Sunday, October 15, 2017

DWTS S024, Splashy Sports Freestyles in the Finals

When last we left Dancing with the Stars, we were sobbing over the fact that our beloved Sasha Farber and Simone Biles did not move on to the Finals. But let me take you back to the moment when Simone Biles lost the Mirror Ball trophy.

It was this one: “Smiles don’t win you gold medals.” An offhand comment after a question Tom Bergeron had asked.

Hard work, in the world of gymnastics, is all that matters. It is not, however, what is necessary in the world of Dancing with the Stars and the mirror ball trophy. Who, for example, did the judges think was going to be bounced out? The person with the lowest judges’ score was actually David Ross (and Lindsay Arnold). Did you see him smiling and enjoying every minute he was at DWTS? You betcha you did.

Now I am NOT saying that gratuitous smiling will get you everywhere (although in Hollywood, it does get you far). What I am saying is that THE PEOPLE of America are what determine 50% of this decision. And, as long as I’ve been watching this show, the people are 90% right.

And the people will vote for someone who deserves it technically, yes, but also, more likely, someone who MOVES them. With their story, with their circumstances, with how much they enjoy to be there, or don’t.

Simone Biles, even in her last package, was frustrated, and frankly, whining, about how she works so hard, and still can’t get further in the competition. She should’ve seen the writing on the wall then. Dance comes from your technical scores, yes, but on this show, it just as much comes from your heart and your emotions, and that’s where Simone was really working with a locked cupboard.

Sasha Farber is amazing, and he really tried to save poor Simone, with a bouncy, smiling upbeat jive in the Semifinals, but it was already too late. The people had already spoken.

And so, we end up with these. And I still think, at this moment (as the Finals begin), I am believing that Val and Normani have this thing locked up. But, you know, I think we do get lulled into thinking what the judges think is best is what’s going to happen, and forgetting the part about America voting. Oh, and also how much each specific dance contributes to the final choice.

In this case, the final dances mattered immensely. So let's take a look.

First up, the “Redemption Dance,” so named because it is a redo of a dance done earlier in the season (in hopes of gaining a better score).

David and Lindsay, the ones the judges wanted out, and who they now refer to as the “fan favorites,” give us a beautiful Viennese waltz. Carrie Ann, while mentioning that David has "beaten all the odds to be here," also gives him props for "making the best connection."

JUDGES’ SCORES: 33 (out of 40)

Val and Normani dance a quickstep. In their package, they watch back their earlier quickstep, which Val admits “wasn’t all that quick.” They also show Normani incurring an injury while rehearsing that sounds painful.

JUDGES’ SCORES: 38 (out of 40)

So, we’ve had the fan favorites who performed less than the best, the presumed favorites who perform with an injury, and the judges believe didn’t have enough body contact. What’s left?

Well, this.

Rashad talks in his package about how in his whole life, he’s “never won anything,” always come close, but never won. It wasn’t said, but the audience is also painfully aware of how many times our dear Miss Emma has come close to the Mirror Ball, yet never won it.

Watching this Viennese waltz was when I knew and believed that Emma and Rashad were going to win this thing. They so elevated everything that had come before. It was so beautiful.

You know when Bruno starts out with “refined, polished, majestic,” that these scores are going to be good. Carrie Ann: “We have magic happening. This is what makes winners winners.” Len, speaking to the Redemption part of the Redemption dance: “We’re looking for improvement. I saw improvement in every level of that dance: face, body, fluidity.” Julieanne: “When people reach this point of the competition, we’ve seen all that they could do. Not you. I’m seeing the hard work that you put in. We haven’t seen the best. We just saw the best. That was amazing.”

JUDGES’ SCORES: 40 (out of 40)

1. Emma and Rashad, Viennese waltz
2. Val and Normani, quickstep
3. Lindsay and David, Viennese waltz

But the Mirror Ball is won and lost on what couples do for their Freestyles. Let me say here that I think the best Freestyles reflect all that has come before in the season, with elements of choreography harkening back to key moments throughout. And, ideally, they also reflect who the star is, and what he or she means to us, the public. And the most memorable ones show us something we haven’t seen before.

