Monday, May 26, 2014

DWTS S18 SemiFinals: Derek-Amy Neck and Neck with Maks-Meryl

Derek Hough and Amy Purdy do a quickstep. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
Week 9, aka the Semifinals of Dancing with the Stars, has no couple here who doesn’t belong here. They are all talented, great dancers by this point. Going into this point, my feeling is that I really really really want Maks and Meryl to win (mostly because Maks has never won, and Derek pretty much always wins). But there are other great dances along the way, amazing spectacles that you have to see to believe.

Like this one. Amy Purdy, she with no legs and feet, has just blown our minds all season with what she’s able to do in her dancing. In this semi-finals, there are two sets of dances the couples do (seemingly no distinction between them, just two sets of dances). Derek and Amy did a quickstep (you heard me) to the Supremes. It was astonishing.

She had these springy... I wouldn’t even call them feet. Something at the bottom of her legs which had a lot of bounce to it, which enabled her to move quickly and elegantly across the floor, and kinda simulate what real feet and legs can do. It was incredible.

But then, there was also this.

Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Meryl Davis. Courtesy of ABC/On The Red Carpet/Adam Taylor
First of all, it’s Maks as Elvis. (What?) Second, and more importantly, it’s Maks SMILING. In a dance. FYI: He doesn’t smile much while he dances, over many many seasons. But look at him. He’s smiling away.

And it was just a superb superb jive. Such fun to watch.

Mark and Candace did a wonderful Viennese waltz. I love how toward the end, the finalists get the concept that the dances have to have a story. Mark Ballas does exceedingly well with this. Peta and James danced to a never-before-heard Michael Jackson song, and were wonderful.

The guest judge this week was Kenny Ortega, so it was rather daring to dance that in front of him.

But rather than any pics of them, I just want to post this.

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough do a quickstep. Mind-blowing.
Seriously. Just look at that!!!

Now, if you were to ask me who were/are the weak links at this point, I’d say that Candace’s crazy religion/prudishness (still) really bugs me, but her dancing has been amazing. But if anyone is limited, it’s Charlie White. Mind you, he did this beautiful foxtrot on this night to “New York, New York” where he looked like Fred Astaire. Just gorgeous. His milieu is definitely happy, beautiful, nice things.

For that reason, it was ill-advised, to say the least, to have him attempt to do hip-hop. Dreadful choice, dreadful dance. I believe the hip-hop had been intended for the first segment of dances. Wisely, the producers switched it out to the second half.

There was a moment (well-crafted by producers) when all of the Olympians were “in jeopardy.” (Amy and Derek, Meryl and Maks and Charlie and Sharna). Charlie White ended up being the one (as I predicted) going home first among them.

Spectacularly bad choice. Sorry, Charlie.
Of all the decisions which made up Season 18, two were spectacularly bad. One was to have 80-year-old Billy Dee Williams on. The other was to have Charlie dance a samba to this hip hop tune (“Mo Money, Mo Problems”). Wow, was this bad.

If there’s one thing Charlie White can take away from this season of DWTS, it’s that a perfect season has a mix of good (happy, positive) elements and bad (sad, tragic, dark) elements. Charlie is the best at the good elements, and he never, not once, got even close to mastering the dark elements.

But that’s OK. America needs the good elements much more. I hope he focuses his career on those, cause he is a master of that.

Now, in between the first segment of dances, we had the final Macy’s Stars of Dance, choreographed by Derek, which was amazing. (Finding it difficult to find pics of that. Sorry.)

Then, the second round of dances. We went a little more country, with James and Peta doing a samba to “Islands in the Stream” (very sexy). Meryl and Maks did a Viennese waltz, looking like they were in a barn. Very interesting and beautiful.

Mark and Candace blew me away with their jazz number.

Candace Cameron-Bure and Mark Ballas. Courtesy of ABC.
Now, Candace Cameron-Bure is about as whitebread as Charlie White, but she proved in this number what at the beginning of the season I didn’t think was possible: that she could indeed see her dance as a CHARACTER, and embrace the darker side of life, of sexuality, of passion. She was dancing to “Nasty Boys” here. And she was amazing.

Not sure what brought about her transformation, but somehow, somewhere along the way, she got it, and completely deserves to be in the Finals because of it. Wonderful dancing.

And lastly, there was Derek and Amy, dancing jazz.

Amy Purdy and Derek Hough, dancing jazz. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
I’ve always considered that a measure of the performance of the song “Too Darn Hot” is whether you really feel hot, in listening to it. I was steaming with this one. Hot stuff, indeed.

