Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DWTS Week 6: Pitbull steams up the ballroom

To show how much Switch Up week affects people, this week (back with partners week) was crazy and mixed up. Two of the worst dancers (Jonathan and Michael) had their best dances ever. Two of the best dancers (Derek and Alfonso) had their worst dances ever. Crazy nuttiness.

The special guest performer/judge was Pitbull, so you know ABC was all about pumping up the hotness/sexiness quotient. We had all kinds of rumbas, salsas, sambas, all over the place. This, for example, was the opening number.

Sharna, Pitbull, Witney. Courtesy of ABC7.
However (I just found this pic), this was the action LAST WEEK. I say Jessie J has Pitbull beat.

Getting all steamy up in here... Artem with Jessie J and Val.
Ahem... now where was I?

Oh yes. Week 6. It started banging out of the gate with Allison and Jonathan, who later in the show were voted off :-( (so sad). Their number on this night was stunning to watch, took my breath away. I really hope she's back again next season.

Sadly, theirs was the only number I really LOVED this week.

Then we had a whole lotta missteps, for various reasons. Derek and Bethany (whom I love normally) had to fly to Australia, and didn't have a lot of practice time (to my eyes, it showed, though the slavering judges still gave Derek huge scores). Derek said in his package: "It was the least practice time I've ever had." Enough said about that.

Alfonso and Witney, so good to be back together again, also (to my eyes) seemed to fall down. (Witney literally falling down and hurting herself in rehearsal.) Alfonso noted that doing the Carleton had hurt his groin. So both were injured. Ugh. Perhaps it's cause I just don't like hip hop music, but man, did I dislike their dance this week, overall.

Antonio is also bugging me (although that may have to do with the Jesus-filled Instagram he posted earlier in the day, which caused me to unfollow him immediately. Ugh. People, INSTAGRAM IS FOR PICTURES. Not long sermon treatises. Sheesh.) So I was not thrilled with their dance either. Also, Cheryl just works her heart out covering the fact that Antonio really can't dance. Big hat notwithstanding.

Janel, in the worst costume all season, and Val. Courtesy of ABC.
Janel and Val, whom I normally love, had one of the worst costumes (on Janel) on this show in a long time. WTF was that? Horrible. Could barely watch the dance, that outfit was so bad and distracting. And Val even had his shirt unbuttoned and I couldn't concentrate on it. Ugh.

Lea and Artem, whom I also normally like, suffered a lot from it being Artem's first season as a pro. He forgot (as the judges pointed out) that it's all about the pro focusing on the star, and making THEM look good. Lea looked too much like she was chasing whatever goal Artem had set for her, rather than being her own best self. And their dance, nice enough, suffered as a result.

Madness, I tell you, madness all around.

But then, we had others getting sanity back. Michael Waltrip, a racecar driver, went to race cars. His friends there told him how much they were rooting him on. And he and Emma returned with an amazing Argentine tango. As the judges noted, it was truly his most vulnerable dance.

Emma and Michael do an Argentine tango.
It was really nice to watch. His best dance, for sure. If he'd been doing this all along, he might not be going home soon.

As all the kids were going crazy, flying to Australia for YouTube events... ugh... the oldsters were getting real. Tommy Chong brought Peta to a tribal sweat lodge. It was awesome. I wish I could've been in there with them. I needed a good sweat after watching some of the night's craziness.

Tommy Chong and Peta sweat it out. Courtesy of ABC.
It's kind of sobering to realize that really Tommy Chong might be one deeply spiritual guy. So, of course, I loved his dance. It seemed really centered and flowing. Their sweat lodge sojourn served them well. (I threw all my votes at him at the end.)

Peta and Tommy do a foxtrot. Beautiful. I loved it.
Lastly, certainly not least, let me first say this: MARK BALLAS GOT HIS FIRST 10 THIS SEASON! FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!

OK, it was by guest judge Pitbull, not one of the normal ones, but STILL. He got one. I'm so glad.

Also, as we talk about pros who do this show right, ones who highlight and focus on their celeb, cater to them, make them look good, there are plenty of examples. Derek with Amy Purdy last season, for example.