Lindsay Arnold, who also has come very close to winning a Mirror Ball, yet not won one yet, knows about pulling out all the stops in her Freestyle choreography. (Remember that walking on moving walkways thing?)

Well, this one is pulling more on the Cubs’ win (still fresh in people’s minds) than their current dancing season, but no matter. They try to couch it as “going from baseball to dance,” but there’s a whole lotta baseball in this dance.

We had baseball, we had an American flag. The only thing missing was some apple pie. A little too much rap music for my tastes, but when they hoisted David Ross up at the end, it was very good for me, too. It was fun, it was entertaining.

JUDGES’ SCORES: 40 (out of 40) (and if you get anything less than a perfect score for your Freestyle, you’re doing something wrong)

Now, Lindsay has tended to pull out all the bells and whistles for her Freestyles (to great effect). Val, lately, has tended toward the quieter Freestyles. Personally, I don’t think they work as well. This one certainly didn’t.

They danced to “What the World Need Now (Is Love),” which is a good song, but quiet. When they brought out the kids is when this dance was over for me. I pretty much hated this Freestyle. It was ok, maybe, as a dance, but not as a Freestyle.

Hey Val, THIS IS NOT THE TYPE OF THING THAT WINS MIRROR BALLS. Just in case you forgot that. *shakes head*

JUDGES’ SCORES: 40 (out of 40)

So Rashad (who’s never won anything) and Emma (who hasn’t yet won a Mirror Ball) decide to do a big, splashy Freestyle, this one more focused on football. Specifically the marching band part of football, which apparently is a strange concept to Emma (hey, Emma, go watch “Drumline”). But, in any case, they do an amazing Rashad-inspired marching band type freestyle with a whole lotta swagger in it. It was just wonderful. I loved it.

Whole lotta fun. Crowd is on their feet at the end. Judges (save Len) are on their feet at the end.

How could you not love this?

JUDGES’ SCORES: 40 (out of 40)

Emma and Rashad end up with a perfect score of 80 for the night. Val and Normani are in second place, David and Lindsay in third (per judges’ scores).

Wonder who’ll win?

1. Emma and Rashad
2. Lindsay and David


Sunday, October 1, 2017

DWTS S024, Semifinals Smoking, Season’s 1st Perfect Score for Sasha and Simone

Ladies and gentlemen: Our semifinalists for Dancing with the Stars Season 24! David Ross and Lindsay Arnold, Rashad Jennings and Emma Slater, Sasha Farber and Simone Biles and Normani Cordei and Val Chemerkovskiy. Amazing! What a great season it's been, to have these amazing last four finalists.

This week, we have a new variation of dance: the Judges' Challenge. We begin with Head Judge Len, challenging Normani and Val to do 12 bars of Viennese waltz, in hold, with the proper footwork. (Isn't this a dance show? Don't they do that anyway? Who knows?) In any case, it appeared to be hard for her to manage.

Well, until we saw this.

(Notice the gorgeous in-camera tricks here, playing with the black and white, and resonance of the images.)

They started in all black and white, with the flash of her red dress being the first pop of color. It was just astounding to watch, it made it look like an old movie. It ended with it raining, and the couple walking off into the rain. Beautiful, just beautiful.

JUDGES’ SCORES: 36 (out of 40)

Julianne took charge of the first baseball player and his partner. She proceeded to tell him that he was "sticking his butt out too much," and that he needed to put lemons in his butt to show him how not to do that. Um... ok...

Well, apparently, it worked because they did quite a nice foxtrot here. Julianne calls David "a fan favorite" (which he certainly is), but she ascribes it to his hard work. Well, yes, that and the fact that he's a CUB, and the CUBS just won the World Series! (minor fact there...)

She did say, however, that they represent “the epitome of what this show is about: you have fun, you’re grateful, and you put everything out there on the dance floor.” (So true.) Len, however, had a conflict between head and heart...

JUDGES’ SCORES: 34 (out of 40)

Then we had a song by Calum Scott, with a dance interlude by Witney and Artem.