Kenny Ortega, the final guest judge of the season, who really knows dance and is respected by these pros at the top of their game, said this, after this dance. “Derek, you redefined choreography for this generation.” (Very true words, but WOW.) Len, the curmudgeon, gave this dance a standing ovation. Big stuff here.

Amazing, amazing show.


Monday, May 12, 2014

DWTS Week 8: Gut-wreching shocker elimination and Maks mouths off

Dance of the Night: Amy Purdy and Derek Hough do an Argentine tango

This Week 8 of Dancing With the Stars had the best-ever opening number (Mark Ballas performing a song he’d written) and the worst-ever guest judge. I had heard the moans and groans when this particular guest judge was announced, but wasn’t sure why. No, I am not on the edge of my seat every week watching Dance Moms—in fact, I had not heard of either the judge or the show until they were talking about “next week’s guest judge.”

I realized in the aftermath of this week’s show how crucial it is (if they are going to be retiring Len and bringing in someone new) that the cast RESPECT that person’s dance acumen. After all, they are the best of the best here onstage. They are pushing dance boundaries. They deserve someone better than someone on a reality show with no dance (respected) background herself.

All of the cast members pretty much took what the guest judge said, but Maks, when asked, said that he doesn’t respect “anything the woman said.” And I respect Maks’ dance judgment a lot. He seemed to say outright what all the other cast members were only thinking.

So all that tension was interesting.

Then there was this. Bruno said in his vote on this dance that he would be “devastated” if these were the two people voted off. And they were. And I shared that sentiment. I cannot believe it. But we are in the realm of all of the remaining dancers are amazing, so it really does shock each time someone wonderful goes home. Danica and Val were the first of that for me this season.

The other thing that’s happening is that those on the bottom whom you’d think would be going home are fighting hard for their survival. Candace Cameron-Bure (whom I would’ve thought would be gone by now) is turning in amazing dances suddenly. She and Mark Ballas were as surprised as anyone to hear that it wasn’t her this week.

Candace Cameron-Bure and Mark Ballas are elated to not be going home.
Candace Cameron-Bure and Mark Ballas do a foxtrot.
And, then, they do an amazing foxtrot, which is witty and frothy and fun to watch. Mark Ballas’ choreography (as usual) is stellar, and even I find myself voting for them. The one annoying aspect of CCB (her rampant prudishness) seems to have been downplayed the last few weeks and not been an issue. So what they are doing is just lovely.

Also, Peta and James. Bottom of the leader board. Peta was in tears, when they were deciding between the two couples in jeopardy. I seriously thought she was going to have a breakdown if it was them. And then, it wasn’t.

Peta Murgatroyd and James Maslow do a Viennese waltz. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
They, too, are doing stunning dancing. I enjoy watching them every week. It just gets so hard in these final weeks when everyone is so good.

We also had a poignant, story- and content-filled rumba from Maks and Meryl, which I loved.

Maks and Meryl do a rumba.
Charlie and Sharna, constantly fighting to receive a 10 from Len, after weeks of doing really challenging, amazing dances FINALLY get perfect scores across the board for this wonderful quickstep.

Sharna Burgess and Charlie White do a beautiful quickstep. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
As if the competition of their individual dances weren’t enough, this week, they also threw in side-by-sides. But in seasons past what we had was a couple dancing side by side with two pros (so they could see how it’s really supposed to be done). This time, we had competitors dancing with each other.

Amy and Derek danced a jive with James and Peta. Meryl and Maks did a samba with Danica and Val. But (for me) the breathtaking one of these dances was this amazing heartfelt passion play, done contemporary, where Sharna and Charlie and Candace and Mark played couples. And in the midst of their dance, infidelity reared its head, so you saw this poetry of Charlie and Candace dancing together poetically, while the two other couples were fighting (through dance). Amazing work. Stunning choreography. And Candace and Charlie took my breath away.

Charlie White and Candace Cameron-Bure do contemporary.
All of these dancers deserve to be here. All of the ones left are capable of fantastic performances. I’m still rooting for Maks and Meryl to win, but it is truly anyone’s game.

Mark Ballas debuting his new single, with help from Derek Hough and Cheryl Burke.
What we learned from this night is that Mark Ballas is a formidable performer, singer, dancer, whatever he chooses to do. And that Abby Lee Miller need never grace the stages of Dancing with the Stars again. Because honestly and truly, she is beneath the talent before her, and doesn’t deserve to judge them.