Mark Ballas, for whatever reason, seems to be perpetually saddled with the crazies, the controversial, the religious, the prudes. Perhaps one of the reasons he is is that he deals with them SO WELL. He doesn't seem to care about what anyone else says. He's there for his partner.

In Season 19, he happens to have an 18-year-old girl from (let's just say) conservative parents. Now that is a difficult thing. (Although Val also danced with a teen when he was partnered with Zendaya, and there were no wardrobe issues there.) In any case, this particular girl named Sadie, is mindful of what kind of wardrobe her parents would accept. OK, fine. We don't quite get the shrouds from the last two seasons, but we don't get the proper costume either. Fine.

But there is a boggle. Some of the dances they have to dance are sexual dances. They just are. The rumba, the most sexual of them all.

And how do you do a stunning rumba when you are partnered with a very conservative 18-year-old girl? Who doesn't seem very enlightened in the ways of sexuality? How do you dance the sexiest dance of them all?

You hope and pray you have Mark Ballas as a partner.

Mark Ballas and Sadie do a rumba.
It was pretty, it was sweet. It was nothing her parents would be ashamed of. And mostly, I was just applauding the care with which he dealt with Sadie.

Sexuality, in any context, should only be displayed when one wants to, and is ready to. I respected Mark's choices, in this dance, and all season. Heck, with all the women he's been partnered with. He is an amazing dancer who puts his partner first.

So glad that Julianne finally saw that, and commented on it. Now if she'd only give him a 10 too!

1. Jonathan and Allison (jazz)
2. Mark and Sadie (rumba)
3. Val and Janel (samba)
4. Tommy and Peta (foxtrot)

1. Antonio
2. Michael

Next week, we have the Team dances, and there is a chance that Derek's Team MIGHT not actually win this time. Seriously. Look at the teams.

Team Creepy for Week 7.
Team Itsy Bitsy for Week 7. 
Did we mention it's also Halloween Week?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

DWTS Week 5: The Switch-Up and the Case for Mark Ballas

Bethany and Mark Ballas do hip hop on Switch-Up Week. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
An interesting thing happened during Swtich-Up Week (Week 5 of Dancing with the Stars). I switched my favorite.

The dreaded Switch-Up takes our already established pairs, and puts the celebrities (remaining) with another partner. Sometimes this has disastrous results, sometimes great ones. (Remember last season's switch of ultimate winner Meryl from Maksim to brother Val? Fantastic stuff.)

This week, maybe cause Len's still gone, we had a lot of dances not normally done, with a lot of sets and props and hooha that Len hates.

But the thing that happened to me, is that I can now see a very clear break for myself. There are PROS that I love this season, and there are celebrities. They don't really go together (in most cases).

For example, my favorite celebrity, whom I had initially chosen as my favorite this week, is Alfonso. I just dig the stuff he's doing. This week, he was switched to Cheryl, and they did a pretty amazing flamenco. It was beautiful to watch.

Alfonso and Cheryl do flamenco. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
Cheryl Burke has never looked better. Her flamenco was stunning. And we don't get to see the flamenco very often. It's not one of the regular dances. So all of that was very nice. (Maybe I'm still on a Carleton high from last week... dunno.)

But I was watching back the dances from this week (as I do when I write this column), and something struck me. Mark Ballas. JEEZ. Unbelievable.

I've been saying this all season long, but let me again shout this from the rooftops: WHY IS THIS MAN NOT GETTING 10s? Holy crap. This week, he did a hip hop dance with Bethany. From the very first note to the very last, it was PERFECT. He gave us a story (from the beginning to the end; loved it). He gave us incredible dancing and choreography, as he has done all season. He's savvy enough to know that hip hop is not one of Len's favs, so he does it now, and he does it with Bethany. Just perfect, all across the board.

Most of these other dances, I can watch once again and I'm done (even that flamenco), but his hip hop this week: WOW.

