishment of the summer so far is finally finishing Possession, which I began back in February. Although the start was very slow, mostly because the poetry bogs it down, as the mystery picks up it became really thrilling and I couldn’t wait to see how it was going to be resolved. And, for once, I really liked the ending.

For those that have fallen away from The Great Unread (you know who you are), I have a mini summer reading challenge for you: Finish one book you feel you should read before Labor Day. That gives you a little over a month. If you are game, post your selection in the comments below.

*Arkangel has recorded fully-dramatized versions of the complete Shakespeare, unabridged, which I highly recommend (check your local library) if you don’t often get a chance to see the Bard performed.