Dance devotees can’t help but feel ambivalent about the TV hit series “So You Think You Can Dance.”
The Fox summer competition popularizes dance — something the art form desperately needs — but at the same time, it reduces it to a sideshow with shallow routines that aim to make quick hits on pyrotechnics.
Yet there is no denying “SYTYCD,” as it is known, drew a hefty crowd Tuesday night at the Palace Theatre. People who wouldn’t be caught dead at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for a night at the ballet were on their feet, whooping it up as Chehon Wespi-Tschopp circled the stage with dazzling and perfectly executed tours en l’air.
Is television the answer to dance’s dwindling audience?
Certainly, the diverse crowd that cheered at the Palace knows that dance, like music, is a universal language. And even though these folk are only dipping a toe in Terpsichore’s waters, some might be willing to go deeper — buying tickets to an Alvin Ailey or Paul Taylor event. This is my fondest hope.
But I digress, as “SYTYCD” is not about ticket sales, the future of dance nor the music or the choreography. It’s about the stars, the finalists who endured weeks of grueling, hard-hitting dances that many were completely unprepared and untrained to do.
A dozen of these fearless champions showed their grit in this entertaining two-hour “best of” showcase. And while not all of these dancers are beautifully trained or have flawless technique, they do have the “it” factor. Better still, they look to be having great fun. It’s no wonder “SYTYCD” is a hit.
Wespi-Tschopp, along with Eliana Girard, stand out among the cast, mainly because they are ballet-trained, indisputably the best overall training for any dancer. While dancers like Lindsay Arnold and Witney Carson, both Latin ballroom dancers, struggle with fluidity in lyrical pieces, Wespi-Tschopp and Girard hold their own in every routine — hip-hop, contemporary, Latin and ballet.
Clean, polished technique is also a hallmark of Matthew Kazmierczak’s dancing. A joy to watch, he is a marvelous partner as he exudes confidence as he catches an airborne Carson in a sultry dance.
Also excellent is the dynamic Audrey Case. Petite and fiery, she is known for her grand battements that have knee plastered to ear while she serenely balances on the other leg.
Cole Horibe is also electrifying. A martial artist, he refashions his kata kicks and punches into daring dance moves. His roundhouse kicks land fast, with jaw-dropping grace.
What is most impressive is how finalist Cyrus Spencer had little training in traditional dance before he competed on TV. Spencer is an electric boogie phenom whose popping and locking is mesmerizing. He is a delight to behold.
The tall Will Thomas is the goof who makes for a hilarious partner with high-heeled, fishnet stocking-wearing Amelia Lowe.
All-in-all, after watching about 50 mini-routines, (so short it is necessary to butcher the accompanying pop music) one can see how “SYTYCD” is addicting. Now, if only that need for movement could translate to concert dance.
One can always hope.