Thursday, January 1, 2015

DWTS Season 19: Alfonso and Witney Pull It Off

The last three standing of Season 19 of DWTS.
The dust has settled on Season 19 of Dancing with the Stars, and we have a winner. It was, quite possibly, the closest race ever. What it seemed like, to this viewer, was that there were a bunch of people who couldn't dance, and a bunch who were actual contenders. Once the former got weeded out, it was a cutthroat race amongst the latter. It was always very close among these, even right up to the end. For example, the finalists came down to judges' points like this: number 1 (Alfonso and Witney), 120; number 2 (Mark and Sadie), 118; number 3 (Val and Janel), 117. The 50% total of audience votes must have come out exactly the way the judges voted, because that is how the finalists ranked too.

There was a two-hour show on Monday night where we got to see what I would call some of the most amazing freestyle dances we have EVER seen. In fact, they were so great (uniformly) that the one the audience voted for as an encore was from Bethany and Derek (who weren't even in the final three).

The three hours of DWTS on Tuesday included a one-hour "Road to the Finals" program, more or less focusing on the final three. It promised to show us a lot of footage "never aired before," but I saw a lot of footage I'd seen before. The final two-hours included interminable recaps, and each competitor dancing one of their previous dances. (Yawn.) I would even say that of all the shows this season, the last three hours of Season 19 were the worst. (Perhaps if you hadn't seen the whole season and needed an update, you might've enjoyed it, but I'd been there, so I was mostly bored.)

I was correct in my assessment from last week that two of the people who HAD to be there were Mark/Sadie and Val/Janel. I was incorrect that the other one would be Derek/Bethany. It turned out to be Alfonso/Witney, who ended up winning.

Various comnmentators have referred to the Alfonso/Witney pairing as "the favorites," but that's not what I saw or experienced. Sure, when he danced The Carleton originally, he did have the country in the palm of his hand, also when he danced his first dance. But throughout the season, I would not say that statement was true.

On social media, I was much more aware of Mark and Sadie, Val and Janel and Bethany and Derek. In fact, I saw very little social media from Alfonso or Witney. So I'm not sure where this "favorite" business comes from.

For myself, I was torn between the lyric poetry of Val and Janel or the creativity and spark of Mark and Sadie, but after I saw the incredible mind-blowing Super Mario and the Princess videogame routine that Mark did as his freestyle, I was 100% convinced that Mark Ballas should be winning this season of DWTS.

Sadie and Mark as the Princess and Super Mario.
I don't really take the position of being entranced by the various competitors (as most people do). I am much more enthralled by the pros, they are what keep me coming back to my television screen season after season. And, at some point, the two individual people (celebrity and pro) gel as a dance team. That is what is exciting.

All four finalists were amazing to watch, especially in later episodes. Derek and Bethany were the fun couple, doing interesting, fun dances. Val and Janel had this palpitating sexiness that permeated all their numbers. Alfonso and Witney had some fun numbers, which for me, gravitated too much to hip hop music. Maybe that's why I didn't like them as much overall.

But for me, Mark Ballas' choreography and creativity are what stood out to me the most about this season. Dance after dance after dance. He said later that he found it to be his favorite season ever. I thought his dances were just far and away better than anyone else's. Far and away.

From the buoyant joyousness of Up, to the cowboy country number, to the stunning threesome with Emma (Can't Take My Eyes Off You), to his fantastic Argentine tango (with guitar), to this indelible freestyle, his muse was on it this season. Truly like never before (that I've seen). I will remember his dances from this season for a long time to come.

Super Mario and the Princess. Amazing.
And when he didn't win, after all that, I was, frankly, crushed. As crushed as I was when the judges gave his brilliant Halloween number bad scores.

Sadie and Mark paso doble (with flamenco touches). Bad scoring from the judges on this one.
In comparison, Alfonso and Witney had the Carleton dance, their Batman and Robin, the first dance which blew us all away, and that stunning Turn Down for What threesome. The rest didn't do much for me. Certainly weren't as memorable as any of Mark's dances, or any of Val's sexy numbers, or even as much as Derek's stunning dances.

