I think he can choreograph


Three summers ago, Travis Wall just missed winning "So You Think You Can Dance." Benji Schwimmer -- a Western swing dancer -- won; Wall, a gifted little contemporary dancer, was one of three people listed as runners-up.

Not to worry; after tonight, he moves to the top of any list. The piece he choreographed -- his first for the show -- was sensational. As danced by Jason Glover and Jeanine Mason, it was stunning; it may have been better than the Mia Michaels addiction piece last week ... which would make it the best moment in a good season.

Here are a few of my thoughts; please add yours:

1) Until now, I've assumed this would be a female-dominated season. Now I'm starting to realize just how good Glover is, too.

2) The entire show hit a new level with that Travis Wall piece. By coincidence, it was followed by three straight superb solos -- Melissa Sandvig, the soaring ballerina; Evan Kasprzak, with a vibrant Broadway routine; and Kayla Radonski, with contemporary zest. A short time later, Ade Obayomi was also superb.

3) It's good to see that everyone gets a solo now -- and unfortunate that it continues to be micro-brief. Glover was the only one who tried to add a sense of character; he promptly ran out of time.

4) Sure, the closing African dance was terrific. Still, it was no way to show off individual dancers. There was so much going on that my eyes had no idea where to go.

5) That dance pointed out the show's accidental imbalance this year. There are five white women (well, one is Cuban); there are three black men, a Hawaiian man and Evan.

6) Evan, the Bloomfield Hills dancer, manages to pull through with his likability. Preparing for that final dance, he gave us the year's biggest understatement: "I don't know if you noticed this, but I'm not African."

7) Now it's time for my prediction of who will be voted out Thursday (9 p.m., Fox), with the Black Eyed Peas as musical guest.

8) I'm stopping to think here. No, I'm not just doing this so I end up with an even 10.

9) I think Kupono Aweau and Randi Evans (Evan Kasprzak's former partner) will go. Their Spanish piece had powerful music and a great, red-and-black palette. It did little, however, to show off the dancers; neither did anything in the solo pieces to make up for it. A week after Kupono and Kayla triumphed with the addiction piece, i think he'll be heading home.

10) But hey, heading to Hawaii is kind of a good thing, right? 

 

Two dazzling dancers depart


"So You Think You Can Dance" is down to its final 10 now and ready to re-shuffle all the duos. That starts Wednesday (8-10 p.m.) and Thursday (9-10 p.m.) on Fox.





All 10 finalists are strong. Still, we'll miss the two who were dropped last week; they were miles from the usual studio-molded people. Here's the story I wrote after phone interviews Friday:

 

In an era when kids reach dance studio
before they reach kindergarten, this is encouraging: Two top talents
– freshly eliminated from “So You Think You Can Dance” –
started late.

“A lot of dancers start when they're
3 and that's all they know,” Caitlin Kinney said by phone today.

She was 15 before studying ballet at
the Baltimore School for the Arts. By then, she says, she had lots
of experience in acrobatics and in life.

Even that gave her much more experience
than Phillip Chbeeb.

"I'm as far from a trained dancer
as possible,” he told viewers after being eliminated Thursday. “If
you keep your passion and creativity, you can do anything."

A master at popping, Chbeeb kept
drawing difficult assignments. “I was almost dreading it,” he
said.

The toughest was a number in which he
and his partner were chained, creating rehearsal problems. “The
chain broke,” he said today by phone. “There are so many troubles
when you're chained by the ankles.”

Kinney and dance partner Jason Glover
also drew unusual routines, peaking early with a Bollywood number.
“It took me two days just to learn how to put my hands in the
parrot position,” she said.

That's when her partner told the
choreographer about Kinney's gymnastic skill. “Jason (Glover) was
going, 'Caitlin can do anything.'”

She soon did a handstand, which became
part of the routine.

The judges raved then, but in most
weeks she and Glover ended up in the bottom three, surviving with
solos. “I was the queen of the bottom three,” Kinney said. “At
least I got to dance more.”

Judges sometimes said she and Glover
lacked chemistry. She says they became great friends, but views that
philosophically. “I think my boyfriend was glad to hear we don't
have chemistry.”

 

"Dance" is deflated


In a couple of sentences tonight, Nigel Lythgoe deflated the drama in his own show.

This was supposed to be the night to choose the top 10 for "So You Think You Can Dance." Viewers had chosen  the bottom three duos; now those six people would get "dance for your life" solos. Two -- one man, one woman -- would be sent home, just missing the chance to go on the show's 40-city tour.

It was high drama, instantly deflated when Lythgoe said:

-- The losers would probably go along anyway, as swing dancers.

-- The whole dance-for-your-life thing is partly an illusion. "In general, our minds are made up." It's possible to change judges' minds in the 30-second solo, but not likely.

We'd always suspected that. (If these solos were taken more seriously, they'd be longer than 30 seconds.) Still, that confirmed it ... and took some of the fun out of what followed.

Here are a few of my comments; please add yours:

1) Caitlin Kinney is gone, after lots of close calls. She's a marvelous athlete-dancer combination, a delight to watch. She was superb in an early Bollywood number, then kept being bounced to the bottom three duos most weeks after that.

2) Phillip Cabeeb, who is also gone, is a marvel. Self-taught, he kept having to quickly master new genres. He kept surviving -- he survived ripped trousers, a leap (lengthwise) over a sofa, the chaos of learning a Russian folk dance. He kept doing well.

3) So it was good to hear Lythgoe confirm at the end of the show that both will be on tour along with the top 10. They add elements -- Caitlin's acrobatics, Phillip's pop-dancing -- that others can't provide.

