Pillow Talking had the pleasure of attending the Fox network’s Emmy Award-winning So You Think You Can Dance Season 12 Tour at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT. The myriad numbers performed by the top ten finalists and supporting dancers were fan favorites from the season along with a sprinkling of some new pieces by choreographer Mandy Moore, who also organized the general direction of the tour.
“Some of the pieces this season were this beautiful mix of ‘street’ and ‘stage’ – because that’s what we were doing this season!” Moore said. “I love when you get two kind of opposing styles together and see what comes out of it.”
This season’s dancers were given the opportunity to work with other choreographers who were a fresh and welcome addition according to Moore. “In order for dance to evolve, there has to be new people who come in and shake things up. When you combine the two (dance styles) together you get this real beautiful quality of these two different ways of training and how they go at dance and how they approach choreography and how they approach performing…I think it’s incredible.”
And incredible it was. While the tour let all of the dancers shine, for the show, ultimately there only could be one winner. Team Stage’s Gaby Diaz, just 19 years old, began dancing at the age of three. Aspiring to become a freelance dancer, she had this to say about her experiences on SYTYCD and the tour:
“It’s (the show) pushed me further than I thought I could go, and I’m grateful for that. I will walk out of this tour a much stronger dancer physically and mentally. We’re pretty early on in the tour but I already have a better understanding of how the life of a professional dancer goes. My goal is to continue working after tour and not disappear from the industry.”
As part of her winnings, including a $250,000 cash prize, Diaz will join Jennifer Lopez onstage during her Planet Hollywood residency in Las Vegas. “I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to dance with JLo. I’m a huge fan of hers, and I’ve been vocal about that on social media, so the fact that that was part of the prize is incredible.”
Much luck to Diaz and all of the SYTYCD finalists!
I love dance. It’s in my blood – my parents were professional dancers. My mom was with the acclaimed Boston Ballet and then later with American Ballet Theatre. My dad danced in most every classical style and after they met, sometimes performed with my mom in national touring companies, summer and winter stock, and at the New York World’s Fair. Reared by these two wonders of the stage, I always wanted to dance, too; I even took lessons for a short time, but with parents who had extremely high standards, none of the local yokel schools provided the level of quality instruction that my mom and dad desired. After only a few short months of ballet, my mom had me turn in my leotard and ballet slippers…my dreams of someday gracefully pirouetting on pointe were crushed (okay, I’m exaggerating). But that could be a possible explanation why I have never felt comfortable dancing in front of anyone – I would go on to limit my amateur, so-called dancing to entertaining my young children at the expense of my own dignity. And in case you’re wondering, I still do it, even though they’re older now. And they still love it (sike)! Instead of applause I usually am met with, “Ewww!” and “Oh, my god, Moo-oom! STOP!
But no matter what, I love what dance is and what it represents. I love what it looks like; I love what it sounds like; I love the stories it tells; and maybe most of all, I love how it makes me feel. Historically, early dance was ritual and ceremonial; people became lost in it and even may have been transported spiritually. But it isn’t only such an experience for the dancers; it also is for the observers – dance lures you, it draws you in; it envelops you in its rhythm and artistic expression – and it becomes intoxicating.
So when Wayne and I went to see the Season 12 Tour of Fox’s Emmy Award-winning So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) by series creator Nigel Lythgoe at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT, I was excited. But as an up-front disclosure, I have not followed the show very much. There are a lot of dancing and singing competition shows out there and with the limited television time I am able to eke out around all of my other goings on, I can’t keep up with them. But after interviewing Jessica “JJ” Rabone (see our interview with “JJ”), one of the top ten finalists, I learned quite a bit about the show and about its most recent format, “Stage vs. Street.” This season’s dancers first had to self-select their base style. Once reaching the top 20, however, their technical prowess and unique abilities would be put to the test and they’d then have to perform whatever type of dance was thrown at them. “Stage” styles range from ballet, ballroom, contemporary, jazz, Latin, and tap; and “Street” styles include freestyle, break dancing, hip-hop, and krump. Additional street dance styles also included animation, popping, and waacking.
The top ten from the show, who were judged by Lythgoe along with Paula Abdul and Jason Derulo, are featured in the
Season 12 tour which will hit 70 cities in North America: Team Stage’s members led by leader Travis Wall, include: Gaby Diaz, Edson Juarez, Jim Nowakowski, Hailee Payne, and Derek Piquette; and led by tWitch, Team Street’s are: Megan “Megz” Alfonso, Eddie “Neptune” Eskridge, Virgil Gadson, Jessica “JJ” Rabone, and Jana “Jaja” Vankova. Each was featured individually and had an opportunity to demonstrate what earned them their rightful spots at the top. Up first was JJ, who showed her street dance prowess, with a Japanese flair, homage to her roots. Edson’s Latin heritage was awesomely displayed as was his love for contemporary and hip-hop; followed by Eddie’s own freestyle and hip-hop dance chops. The crowd shouted wildly to Derek’s jazzy choreography to “Make It Rain,” while Megz shouted out to her Long Island supporters while delivering a powerhouse contemporary and hip-hop performance. It was literally stupefying how Virgil moved through his street performance with his compact physique (he is 5’3”) that can do things one would not expect a body to be able to do. (He later displays this astounding prowess in many pair dances.) From our seats, Hailee Payne bore such striking resemblance to Pǃnk, and captivated us in her blending of styles which include jazz and hip-hop. I inhaled deeply when Jim began his ballet solo; my heart nearly skipping at the beauty of his piece. Jaja, who nearly had me fooled that she was more “Stage” than “Street” packed a wallop with her urban style and strong mastery of hip-hop, et al. Finally, season 12 winner Gaby flawlessly tapped her way into everyone’s hearts.
