So after last week’s race through the auditions process and choreography camp, we’re already at the live shows. That was quick. Too quick, perhaps, for the studio director and camera team to get much rehearsals in, as throughout there were fluffed shots and awkward framing. Right at the start, with the fourteen dancers being introduced to a live audience for the first time, poor Gavin drops to the floor while the camera continues showing the studio backdrop. Poor guy.
One criticism I was picking up from the conversation on Twitter is that So You Think You Can Dance’s sometimes complex structure didn’t get enough explanation. While the show will ultimately result in a single person winning, the dancers perform in pairs allocated by the production team. For the first couple of weeks, we’ll be voting for couples, with the four dancers from the bottom two couples dancing a solo routine in the results show so that the judges can send one boy and one girl home. But then, the couples will all get mixed up, and we’ll start voting for individuals, not couples.
Clear? Right. On with the dances…
UPDATE: All seven dances are now below. Use the selector button next to ‘play’ on the control bar to skip between videos, or just hit play and enjoy each dance in order.
The first couple on stage were Mandy Montanez and Alastair Postlethwaite, dancing a Broadway-inspired routine devised by choreographer Stephen Mear to I Got Rhythm. And a very strong opening to the show it was, full of joy and beautiful lines. Mandy seemed to slip a little early on but covered well, and otherwise it was a beautiful performance from both dancers throughout.
As the judges were making their comments, somehow we got to see instant replays of the very moments they were talking about. Considering this is a live show, that’s very unusual and as a result jars quite a bit (are the studio gallery primed based on the rehearsals?). It’s a useful technique, certainly, and illustrates the judges’ comments well — maybe once I’m used to it a bit more it won’t feel so jarring.
Second couple up was Lizzie Gough and Mark Calape, both hip hop dancers, given a lyrical hip hop routine by Katie Prince, the director and founder of ZooNation UK (which Mark has danced with in the past). The routine, to Take a Bow, had a visual look that was clearly inspired by the famous Fred Astaire/Judy Garland pairing of A Couple of Swells in the film Easter Parade. I’m not sure the choreography necessarily matched the look, but it was highly entertaining.
Nigel suggested that luck played a big part, with two hip hop dancers being drawn together and selecting a hip hop routine from the hat. He was only half right, of course: Lizzie and Mark were put together by the production team, so the luck was limited to the dance style they drew.
The third couple to dance was Anabel Kutay and Drew McOnie, dancing a jive choreographed by Ryan Francois and Jenny Thomas. Intriguingly, in the VT Anabel suggested that neither she nor Drew had danced the jive before. Odd, then, that Drew lists Jive in the dance section of his Spotlight CV. A case of downplaying experience for the cameras, or talking up your skillset on your CV? Who knows.
The dance itself, to Proud Mary was highly dynamic in places, although there were a couple of slips with handholds and footwork in evidence, and Anabel seemed to get in position for Drew’s leapfrog over her a little too early to keep the momentum of the routine going. Nigel thought Anabel’s technique needed work, and her jete needed to have more leap rather than being driven into the floor.
Next up were Gavin Tsang and Chloe Campbell, dancing a contemporary routine to Annie Lennox’s Why devised by Rambert choreographer Mark Baldwin. Gavin’s lack of experience in the Baldwin/Rambert style of contemporary dance were on show throughout — it was abundantly clear that Chloe was much more comfortable with the dance style than he was. But as his first routine, it was still an accomplished one. There was a great connection between the couple, and as an example of dancers being taken out of their comfort zone it sums up the ethos of the show.
The fifth pairing of the night were Hayley Newton and Chris Piper, dancing a Samba choreographed by nine times World Latin American champion Carmen Vincelj. And for me, the choreography had a little too much stop and start in it all the way through, but this was countered by same great moves. As the judges said, the samba is now much better known from years of exposure on Strictly Come Dancing, and to be honest I’d expected the SYTYCD samba to be of a higher standard than Strictly’s. It wasn’t.
The penultimate pairing of Yanet Fuentes and Robbie White had a ballroom challenge, dancing an American Smooth Foxtrot choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing professional James Jordan to the song Fever. Including the sort of backflip that would have given Len Goodman heart failure just about worked, but the rest of it was smooth and lyrical. Robbie’s balletic experience shined through with some great arm and leg extensions. The ending pose looked a little over-complicated and clumsy, but other than that I loved every second.
The final couple, Charlie Bruce and Tommy Franzen, had picked hip hop out of the hat, and would be dancing a routine devised by BirdGang’s Simeon Qsyea, currently the resident choreographer for JLS. And what a routine it was — telling a full story with wit and style, with plenty of opportunities for each dancer to shine as well as showing how well they can work as a couple. Considering Charlie has no hip hop dance experience it was a solid performance. The judges were a bit down on Charlie’s demeanour, but as someone who’s only just finished her training I think she’s clearly a little green. That would change quickly in the real world anyway, but in the rarified atmosphere of So You Think You Can Dance with its intensive regime, it should dissipate all the quicker.
And so on to the results show. And the method of announcing which couples were safely through didn’t quite work, with the dancers on stage in batches. It would be far better to have all couples on stage at once, and reveal the safe couples one by one a la Strictly or the X Factor.
But that’s nothing compared to the selection of which dancers go home. In the end, Chris, Hayley, Drew and Anabel were in danger. Each dancer had to perform a short self-choreographed solo routine. Which is fine — but each performance ends with a 10-second countdown. Why? Surely as the music for each performance is planned in advance, there’s no danger of anybody overruning their allotted time?
As it was, with Drew in the bottom two for the boys, Chris’s fate was sealed. I think the battle between the girls was much closer. I liked Anabel’s routine better in terms of what she was trying to do, but at the same time I didn’t feel any emotional connection in her delivery. Nor, I have to say, from Hayley’s — which I suspect means that the right two girls were in the bottom two. In the end it was Anabel who was sent home.
And so we end the first live show. It’s an enjoyable Saturday night show, but I don’t think it quite has the it factor yet. Mind you, the first series of some of our longest-running shiny floor shows have all started small and grown, so let’s hope the BBC & 19 allow the same to happen with So You Think You Can Dance.