And mind you, he's been doing that all season with his own partner, Sadie, too. The judges went all gaga over Derek's Charleston with Sadie, and complemented the heck out of her (and it was stunning, true), but what she does with Mark Ballas has been incredible! Where are the 10s for that? C'mon, judges. Mark Ballas deserves higher scores. (I'm looking at you, Julianne.)

They rightfully took Artem to task for his burlesque dance with Janel (not enough burlesque content), yet that dance scored higher than Mark's hip hop, which had tons of great hip hop content. And it's straight-up not fair.

In other dances that I liked/loved, Val danced that nebulous category (sometimes called "jazz," sometimes called "Broadway," basically meaning whatever we want to dance to) with Lea. She, too, is one of the contestants whose dancing I really like, and like to watch. Not sure about Artem yet though.

But this dance with Val included multiple walkers... like the kind old people use. Wonderful stuff. Never been done on DWTS before either!

Val and Lea and the team of walker dancers. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
Those are the dances I like the best. Give me a story around the dance, make it a complete entity. (Which Mark Ballas does every week.)

Another interesting story dance was the Bollywood danced by Allison and Antonio this week.

Allison and Antonio dance Bollywood.
She's trying. She's trying so hard, gotta give her that. Her Bollywood was stunning, the best ever on this show. However, Antonio was in no way her match. Not even close.

Her regular partner, Jonathan, kinda proved that it's more him than her which is causing the low scores. He was paired with Peta, who does a mean jitterbug. Their scores were terrible.

And Witney and Michael doing disco? The less said about that, the better. (Although if someone had to dance to Car Wash, I'm glad it was the race car driver.)

And in that vein, I have to say that a large part of why I continue to vote for Tommy Chong every week (even though he is just as bad a dancer as Michael Waltrip) is that I really dig the fact that DWTS is using every opportunity to have pot-themed songs and dances for Tommy Chong (as they should). This week, no joke, he danced to "Pass the Duchie." It was supposed to be a mambo. I don't know what it was, but it made me laugh.

Ah, but let's clear out the pot smoke, and instead meditate on one of the best Charlestons ever on this show.

Sadie and Derek Charleston. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
Another thing, I want to really comment on how all the technical parts are coming together. DWTS has always been a miracle of costuming and sets, but the camerawork and editing both seem to have hit their stride finally . The dancers are really getting featured, as they are supposed to (catch the ending of Mark's dance to see what I mean). The cameras are where they are supposed to be to catch the best bits. And they actually catch FEET, not just faces.

Working in social media (in the Mark and Derek bits) was and is wonderful. Love that about this season. Also, Erin is really hitting her stride as a host. She actually knows what the voting methods are this season!! (YAY!) And she really asks probing, good questions. Thank whoever had the idea of hiring her. To my eyes, she is MILES better as a host than Brooke ever was.

The only downside of the technical stuff is that the music has issues. Both in song selection, and performance. Positive: we get former cast member Joey Fatone singing The Stray Cats song, "Rock This Town." (What? Brian Setzer was busy?) Negative: we get more and more taped crap, which often doesn't work (case in point: Lea and Val's song, which was loud and obnoxious), but which sometimes does (Mark and Bethany's song). When it's good ("Pass the Duchie" and "Car Wash"), it's great. When it's bad, it's painful.

That song that Allison and Jonathan danced that Gatsby thing to a couple weeks ago was a good example of new music done beautifully. Revisiting a familiar song, and putting a new spin on it. That's what I had hoped for when I heard there was a new band. Guess they're still working out those bugs.

But enough of all this. I wanna go back and watch Mark Ballas' hip hop dance again, and dream of the day when he actually gets all the 10s he deserves.

1. Mark and Bethany (hip hop)
2. Alfonso and Cheryl (flamenco)
3. Val and Lea (Broadway)
4. Derek and Sadie (Charleston)

1. Michael
2. Jonathan
3. Antonio
4. Tommy


Friday, October 10, 2014

My Favorite DWTS: Week 4

Sadie (of Duck Dynasty) and Mark Ballas wow the crowd.
My favorite dances on Dancing with the Stars involve some combination of these things: a dance which incorporates the required number of content elements, something which addresses the theme in some way, elegance of choreography: all of which together create dance magic before us.

