Friday, September 2, 2016

DWTS S022 Finals, Night One: Peta Takes the Mirror Ball

Finalists Ginger Zee and Valentin Chmerkovskiy, Peta Murgatroyd and Nyle DiMarco,
and Paige Van Zant and Mark Ballas face off.
Let me say this about that. Despite the fact that I have friends in reality TV who constantly tell me, "No, seriously, Michelle, reality TV is scripted," I choose to be selectively ignorant. I choose to believe that the reality was not that (allegedly) Caila got bumped as The Bachelorette because she was too prudish, and that JoJo just happened to fall in love with Jordan (not that he asked for her, and wouldn't do the show unless she was the Bachelorette).

I really choose to believe that shows like Survivor and Dancing with the Stars (some of the original reality shows) come at their results fairly. If they say they count millions of votes from across America, sure, I believe them. And while some folks on message boards always moan about how "Derek Hough always wins," I brush it off because it's clear to see how talented and smart (and such a great choreographer!) he is.

In short, I truly truly believe that the results on #DWTS, my favorite reality show, are real. And that winners of Mirror Balls get picked by America because they are the best of the season. One of the reasons I waited so long to write this particular blog post is because I wanted the anger to subside a bit. Because this is the first Mirror Ball that I truly question the veracity of.

And the truth of it gets into all kinds of shady gray areas, which I shall be talking about in this column.

But let's begin our two-night Finals extravaganza (aka time filler), shall we?

What used to be the flimsy concept of "let's do a dance we did earlier in the season and see how much better we do it now" has turned into the "Redemption Dance." Val incorporated elements from various dances they did during the season (which used to be part of what one did in the Freestyle). So we have the bench, the fountain, the mirrors from previous dances. Pretty cool, actually.

It is noted, however, that Ginger's major stumbling block (the lack of ability to do a character) was left out of this whole dance. No tangos or pasos here. Just lots of movement where she can smile, smile, smile. And she did.

Troupe dancers were used here, but mostly to recreate the dance from earlier in the season.

The dance ended with a really nice touch, where they are both looking back at the set pieces from the season.


Oh look! Sets and costumes and troupe dancers! :-X

Aside from Nyle's rampant ego and putting his foot in his mouth whenever he was allowed to speak (which really bugs me), I also just don't like his dancing. Of the final five here, Paige and Ginger and Wanya all danced up a storm, turning in perfect steps, perfect movement time after time. Antonio had issues. So, too, does Nyle. (To my eyes.)

They showed the train wreck of the Mask quickstep from earlier in the season before this dance (*shudders*). That is what they are "redeeming" themselves from. To me, it looked like Peta was dragging Nyle all through this dance. There was not the elegance and clean movement that you see from the other dancers. And I've been rewinding and watching this thing again and again.

Plus, to say nothing of the wistful look back (content) that Val just had in his Redemption dance (lacking from this dance). All three judges mention that Nyle was off time and messed up some of the footwork. (So he gets three 9s.)

They said at the beginning of this show that scoring between these three finalists "has never been tighter." And yet, we have one contestant who at this point IS STILL MESSING UP HIS FOOTWORK AND TIMING.

(Wanya's footwork and timing? Spot on. He could knock a quickstep like this right out of the park, without troupe dancers for added dressing.) Yes, I am a little peeved still that he's not a finalist, and Nyle is.

Troupe dancers used here as background to cover up Nyle's missteps.


But let's move on. In fact, let's recap.

Val's Redemption Song was really just a look back at their season, not a fix for anything.
Nyle and Peta's Redemption Song was marginally better than their train wreck of a Mask quickstep, yet was STILL plagued by missteps and bad timing. IN THE FINALS.
And Mark and Paige, who have absolutely presented a stellar season, with barely a misstep all season long, had to really reach for what to "redeem." So they came up with the dance where Mark hurt his back, and had to be replaced by Alan.

So we get this Fireball salsa. Stunning. (But, of course.) And, as Bruno noted, Paige not only was using the foot movements of salsa, but also the ARM movements, which most people on this show don't incorporate.

Fantastic. Just fantastic. To my eyes, EASILY the best of the three, even with the troupe dancers at the beginning. Just stunning.

Troupe dancers were used to set the flavor and to cover up the fact that she started with a black dress...

...And ends up with the sparkly red and orange one. Mark and Paige finished the rest of the dance alone, and it was brilliant.

JUDGES' SCORE: 29  (Not perfect because Len didn't think she had enough "hip action." Sigh.)

So, before we talk about the Freestyle round, let's discuss a few things.

My perception (and what the show usually leads you to believe) is that each dance throughout the season is choreographed BY the pro. I've been watching since Season 10, and there have been some questionable ones. Like Keo this season. Like Witney in the season she won with Alfonso. I have at times wondered whether or not they have help. No doubt they have the help of the showrunner and director to polish and finetune their vision. But as far as actual choreographic help, it has been understood, in fact, it's been the rules of the road, that the PRO, and ONLY the pro, choreographs the routines.