4) It was good to hear that ... but it also deflated the night's drama.

5) I was startled to see Melissa Sandvig and Ade Obayomi among the bottom three duos. It may not have mattered for much, but both promptly offered sensational solos. Sandvig -- a graceful ballerina with a jazz dancer's instincts -- is going to be a real force.

6) Tonight's musical guest was billed as a duo of Kelly Rowland and David Guetta. We saw lots of Rowland, but all we saw Guetta do was stand around the turntable and then lead the clapping. Hey, lots of people clapped; do they all get credit?

7) Ultimately, the night was salvaged by Cabeeb's closing comments. In an era when pre-schoolers get expensive studio lessons, this was a guy who could afford none of that, but reached the top 12. As he put it: "I'm as far from a trained dancer as possible ... If you keep your passion and creativity, you can do anything." He did; we think he can dance.

 

 

Len Kluge: Remembering an immense talent

Keywords

There have been waves of grief in the last couple weeks, all of it understandable. We respect great talent and great effort; we respect the magic of Michael Jackson, the glow of Farrah Fawcett, the passion of Karl Malden.

Still, for me the tough thing to deal with was the loss of Len Kluge. He was one of the three great stage actors I've seen -- the others are John Peakes and Carmen Decker -- and he was brilliant.

If you're not from around Lansing, Mich., those names might not click with you; jump to my previous blog, on tonight's "So You Think You Can Dance." If you did know or see Len, please add your comments.

I first saw him in "The Championship Season," at what was then the Okemos Barn Theatre. It was a revelation -- a subtly perfect play, revolving around the complex character of a tough basketball coach. Len played the part, capturing every nuance.

In the years that followed, he would do that over and over. He could be fiercely passionate in Eugene O'Neill or Arthur Miller pieces, but he was also perfect as the emotionally restrained therapist in Michigan State University's "Equus." He could even be funny -- broadly so in "The Odd Couple," slyly so in a surprising little breakfast-table moment of BoarsHead Theater's "Our Town."

 Most of the great moments came at Spotlight Theatre, which he co-started and kep going for 20 years. He directed skillfully and got great performances out of young actors -- in particular, I remember a teen-aged Tricia Morshek in the Barn's "Children's Hour" and a young Jeff Magnuson in ... well, everything.

Like many great actors, Len turned out to have a great back story. He grew up as the son of a small-town grocer, a man he spoke of glowingly. He went to New York, where he drew some strong praise and an alcohol problem. He retreated to his home state -- winning the Central Michigan University acting award twice, 10 years apart -- and then reached Lansing.

He loved women and married often, the last time to a gorgeous young actress who provided, I felt, a perfect match. He loved baseball and got season tickets as soon as the Lugnuts reached town. He seemed to love life -- yet somehow could capture its depths perfectly on stage. He lived well and died at 63 -- way, way too soon.

He died at the same time as Jackson and Malden and Fawcett and more. His life and death meant something extra: It reminded us that great talent isn't just some distant thing; at times, it's in our midst.

 

"Dance": Try to be best AND last


Sure, there's a luck of the draw (literally) in "So You Think You Can Dance." Reaching into the hat, some people draw popular, viewer-pleasing routines; some don't. The duo that drew the quick-step last week began instantly preparing to be in the bottom three.

Still, there's also the luck of timing. It's good to have a great routine; it's better to have it near the end.

I thought the addiction number -- choreographed by Mia Michaels, danced by Kupono Aweau and Kayla Radonski -- was magnificent, one of the best moments ever on a show that's had many good ones. That routine, however, was the second of the night; before voting began, 100 minutes had elapsed and 10 more numbers had been performed.

By comparison, Janette Manrara and Brandon Bryant hit the jackpot -- a brilliant Wade Robson routine, filled with zesty humor, danced at the end of the show. They were also terrific earlier, in a zesty Argentine tango, while costumed in rich reds and blacks. They'll be around.

Here are a few of my other comments; please add yours:

1) Yes, it's been a week since my previous blog. Blame the 4th of July or Wisconsin or me. I'll get back to that now; I'll also offer some separate comments on the late Len Kluge, a great actor.

2) I liked the the interchange after that Janette-Brandon tango. "I can't contain myself," Mary Murphy said (or screamed). Added Cat Deeley: "You didn't."

3) It's too bad the current partnerships will be broken up next week; some are perfect. Evan Kasprzak and Randi Evans are ideal because they're similar, two down-sized dancers, filled with zest; Melissa Sandvig and Ade Obayomi are ideal because they're opposites, an ivory ballerina and an ebony contemporary dancer, meshing perfectly.

4) Then again, we can't be sure Evan and Randi will be back next week. Until now, they've had great luck in drawing their best forms -- uptempo numbers with a jazzy or Broadway feel. This time they did well with a hip-hop number, then had less success with a samba.

5) Melissa and Ade will definitely be around, though. Their disco number was fun; their "Natural Woman" was gorgeous.

6) You had to feel the pain of Phillip Cabeeb, when he learned he and Jeanine Mason would be doing a Russian folk dance. They did it pretty well, however, then scored with a jive piece.

7) OK, I'm stumped about who will be in the bottom three on Thursday (9 p.m., Fox). I'll say Evan and Randi, Phillip and Jeanine and -- despite some great work -- Caitlin Kinney and Jason Glover.

8) Then the judges have to cut two of them, one male and one female. Those will be the people who just miss the final 10.

9) Missing the final 10 means they'll miss the 40-city tour. Anyone eliminated now is a terrific dancer, so life is not fair.

10) I mean really, not fair at all. Or maybe you knew that already.