Usually, Derek Hough's dances have all of these things, which is also why he has won most often. But also usually, so do Mark Ballas' dances. These are dances, which at the end, leave you with your mouth hanging open, just saying: WOW. This week was one of those.

The theme of Week 4 of DWTS was My Favorite Year (as it usually is). We had the usual ones: my favorite year being when I got my big break on whatever show, or when my parent (or loved one) died or was born, yadda yadda. Bethany had a moving one with the theme of: "I thought I was ugly, but really I'm not." (A new one on these shows, admittedly.)

For me, there were really two dances which went beyond the pale this week. I am now eating my words about Alfonso getting back to the top of the leaderboard. Sheesh. When that man tries! Wow. Course, he had a built-in audience-pleasing factor: the Carleton.

I never watched the show (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air)  in its heyday, but apparently "the Carleton" dance was a thing. And people, apparently, have been clamouring, ever since they knew he was going to be on DWTS, to see him incorporate it in some way. My Favorite Year seems the perfect place to do so.

Alfonso and Witney did not disappoint this week. Wow.

But despite those two dances which really blew my mind (Alfonso again taking the top of the leaderboard this week), these two were not my FAVORITE dance. That honor belonged to this:

Val and Janel doing the sexiest, steamiest rumba you're gonna see this season (although Cheryl and Antonio were also pretty hot recently). It was just beautiful and it kicked everything off. And more and more, Val and Janel are my favorite couple.

However, we also had this (the couple who actually received the most votes from me this week): Peta and Tommy Chong, dancing to Jailhouse Rock. With Peta as a policeman. With fishnets. It so worked for me, on so many levels.

And unlike another older contestant, Tommy Chong just keeps getting better each week.

Wanna know who was voted out this week? (Well, you probably already know, but it was:)

She was a little bit wacky, our Miss Betsey, but I did enjoy her dances, and the music she chose. Gonna miss her (in some ways). Also really gonna miss Tony. He's always fun and inventive.

That leaves at the bottom (literally and in my opinion) Michael and Emma (whom I thought would be leaving this week) and Jonathan and Allison. I really like Allison and I was rooting for her, but WOW was the dance they did this week terrible! No through line. More content, yay! But just awful to watch. And I had been so focused previously on her choreography missteps that I didn't before realize that Jonathan is actually a pretty bad dancer (compared to his competition, especially). So they will be going home soon (unless she really turns it around somehow). 

I hated almost everything about this dance. Except that it did have a lot of samba content. But the music was DREADFUL, the set and costumes were garish and horrible. It was just painful to watch. Just to clarify that I'm not the only one who thought this, they scored the lowest on this week. Even Betsey and Tony (who went home) got better scores on this night. Ouch.

And it's strange, because I really didn't love the music that Mark Ballas chose for his and Sadie's number. I would never listen to it on my own, and it's not even the type of music DWTS normally plays. But it fit. It was of a piece with the rest of what he was doing as a choreographer, and I think that is the difference. His choices were sublime, hers were... UGH.

I mean, I hate to say this, but I just don't think she gets what DWTS is about, exactly. She seems bound and determined to stay on her own path, and that road is currently leaving off the show soon, and that makes me sad. It really does. Her dance to Sia's music was brilliant, because she had none of these constraints. But darlin', that is what you signed up for: to choreograph these dances for these people in this way.

I do kinda get the feeling now that she never really watched this show before. Maybe she signed on cause she knew all the other choreographers, even having worked with some.

I think people may look at DWTS from the outside and dismiss it simplistically as just another reality dance show, but it really is a very complex, layered thing. 

Take Mark Ballas' amazing dance this week, in comparison. The theme was "My Favorite Year." His partner, Sadie, chose the year she first appeared on Duck Dynasty. Sure, lots of celebrities take that route. (Alfonso essentially did the same thing. Lea had done her homage to Back to the Future the week before, so she could do a more poignant dance this week.)

