Last night I ventured all the way out to Newark, New Jersey to catch the live version of So You Think You Can Dance. It is simultaneously worse than you would expect and more awesome than you could hope for.
First of all, trying to take New Jersey Transit at 6pm on a Thursday night when there is also a U2 concert at the Meadowlands is like trying to drive out of New Orleans when a hurricane is coming, except instead of dealing with terrified citizens, you're dealing with excited boozers with no musical taste.
Once inside the sterile confines of the Prudential Center we were greeted by a crowd of girls—big girls, small girls, young girls, old girls, quiet girls, and lots and lots of screaming girls. There were a few gays too. The stage looked similar to the one on television, a protruding arch backed by intricate iron work and a few screens. Missing were the giant stairs and the huge metal pillars that Cat Deeley perches atop in a ridiculous getup and purrs "This is So You Think You Can Dance!"
First we get a taped message from grand Gargamel Nigel Lythgoe with some taped segment of last season's best auditions. It is the first of many taped montages throughout the evening. Finally each dancer from the top 10 is introduced (along with bonus Mouseketeers Philip and Caitlin), the girls scream for each one in succession, but louder for the boys and most loudly for Brandon. This is a trend that will continue. Fifth grade teachers across the tri-state area must have had an easy day today with all the quiet, hoarse girls keeping their voices down.
The opening number is a spectacular with everyone in matching outfits. After wowing the crowd with some serious moves, they all introduce themselves—again. It's like Up with People, but brought to you by Fox and a little bit cooler. And then they start talking. There is a reason why this show is not called So You Think You Can Be a Television Presenter. It's not that anyone is especially bad, but the canned comedy bits are so obviously scripted they seem like they were written by Satan himself for the presenters at the 5674th Annual Golden Pitchforks of Hell Awards. It reminds me exactly of You Can't Do That on Television, minus the slime.
The numbers themselves, well, there are no surprises, because you saw them all during the season already. There is the Bollywood one, the disco one, the robbers one, the cancer one, the ballet, the zombies, the one where Jeanine dances on the table with the water. While we knew exactly what to expect, the great thing is that you finally get to see the movement as the choreographer intended, instead of with the intruding eye of the camera. Instead of zipping around the dancers and giving us a forced perspective on the action, your eye is free to absorb everything on the stage at its own pace. It's a much purer form of experiencing dance.
Between each duo we get some more montages, many of them show us the same clips two and three times, but if we've all seen the dance numbers and the costumes again, then why not just keep repeating. Speaking of repeating, each dancer also gets a short solo, as if they're dancing for their lives. This is our least favorite part of the show, both on TV and live. Except for when Philip, the only one to get an extended solo, gets a standing ovation for popping his wobbly little arms off. When there aren't montages, other dancers are on the stage (wearing official SYTYCD apparel, for sale next to the popcorn and hot dog stands) doing the stupid comedy bits and introducing each other.
The only original bit of comedy had to do with Jeanine and bonus Mouseketeer Phillip, who kept trying to barge on stage doing their abysmal Russian folk dance. Based on nothing we think the two are doing it. Anyway, once they successfully damage our retinas in the second act with their dancing doll routine, it becomes the second of two original group dances. It's not as good as the first.
But a strange thing happened, somewhere between the same old solos, the commercial for the new SYTYCD workout video and Gargamel's Dizzy Feet Foundation message (the exact same one we say at the end of last season): we were overcome with intense emotion. Pride at the little dancers for being so talented that they've made it all the way here, joy at seeing them exhibit their obvious talents onstage, happiness that the kids who we cheered and called and texted for were getting to perform before an audience, and awe that they can do those amazing things with their bodies. That is exactly why we watch the show, and to do it with a stadium full of teary-eyed little girls screaming "I love you Brandon," well, that is not something you can get in your living room.