E: On the “better late than never” front, hello! I did not, in fact, give up on the show — I’ve simply been a bit nuts with visiting relatives staying after C’s wedding. To recap from my initial review (recap!): the new SYT features some very impressive kid dancing. I still wish they weren’t. Every time they tell a contestant to try out next year, I cringe; if there is a next year at all, oh how I wish it would mean a return to the true format. I’m watching this show, but I’d give a lot if it was in addition to my favorite summer treat and not a pale substitute for it.
At any rate, here’s the latest crop of contestants (almost all successful, because how do you crush a child’s dreams on national tv?):
J.T., aged 10, dances jazz and sports an orange bow tie with white polka dots and matching suspenders. His mom totally gets him, which is sweet. Commenting on his diminutive height, Paula tells him he’s seven feet tall in her eyes before he’s even danced, which feels like pandering to me instead of sweetness. He’s super, super athletic, and does gymnastics all over the stage, and the judges thoroughly enjoy him. Through!
Twelve year old Tahani shares a room with her brother, who’s probably a teenager but looks like he’s in his twenties, so it’s weird. But hey, needs must. She dances hip hop, and she’s genuinely fantastic, not just fantastic for a kid. I love her deep knee bends and what she calls “facials” — which are the way she uses her facial expressions to accent her dancing. This show has seen more than a few stone-faced street dancers who could learn from her. The judges leap to their feet with tickets, but when Tahani goes to embrace them, she ends up having a little accident. “She just squeezed me too hard and all the happiness came out on her jacket,” she explains to Cat after vomiting on Paula.
Tapper Emma wears such an age-inappropriate outfit I can’t believe someone made it to fit a 10 year old; skin tight pleather pants, a spangly snake skin bikini top with a single pleather sleeve on one side, and chains over her butt. Why are we making little girls look like Vegas showgirls or strippers? It’s creepy and wrong, seriously. On the other hand, everything is right about Emma’s dancing. She auditions to a rather strange version of “Cold Hearted Snake,” which affords Nigel some room for dubious comedy, but her dancing is so innovative and dynamic. I think my favorites in general are the kid tappers; tapping feels like a kid appropriate form. When the judges send her on to the dance academy, Emma tears up with joy.
Fourth generation ballerina Tia, 12, is tall and blond and leggy, and wears a Spanish inspired costume. Because the show isn’t staged at all, we find her mom on the Family Platform – and guess what special guest in the audience? The Joffrey Ballet’s principle dancer and occasional SYT guest judge Fabrice Calmels! That’s not intimidating at all. I have to admit that the first time I saw this, I totally thought they were saying that Fabrice was her dad, but not so at all, and now re-watching it, I can’t even figure out why I thought that in the first place. Anyway, Nigel hops over to the family platform and lets Fabrice take his spot on the judging panel. Tia’s crazy flexible — her turn out is terrifying — and wonderfully elegant. Fabrice gives Tia actual criticism (watch flexing your right foot when you kick it up over or behind your head) before telling her she was wonderful. When they tell her she’s through, as if there was any doubt, she cries. So I guess there was either doubt or stress inside of her.
Ten year old Leana dances ballroom with her adult teacher, who comes in for a lot of praise when they’re done. She’s got stupendously fast feet, and there are good dynamics in her choreography. She gets a standing O from the judges, which surprises me a little. (But as soon as I write that, I feel like a jerk. This is a real issue with a kid-centric season; there’s really no way to avoid judging their performances, but you feel hideously mean for doing it. Do I need to let go of critical thinking to keep watching?)
We get a cute montage of kids explaining what they might do with the prize money. (Save it for college! Even though they’re still giving the winner the full quarter million prize — crazy! — a good school will eat all of that up.) One girl has two words for Cat: white Camaro. Another wants to add to his Louis Vuitton collection, while a third wants to rent a party room for his entire dance studio.
That generous young fellow is New Hampshire farmer Alex, 13, who has developed muscles working with his family’s livestock. He uses those muscles to do a hip hop routine with a hat to Frank Sinatra. He too gets a standing ovation, which Nigel is quick to point out is the first of the day to get the entire audience on its feet. The choreography is terrific, and he’s certainly on his way to becoming a really good dancer.
After a montage of bickering siblings (something I know nothing about), we meet eight year old Ainslee, who’s in a sparkly dance bikini with a huge bow in her hair. The judges talk to the little pint sized dynamo for a very long time (does she have a boyfriend? will she ever dance with a boy?) because she makes such completely hysterical faces. She dances to “I Am The Best” by 2NE1, the buzzy song that Jenna and Mark danced to a few years ago, and I want to cry because I miss that show so much. She’s super, super, super athletic, flexible and acrobatic and funny, a grade A ham. To my complete shock, the judges all pass on her, saying she needs more time to mature. I have no idea why we went through that, then (especially since they all need time to mature) but okay. This leads to a montage of good rejected dancers; a girl doing African Jazz, a boy doing contemporary, and a girl dancing a hip hop/tap fusion who gets Nigel to sign her tap shoe. So at least she’s happy.
Next up, Diana, a willowy 10 year old in a blue and black two piece dance outfit who’s strong, flexible and has totally sick feet. For my money the choreography is more posing and contortion than dancing, something we see in adult auditions too, but either way it’s mesmerizing. She too receives a standing ovation and a ticket to the academy. “You have this truth about you,” Jason observes.
We get a quick montage featuring two impressive dancers – Quinn and Enick? Enoch? I wish they’d write these names down. They’re both really good and they’re both through.
Finally, we meet 11 year old Daniela and her dance instructor mother Anna, who according to her daughter was the first Cuban to win a world ballroom championship. (I’m trying to look this up, but I can’t find a reference yet. Not that I don’t believe them, I just wanted to find her name and see what and when she won.) Daughter Daniela’s a little spitfire, clearly trained by her very experienced mom; her red fringe skirt flies and her feet flash like lightning. She too receives the by now routine standing ovation. Though Nigel complains a little that she’s pulling faces, everyone really loves her. Ever ready for a chance to ham it up, Jason asks for a lesson from sexy mom Anna, which Nigel quickly joins. When the judges return to the table, both Daniela and Anna get tickets.
And there we are! Tonight, it’s on to New York for the last audition of the tour. Which is not a lot of auditions, given the usual five or six. Odd. Yet another disappointment in this strange year, I guess. Instead of more complaints, I’ll leave you with a fun link featuring Lev, the ballroom dancing wonder from the L.A. audition. Enjoy what might be the most dance-able song of the summer! Now that the wedding and post-wedding events have tapered off, I should be more timely about the next installment.