What can one do with Duck Dynasty? And the dance Mark chose was samba? Duck Dynasty and samba? HUH? What can one do with that?

Well, Mark took the time-honored pairing of a hunter and a duck (man vs. animal). He was the hunter, and Sadie (of course) was the duck. She was resplendent in her feathers. He was all bearded out, like the other male members of Duck Dynasty (some of them even onstage with him). And within that (up and around and over that), he wove together a samba which touched on all the content that the judges were looking for, as well as making a statement about Duck Dynasty, using a song which has LYRICS about Duck Dynasty. Boom, boom, boom. He hit every beat.

It was frikkin' beautiful. It was stunning and magical, and I don't even like Duck Dynasty.

That is, ultimately, how you do this: content (of whichever dance you are doing) + theme + stunning choreography + heart (if you can manage it). Making a statement through choreography, which Allison seems so badly to want to do. I suggest she really pore over tapes of Mark Ballas' dance this week for how to do this show right (and still maintain your edge as a choreographer). Now mind you, a winning (as in ALL 10s) dance has to have one more thing: it has to sweep away the audience and the judges, so that they are compelled to give it tens.

Sadly, Mark Ballas' dances too often don't get the 10s they deserve (he didn't with this, garnering only 37 out of 40, and it was brilliant). But, for my money, he's the most artistic choreographer on this show, and I so appreciate him for that. But Derek's Singin' in the Rain last week, Val's West Side Story last week, and Alfonso's Carleton (to Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual") were those showstoppers that garner 10s.

Derek's dance this week, although using poignant subject matter, was almost like a rest after what must have been immense stress from doing Singin' in the Rain. It really did nothing for me. Good thing Len was gone this week. 

Oh, and another thing. They've been having all these hokey guest judges standing in while Len is out of the country. (Last week, comedian Kevin Hart, next week Jazzy J or someone...). This week, blissfully, they let "America" vote in a new system where (well, let's just say the EAST COAST, anyway) voted right after they saw the dance. Cause they announced America's vote when they announced the judges' votes (and I know we West Coasters see it later than the East Coast). Nonetheless, it cut down on all the judges' chatter, which seemed to be dragging the show down (with four judges). "America" says nothing, just votes. I liked it immensely.

And AMERICA gave "the Carleton" a 10 also! It was awesome.

Miscellaneous notes about Week 4: Erin just looked spectacular. The most fun thing was when everyone on the balcony started doing the Carleton. Sharna choreographed a wonderful opening number. And the second most fun thing was the dance where Karina's crotch ended up in Keo's face, which Tom (ever quick on his feet) called, "a great getting-to-know-you dance."

 BTW, Val kept referring to his dance last week as "The West Side Story." It's actually called "West Side Story." (Unless he was adding a "The" to the title so it wouldn't be confused with... um, you know... that other one... In which case, that was brilliant.)

Lea and Artem scored high, but their dance also did nothing for me. Beautiful to watch, and I could tell it moved her quite a bit, but... eh... (Sometimes contemporary works for me, often it doesn't.)

Antonio's first job in NYC was a little Janet Jackson video that you may've seen. It was fun to revisit that, as well. And Cheryl makes a great Janet Jackson!

When is Len coming back? Next week, right? Next week (ooh, let's hold our breath!) is also "the Switch Up." The week that all the pros hate, and usually leaves the celebrities wanting to RUN back to their partners. Fun. Can't wait. Meanwhile, let's do the Carleton again... do it with me...

The Carleton, to Tom Jones' "It's So Unusual"

1. Val and Janel (rumba)
2. Mark and Sadie (samba)
3. Alfonso and Witney (jazz and "the Carleton")
4. Tommy and Peta (jive)
5. Antonio and Cheryl (samba)


Sunday, October 5, 2014

DWTS S19 Week 3 Bows to Icons Past

Amazing week at Dancing with the Stars. Not only our first perfect scores, but TWO couples received them! (Including Val and Janel, above) But we will get to all that.

