Dance on TV This Week

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June 13, 2014 by Nicole

So, aside from So You Think You Can Dance introducing Misty Copeland as part of the judging panel (which was lovely. More Misty, please!), I don’t have a lot to say about the So You Think You Can Dance auditions this week. It’s hard because you know you’re seen a bunch of beautiful, talented and some even wonderfully unique dancers…..and you may never see them again. Somewhere between the auditions and the callbacks, the judges seem to change their minds or the producers seem to lose all the footage of at least one dancer I mentally tag as a favorite when I’m watching auditions. And that’s hard for me. So it’s usually about this point in the process (a solid 2 weeks of auditions) where I’m ready to just get to callbacks & see who makes the show (and why). Because those are the dancers we’ll actually get to spend quality time with this summer.

On to Big Ballet – the other series we’ve been discussing here. This week gave us the finale….and overall, I’m still not quite sure what to think! I absolutely love that the show took the audience into the frustration and eternity that is tech rehearsals. I also loved Wayne’s mental process (as told to the camera) of being positive and have that be the support and confidence the dancers needed to carry them through what was feeling like an increasingly daunting task.

The finale included the final performance – Wayne & Monica’s Swan Lake, created for these dancers. I thought it was really lovely. The costume design was really complimentary for the dancers and the setting (1920s) and set pieces were interesting.

I could see the technique the dancers were beginning (or in some cases, continuing) to develop. I thought they did a great job with the performance and the emotion. It was a serious attempt to stage a classic in a new way (not totally unlike Matthew Bourne’s now world-renowned version of Swan Lake). Although, I would have preferred more, we did get a small window into the choreographic decisions as well, with Wayne changing the famous pas de quatre (probably one of the most famous pieces of classic ballet choreography) and creating an iconic lift that suited his dancers abilities and comfort levels.

Even more interesting was the ballet community’s reaction. Three ballet professionals – a former dancer, a former artistic director and a current artistic director – were invited to the performance. Unsurprisingly, the dancer was the most complimentary and you could tell she related to the performers as dancers. It was a much more mixed reaction from the artistic directors. The current director called it a “worthwhile experiment”, but seemed to feel simply relief that the production wasn’t a train wreck. He affirmed a belief that “dance is for every body”…just maybe not professionally. The former artistic director indicated that his mind was not changed at all when it came to acceptance of more body shapes/sizes in ballet and seemed pretty confident there would be no rush to stage a plus size Giselle or other ballet classic.

While everyone was careful to politely credit the dancers with a job well done, there wasn’t a rush to embrace the achievement or more importantly, celebrate the beauty in what was created. I have to admit I found that a bit disheartening, if not totally unsurprising. I’ve voiced my specific critiques of the show already and would be curious to see if a different cast would have impacted the naysayers opinions in the end? My feeling is that we’ll probably never know – Big Ballet doesn’t seem to be a runaway TV hit. But I hope that it does inspire conversations….and becomes one more voice in the larger discourse on dance.

Your thoughts on Big Ballet? A “worthwhile experiment” or one-off performance, never to be repeated?

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