Carrie Ann came back to assist Simone and Sasha with their jive. Her issue last week (and, really, throughout) was her inability to connect to her authenticity. She has spent her whole life being the perfect gymnast that just “being herself,” or connecting to what brings her joy seems to be a foreign concept. Luckily for her, she has Sasha Farber as a partner.

If you can’t cut loose around Sasha, that’s really a problem. But he created some amazing choreography for this jive, where she could do her own thing, and just cut loose, and it was fun, and seemed to connect with Simone.

They did this move in this dance which was just amazing, especially for its unexpectedness. It's a cartwheel, but it's from Sasha, who bounds over Simone’s shoulder. It’s great. I swear, he does more cartwheels than any other pro. So much fun.

And Sasha worked so much jokey, we’re just having fun stuff into the choreography, it was a joy to watch. Len complements him on it.

Julianne brings up the idea of using a character, and Simone says that her jive character was named “Zoey.” Julianne asks her to leave Zoey (and Simone) behind, and do a different character for her next dance. (Sasha says his character’s name here is Steve.)

(Also, Sasha is the only pro who thanked the judge who worked with them.)

JUDGES’ SCORES: 40 (out of 40) (first perfect score of the season!)

Bruno got to work with Rashad on his hand movement for this rumba. And somewhat, his feet placement also.

But it was beautiful, it was graceful. Len even said they looked like Greek statues.

JUDGES’ SCORES: 38 (out of 40)

1. Val and Normani, Viennese waltz
2. Sasha and Simone, jive
3. Emma and Rashad, rumba
4. Lindsay and David, foxtrot

Then some guys danced with Cheryl Burke.

For this next round, each competitor gets a deep background package. Normani's talks about her family and how they had to flee New Orleans and moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina hit the city.

Val and Normani dance a jazz, New Orleans-inspired number for Round 2 of tonight’s dances. It was infectious and fun. Val kissed Normani’s grandmother, Barbara, during the dance.

Oh man, Val Chmerkovskiy and his mind-blowing choreography! Wow, it was sure on display with this number, as Carrie Ann noted. What a joyous, fun-filled jazz dance.

Len even gave it a standing ovation. “I don’t do that very often, cause I’m old,” he said.

JUDGES’ SCORES: 40 (out of 40)  (second perfect score of the season)

David’s package, of course, is all about his baseball career. He gets a lot of good wishes from Cubs’ players and others.

Lindsay and David do a tango for dance 2, and the judges all enjoyed it and were effusive.

JUDGES’ SCORES: 36 (out of 40)

Before her package, Sasha comes out wearing a T-shirt, emblazoned with Simone's famous speech from last week: "Smiling doesn’t win you gold medals."

Sasha’s package is all about her being the best gymnast in the world (according to Mary Lou Retton). Her dance, a rumba, incorporates her balance beam. She says later it’s because during the Olympics, she showed emotion when she was on the balance beam, and only got a bronze instead of a gold.

Her showing emotion in this rumba, however, brought her (and Sasha Fierce) this:

JUDGES’ SCORES: 40 (out of 40) (third perfect score of the night, second for Sasha and Simone)

(I also love how her costume is not really bronze, yet not really gold either. So perfect.)

Rashad’s package talked about how he was overweight, going nowhere, and then, got a second chance. He talks about “the kid that’s overlooked,” to that kid, he says: “Yes, you can.”

Rashad and Emma dance a quickstep, that the judges just rave about. All the little issues they were worried about seem to have disappaited.

JUDGES’ SCORES: 39 (out of 40)

1. Val and Normani, jazz
2. Sasha and Simone, rumba
3. Emma and Rashad, quickstep
4. Lindsay and David, tango

And who goes home? Out of these four amazing and wonderful couples? I personally don’t want any of them to go home at this point, but this... this was the judges’ reaction...

...when it was announced that the couple who scored two perfect numbers tonight is actually going home.

It was definitely a Season of shockers, this night being no exception.

Once again, Sasha Farber makes the semifinals. And once again, he goes home too soon.

A very sad night.