This was the best moment in this Goldmember number. 
This season of DWTS was supposedly the lowest rated, which is sad, because the pros and what they present to us just keeps getting better and better. There was a new energy with the new showrunner and director, and Erin Andrews was a wonderful change.

Next season, we will have no Len and no Cheryl Burke. I suspect, though it hasn't yet been announced, that Julianne Hough will be Len's replacement, and if that's true, I'm glad for it. She was a good judge this season. Plus, Bruno and Carrie Anne are so wacky that sometimes Carrie Anne falls right off her chair. It was good to have Julianne bringing some gravitas to these crazies. I wanna know (from a professional's perspective) why a dance was good, and what could make it better.

From a production standpoint, I really liked the multi-camera viewpoints that were new this season, showing backstage in several areas. It really helped to know what was going on during a show. I'm pretty social media and tech savvy, but I didn't once check out their behind the scenes interview thing. Maybe some people did. Personally, I'd prefer to know what's going on, you know, on the show.

The whole stage area seemed to be utilized to greater effect this season than ever. My favorite moment of that was when host Tom Bergeron ziplined across the stage. Just cause.

Costumes seemed to be better. There were a few garish missteps, but no major travesties with celebrities getting entangled with them or tripping on long gowns.

We were graced, this season with three near-impossible things to pull off: the Singin' in the Rain number, the West Side Story tribute and the Nintendo game freestyle. It is a testament to this show (and Derek, Val and Mark's talents) that they were able to finally get these clearances, and in these cases, deliver amazing dances which honored and respected the original artforms.

What I would wish for (if I had these powers) would be to have Derek be the creative visionary of this show (which he is), and have Mark Ballas be the musical visionary. He has consistently used music which goes above and beyond, always fits the dances. It still seems like music for this show is all over the place. Sometimes really crappy, sometimes sublime. There needs to be someone (of Mark Ballas' calibre) who takes a handle on that. The dance he did for his Halloween number was of the sublime variety. Perfect and wonderful, and very theatrical. I don't know if the "celebrities" have any hand in picking the music, but they shouldn't. This show would be infinitely better if there was someone else who had a consistent hand in music selection. None of this "I'm going to dance to a number my husband wrote" crap that we've had in past seasons. Or even all the heavy-handed hip hop things that Alfonso danced to. The music should fit the dance, or at least fit the show (or both, ideally).

Derek did "All About the Bass" with Bethany before I'd even heard of the song, and although I didn't appreciate "Turn Down for What" at the time, it was also a timely song. Sure, if it motivates the celebrity, great. But for heaven's sake, make it a good (or great!) song.

Alfonso and Cheryl Burke do flamenco. Courtesy of ABC.
Cheryl Burke will indeed be missed. There are a few pros which are the backbone of DWTS. Maksim Chmerkovskiy was one, and he is now gone from the show. Cheryl leaving is going to be a major blow. She just kept getting better and better and better. But I think a dance show really only thrives by adding new blood.

Allison Holker and Keo Motsepe were welcome additions this season. I hope they will be back.

But it's a dicey business, being a pro on this show. It almost seems like you need pros who are sympathetic and able to handhold whiny celebrities at the beginning, who can also morph into creative geniuses carrying off grand visions by the end. Or at least pace the celebrities so that they can make it to the end.

And you need pros who are enough stars in their own right to carry off conversations and make a show interesting. Some are ready, some are not. Sasha Farber? Maybe not. Jenna? Maybe so. Artem? Still not sure on that one. You don't want pros who shine too much, and leave their celebrity behind in the dust. Although in the end, I was rooting for Lea and Artem, so maybe they do work it out.

Alfonso and Witney FTW.
I have to say, at the beginning of the season, I didn't think Witney Carson had the chops to make it to the end and win. I was wrong. She was a damn fine dancer and choreographer. She even shone when she had to dance with the race car driver. I'm really glad that someone other than Derek won this time.

But still, when I think of the dances that make me swoon of Season 19 of Dancing with the Stars, it's mostly going to be the ones from this guy.

Mark and Sadie and Emma do a threesome that was breathtaking.
Thank God that Mark Ballas is in the world, creating poetry on DWTS. We are all so very lucky for that, even if, this time, he didn't win.