Since I've been watching, this has been true. Of course, we have Derek Hough and Mark Ballas and Valentin Chmerkovskiy (and Maksim Chmerkovskiy before him) and Sharna Burgess and Allison Holker: arguably some of the best choreographers in the world right now. They don't NEED help.

But then you have people like Sasha Farber and Keo Motsepe, maybe great dancers, but do they have the vision? Even Witney Carson, I question. Perhaps they DO need help, to get them to the finals. If, for example, Keo had managed to get all the way with someone like Jodie, wouldn't it be more fair to Jodie to bring in help to be as good as Mark Ballas is straight out of the gate? That is a quandry.

That is not what happened this season.

Here's what did happen this season. In at least two instances previously (the "silent" dance and the "blindfolded" dance), Peta had at least the assistance of Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Sure, Maks is and has been a vital part of this show. Sure, he is Peta's husband and Val's brother. Maybe he can work out the male things better than Peta with someone like Nyle. Not sure. But I do know I've never before seen an instance of ANOTHER choreographer being in there, advising on the dances. So that, in and of itself, was questionable to me. And not really fair to the other choreographers who are (ostensibly at least) struggling to create magic on the dance floor all by themselves.

Maybe you do, with one choreographer, get a lot of the same technique and steps. But so what? The "stars" not being able to dance is part of the thing. The choreographers creating their own dances is part of the thing. That is what Dancing with the Stars is.

OK, so let's look at the seminal Freestyle round, the round that makes or breaks whether you win or not.

OF COURSE, when you have a partner named Ginger, you HAVE to do a Fred Astaire type routine at some point. Valentin chose the Freestyle.

And I loved Fred and Ginger', sorry... Val and Ginger's Freestyle. It was fluid and beautiful. The clothes, the sets, the dance, just wonderful.


Then, there's this.

First, does that look like ANY #DWTS dance you've ever seen before? No. It does not. And you know why? Because for this dance, Peta brought in an outside choreographer. (Which I believe is against the rules of this competition.) It has never been done before, and isn't fair to the other choreographers.

Peta's excuse in her package was that she "doesn't really have a lot of experience with contemporary." Well, here's a thought. Why not do the dances you ARE familiar with? This whole show is supposed to be a melding of the star who becomes dancer, and the pro who comes up with great visionary choreography. When did it become, oh, let's bring in someone from the outside to blow away everyone else? Just so very very very unfair.

And it's true, Talia's choreography is stunning. And maybe it was beyond Peta's skillset. BUT THAT'S NOT THE SHOW. That's a different show.

And the song they dance to? The Sounds of Silence. Get it? Deaf guy, Sounds of Silence? *eyeroll* It ends with each of them clasping each other's mouth.

The other thing about this dance is that Nyle didn't have to worry about pesky synchopation and keeping the beat and matching steps quickly. He just had to follow Peta's lead.

Oh, and did I mention they have an actual BURNING PIANO behind them? Actual fire.

Only the beginning of the fire.
Artistically, it was beautiful and really made a statement. For this show, though, I HATED every moment of it.

So, hey, I don't know if they lured Peta Murgatroyd back to this show by promising her the Mirror Ball at the outset, but BOY, it sure seemed like it. It sure FELT like there was a lot of manipulation going on with this win.


So, let's get back to the real show.

Mark Ballas, THE best actual choreographer on this show this season, gets inspiration the week before from Paige talking about the bullying she experienced, and creates a Freestyle to Somewhere Over the Rainbow (sung by his beautiful fiancee BC Jean, who can't be on this show enough, IMHO). He doesn't bring in outside choreographers. He creates this art HIMSELF.

To me, this is what a Freestyle is supposed to be. This is what WE went through this season, and here we are now. From the tough MMA fighter who was bullied by her classmates, who couldn't look in his eyes and didn't want to be lifted, to this girly girl woman who is now wearing frilly clothes and comfortable in her womanhood who owns this stage. The change is astonishing.

The dance was so beautiful. No burning pianos, but lots of poignancy. So moving, it brought Mark Ballas to tears. Really special. From the heart.


(SIDE NOTE: I am writing all this after the season ended. Just before the next season is to begin. I thought at the time, when Mark Ballas burst into tears, that even though he was mumbling something about Paige's journey and blah blah, that the tears weren't really from that. My feeling in that moment was that he wasn't coming back, and that this was his last competitive dance on this show.

And how poignant, as his #DWTS journey was ending, to have his new beginning, his fiancee BC Jean, right there with him. An ending and a beginning, to the tune of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Now, THAT's choreography.

The new cast of #DWTS Season 23 has been announced. Mark Ballas is not among them. He has not, to this moment, spoken about it in the press. I can only hope that he will do what Maks and Cheryl and Derek did, and leave AND COME BACK. To me, he is/was the heart and soul of this show. The loss of him is gut-wrenching.)


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