First, I wanted to apologize to the cinematographers of this fine show that I reamed in the last two columns. In checking over, doing some research on my phone, and watching the show back at, I realized that, indeed, they had properly framed the screen--IF you have a rectangular TV (as is all the rage now). I, however, still have an older-than-dirt version, and so I couldn't see the four judges on my TV. So I apologize to them.

This business with the photos also frustrates me. I really want great photos to showcase the amazing dancing that I'm writing about, but ABC doesn't offer them (as I've mentioned). I did actually find that Getty offers them now, but you have to pay for them, of course. Which was part of the problem before: some were paying for them, others were just using them. That is the Web economy we have these days.

So they've taken that away, and what will people do? What I'm doing. Use bad screen grabs to illustrate my point. And if that's how you want to promote your shows, fine. That's what we'll do. Just makes me sad.

Two of our contestants on this week's DWTS ran into the same kind of proprietary nonsense, issues with the owner. In Derek's case, Gene Kelly's wife graciously allowed him to perform this dance. In Val's case, the West Side Story owners almost didn't let him do it. Old media MUST realize that in both cases, they were going to get a very respectful homage to the original work being presented, and that, in fact, by Derek Hough and Val Chmerkovskiy performing these on the CURRENT Dancing with the Stars, it actually only increases the value of your brand, because new viewers will be inspired to check out the original. Surely Gene Kelly's wife realizes that. West Side Story's owners almost did not.

Luckily cooler heads prevailed, because we were treated to two amazing dances. Val and Janel performing "America" from West Side Story (my personal favorite of the week) and Derek and Bethany performing to Singin' in the Rain.

Both of these dances received the season's first perfect scores. (Deservedly so. They were both breathtaking.)

Also one of the coolest things of the night was viewing a little clip of Derek Hough at like five or six doing another version of Singin' in the Rain. Classic and quite wonderful. You can see it's been in his blood for a long, long time.

But the other dances were no slouches, either. Tommy Chong's Argentine tango with Peta was astonishing.

Seriously. Wow. Just incredible.

I just love the care with which Mark Ballas handles teenager Sadie (from Duck Dynasty). They performed just a lovely number to Up.

Those were my stellar favorites. Others were also great. Antonio and Cheryl did a great foxtrot. Allison and Jonathan came roaring back from last week's bruising with a beautiful (with lots of content) tango. Alfonso and Witney (who are having a hard time getting back up to the top of that leaderboard) did a nice Austin Powers quickstep (and his son helped!). Betsey and Tony did a contemporary dance to Unchained Melody (from Ghost). Lea and Artem did a nice Back to the Future takeoff. Michael and Emma did a waltz.

Randy and Karina got voted out this week.

Oh, and for bizarre scheduling reasons, DWTS is now back down to one night. *sigh* So the results were somehow also taken from last week's voting.

And in all of these amazing set pieces, you perhaps can tell from the photos, all of the incredible technicians at DWTS deserve a huge amount of credit for recreating these classic moments from movies. As Carrie Anne gushed, "they made it RAIN in here!" It was beautiful. Big applause to all the technicians (sets, costumes, lights, everything) at DWTS. I'm sure it must've been a rough week for them.

1. Val and Janel (West Side Story)
2. Derek and Bethany (Singin' in the Rain)
3. Mark and Sadie (Up)
4. Tommy and Peta (Scent of a Woman)
5. Antonio and Cheryl (Guardians of the Galaxy)

There was an incredible Marilyn Monroe opening number, with Cheryl Burke also as Marilyn (thankfully, no blonde wig). And boys as baseball players.

Comic Kevin Hart was a guest judge, cause Len was still in England. (And btw, Tom, someone doesn't become a "movie star" just because they've been in a movie.) Hart did ok as a judge, basically just gushing and giving out high scores to people he liked. (Which was really nice when he gave Tommy Chong a 10!)

One of the reasons Alfonso and Witney's song didn't work as much for me is that unlike the iconic Singin' in the Rain, or "America" from West Side Story, Alfonso's song wasn't clearly recognized for being in Austin Powers. Here's hoping that Alfonso starts channeling his groove train again soon.