At Mohegan Sun, the packed arena was filled with both young children and teeny boppers as well as middle-aged and seniors, and everyone in between. I would have expected the “older crowds” (anyone over say, age 25) to be accompanying a young person, but it was clearly evident that these dancers and this show have a solid following of viewers in all demographic groups. I saw groups of women, older couples, along with parents and their kids. Of course we couldn’t help but notice the horde of teenaged girls several seats down from us – they were bouncing around so much that the entire row of connected seats was rocking and shaking. And audience members of all ages shouted out the names of their favorite dancers as each member of the top ten briefly was featured on the backdrop video screen, followed by a short solo dance.
It was a veritable feast for the eyes and ears with the fusion of classical, contemporary, and hip-hop/street styles. The dancers performed a mixture of solo, duet, and group dances in myriad routines with passion, skill, strength and radiance. At one point, Wayne leaned over and said, “I can’t even imagine being able to do that with your body.” That really summed it up – what this troupe of young people were doing was utterly astounding, mind-blowing even; and truly mesmerizing.
The top ten, along with the supporting dancers, donned spectacularly well-designed costumes which were an enhancement to and set the tone for each dance piece; the countless outfit changes were done seamlessly as the pairs, groups, or solo dancers drifted on and offstage, departing from and/or joining other dancers. The lights, while sometimes nearly blinding depending upon your seat position and vantage point, were a vibrant addition to the production. But most importantly, each minute or two minute-long vignette told its own story; where at times I felt like I was watching a Broadway production. My only criticism is that I often wished some of them had been longer!
It is clear that SYTYCD is an incredible forum for creating opportunities for these dancers to be seen and recognized for their talents; all of the members of the tour successfully crossed over in the varied pieces from street to stage and back again. In our present culture of non-conformity, the dance world would appear as if it has evolved as well; and whether one desires to seek classical training or has honed their own eclectic brand of street skills, the acceptability of this melding of styles allows for one’s personal and artistic expression and ultimately the creation of a new dance aesthetic.
To quote Mathew McConaughey at the Oscars, “All right, all right, all right!” I admit it. I am a late-blooming dance fan. Despite being an avowed culture vulture, devouring everything artsy, I always felt that dancing by itself was incomplete. You needed characters, music and some kind of vocalization in order to have a complete story. I didn’t know from a plié to a relevé (although I can recognize moon dancing when I see it).
I am pleased to report that after having the opportunity to see the So You Think You Can Dance Tour (season 12) I am now a firm believer in storytelling via the power of dance.
The tour itself is a vibrant, energetic, incredibly choreographed two hours of short dance vignettes, each telling a specific story. Season 12 of SYTYCD departed from its regular format by selecting candidates based on “stage” and “street” categorizations rather than by gender. As far as the television show was concerned, series creator, Nigel Lythgoe, Paula Abdul, and Jason Derulo served as the judges. The Team Captains were Travis Wall for Team Stage and tWitch for Team Street. Cat Deeley also returned as host.
The live tour featured some of the best routines from the TV show and some new ones, too. Music ranged from heart pounding, hard rap to easy listening pop pieces. Colorful costumes and lighting effects enhanced the overall dance numbers. The live tour will please the most ardent of fans as well as those who never have seen the TV show.
The top ten finalists were given their own moment in the sun at various points during the show in reverse chronological order starting with tenth place finalist, Jessica “JJ” Rabone (see our interview), to the winner, Gaby Diaz. Jessica “JJ” Rabone came out and did a street piece with shades of the orient (obviously paying homage to her homeland, Japan): Edson Juarez came out for his solo looking sharp, fit and energetic; Eddie “Neptune” Eskridge solo’s displayed his love of freestyle dancing and his own personal style; Derek Piquette was in peak form, showing no signs of a previous back injury, as his solo mixed jazz and contemporary elements; next up was the supremely fluid Megz Alfonso, attacking her solo piece with supreme competence and fervor; Jim Nowakowski proved his dancing chops with classical ballet elements in his solo; Hailee Payne’s solo displayed hip-hop and jazz elements with a good dose of her own unique style; packed with his own brand of dance dynamite, Virgil Gadson exploded onto the stage in his solo in a frenetic mix of styles; Jaja Vankova (who is also an actress) displayed her specialization in Krump for her solo; and last, but certainly not least, was the winner, Gaby Diaz, who although trained in tap, showed she can do it all.
My personal favorite pieces were the robot dance, the sailor routine, and the lantern dance (although I must say all of the routines were flawlessly executed).
Overall, it was non-stop dancing except for the intermission. Rather than being a contest where “stage” dancers were pitted against “street” dancers, the So You Think You Can Dance Live Tour (season 12), was a collaborative exhibition demonstrating that both “stage” and “street” styles can meld into one, fluid, thoroughly entertaining performance.
All right, all right, all right, I am now a bona fide SYTYCD fan!