Walter Cronkite and the moon -- a convergence

On July 17, 1969, the Apollo 11 ship was racing toward history. Three days later, its astronauts would be the first men on the moon.

On July 17, 2009, Walter Cronkite -- a beloved figure in American history -- died. The timing seemed to fit this remarkable life.

The first temptation is to say Cronkite's legacy will thrive after his death. In this case, however, there's instant proof.

From 9-11 p.m. Monday -- that's July 20, the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing -- the History Channel debuts "Moonshot." It beautifully merges scripted scenes and actual footage. And many of those actual clips involve Cronkite's reports.

I imagine that will be the same in many other reports today. Sure, ABC and NBC covered the moon landing, too; still, it was Cronkite and CBS that always seemed to make it official.

Part of that was because of the immense competence of Cronkite and his network. Part was because of his enthusiasm.

"The first landing on the moon was, indeed, the most extraordinary story of our time," Cronkite wrote in "A Reporter's Life" (Alfred Knopf, 1996).

Here was someone who flunked his University of Texas physics class, because he couldn't understand how a pulley works. Now he was learning everything about space travel. He rode in simulators, studied, talked to key people. He was known by everyone -- almost.

At a NASA gathering, Cronkite met Charles Lindbergh. He had already done some underwater diving with the son of the aviation pioneer. Lindbergh was delighted and took him over to meet his wife, Anne. On the way, he asked Cronkite, "Tell me, what is your name again?"

In that autobiography, Cronkite was happy to tell such stories on himself. Most people know man's first words on the moon; what we might not remember, he wrote, were his own on-air comment after the landing: "Oh, boy! Whew! Boy!"

Hey, he was human, like anyone else. He could be overwhelmed for a moment; then he went back to reporting with crisp clarity.







The dance of doom

Let's consider it the dance of doom.

Until this week, Kupono Aweau and Randi Evans were fine on "So You Think You Can Dance"; Randi had never been in the bottom three. Then, on Wednesday, they did a Spanish-style ballroom duet; now they're both going home.

Two weeks ago, Kupono and Kayla Radonski were triumphant with a fierce duet about addiction. It was the season's best moment -- until this week, when Jason Glover and Jeanine Mason did a splendid piece by Travis Wall. Now, instead, he's gone.

And each week, Evans did well with Evan Kasprzak, the turbo-charged little Bloomfield Hills dancer. Those duos -- Kupono-Kayla, Evan-Evans -- were perfect. When the combinations were reshuffled this week, the Kupono-Randy one stumbled. 

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

1) It wasn't really a surprise to see Kupono and Randi go; I had predicted it Wednesday (see previous blog). But I was stunned to see that the others in the bottom two were Melissa Sandvig, the glorious ballerina, and Ade Obayomi, the dancing powerhouse.

2) After their duet sagged Wednesday, Kupono and Evans weren't particularly impressive with their solos. They soloed tonight (too late to affect the results), but had much-improved costumes. That would have helped.

3) Next Wednesday's show will probably be fun, with Ellen DeGeneres as one of the judges. Next Thursday, however, is the one to look forward to. The 100th episode overall, it will repeat some of the best numbers from the past; it will also include a much-ballyhooed number danced by Katie Holmes.

4) Speaking of top numbers from the past, it was great to hear that the show got four Emmy nominations for choreography. One was for an awesome Mia Michaels piece that incorporated a door; others were for Tyce Diorio, Tabitha and Napoleon and Dmitry Chaplin.

5) There must have been a lot of brainpower on the dance floor during the show's second season. That's when Wall was runner-up (to Benji Schwimmer) and Chaplin finished ninth; three years later, both are acclaimed choreographers.

6) Nigel Lythgoe was gone tonight, getting his honorary doctorate. Will everyone now be required to address him as Dr. Lythgoe? Or does it maybe not count over here, because it was awarded in England. We're no longer a colony, you know.


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

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.