"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


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.



THAT was dance variety

There's a giant universe out there, under the title of "dance." That was especially clear in tonight's "So You Think You Can Dance."

Back-to-back, we saw pieces that may have been overthought. One had an alien woman impregnating the last Earth man; the other had a man and woman chained together, literally. The dancers (Caitlin Kinney and Jason Glover, Phillip Cabeeb and Jeanine Mason) did their best, but the pieces limited what they could do.

Then came the show's first ballet piece. Melissa Sandvig (who is a ballerina) and Ade Obayomi (who isn't) became Juliet and Romeo. It was smooth, flowing and wonderful. To the show's credit, it was the excact opposite of the pieces that preceded it.

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

1) If you live in the Lansing, Mich., area, please read and comment on the obituary that precedes this. Len Kluge was an astonishingly good actor and a fascinating person. I'll write more about him in a future blog.

2) Part of tonight's mixed reactions involved sub-conscious racial images. The alien piece had a blonde woman (Caitlin) taking a black man (Jason) in tattered clothes for her sexual needs; it flashed of a plantation nightmare from America's past. By comparison, the black and white of Romeo and Juliet created stunning beauty.

3) Credit goes to the costumer who came up with that final gimmick. With a flip of the hand, Karla Garcia switched from an ugly, polka-dot dress to a gorgeous red one.

4) Negative credit goes to putting Caitlin under all that cloth and Spandex. Television's best torso remained hidden.

5) My prediction for the bottom three: The two duos chained (almost literally) by imposing routines -- Caitlin and Jason, Phillip and Jeanine. Also, Evan Kasprzak and Randi Evans, who did their best with a so-so Broadway piece in the Bob Fosse style. We'll see on Thursday (9 p.m., Fox), with Kelly Clarkson as the musical guest.


Len Kluge was a great actor, fine person


Len Kluge, who died early this morning, was as fine an actor as I've ever seen. He was also a fascinating person, a guy who loved theater, baseball and life. Here's a quick obituary.

If you're reading this from outside Lansing, Mich., go on to the previous blogs. (Also, remember to savor the great actors in your town.) And if you're from Lansing, please add your own thoughts:

Len Kluge, whose intense performances
were a key part of local theater for decades, died early this

Kluge, 63, was founder of Spotlight
Theatre, which had a 20-year stay in Grand Ledge. He was also known
for work in other theaters, from a much-praised “That Championship
Season” at the Okemos Barn to “Our Town” at BoarsHead Theater.

He died at 12:20 a.m. this morning
after being hospitalized for 40 days, said Jeff Magnuson, a longtime
friend and acting colleague. “He had an amazing sense of humor, a
love of food, a love of Mexico, a love of his wife (Heather
Lenartson-Kluge) and his cats,” Magnuson said.

On stage, however, Kluge was all
business. Trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New
York City, he learned and taught the Method technique, sinking deeply
into a role.

Magnuson first saw that when he was a
16-year-old Everett High student, running the spotlight for Kluge's
one-man show as crusading lawyer Clarence Darrow.

“It was something to see him so
totally in the moment,” he said. “He was so natural, so

The son of a small-town grocer, Kluge
grew up in Lakeview, a town of about 1,100, 30 miles west of Mount
Pleasant, where he went to Central Michigan University. He left early
to go to New York, where he had some success. He did a praised,
two-man play with Danny DeVito, had some TV roles and headed toward

That changed, however, when he met a
CMU professor who sensed his alcoholism and convinced him to return
to school. Kluge ended up winning the school's acting award twice, 10
years apart.

In Lansing, he turned the Ledges
Playhouse – known for light, summer shows – into a place where
people often found tough dramas by Arthur Miller, Eugene O'Neill and
more. Magnuson recalled such shows as “The Deputy,” “A Man For
All Seasons,” “Royal Gambit” and “Long Day's Journey Into

All were done with Method-style
passion, Magnuson said. “He followed the system that he learned in
New York and became the character. It was amazing to watch him.”