DWTS Week Eight Competition Night!

November 16, 2009 at 9:59 am Leave a comment

Dancing With the Stars has come up with some quality gimmicks this year, but there’s one that happened gradually, without drawing attention to itself, that actually concerns me. It used to be that you would see one dance style, or two (divided by gender) per week. By seeing everyone perform it, the lay person could have several examples to see and understand the basics, and so make a side-by-side judgment of who was actually learning their dances better. Plus, you felt like you were in a genuine rotation, cycling the traditional basics before moving on to more exotic styles.

We’ve lost that now – there’s no predicting how many different dance styles will be performed week to week or to whom they will be assigned, and you feel like the celebs are missing a chance to get grounded. It’s no wonder so many of them succumb to the lure of stunts – they’re constantly being assigned stunt dances. Kelly and Louis reminded us in tonight’s show that the Foxtrot is their first proper ballroom dance since Week One. How fair is it that they did not have the opportunity to keep any of those skills up in practice until now?

That gripe noted, tonight’s show was one of the best of the season – it needed a little filler to get to two hours, but that filer actually provided the show some shape. Judge-narrated montages before each of the two rounds (Ballroom and Latin) helped prime our expectations and give us strengths and weaknesses to watch for from each celeb performer. They fit in a Latin pro dance that allowed us to see that Tony seems to have let himself drift to a little above fighting weight since his early departure. A funny SportsCenter-style promo teases the next night’s return of the DanceCenter feature. And the producers threw in a very good twist to the Latin round – assigning each couple a decade to which to style their routine. The choreographers and costume/makeup teams thrive with this extra bit of direction, and it came along at the perfect time in the celebs’ development. As gimmicks go, I hope we’ll see more of this kind.

MÝA/DMITRY CHAPLIN – Quickstep – 29/30

I don’t know where the line is between honestly-assessed pressure and well-honed self-motivation, but Mýa is working like she believes her survival is perilously on the line, even though she’s never been sighted anywhere near the Ominous Red Spotlight. In spite of that, her persistent confidence is going to be a great asset – we haven’t seen her get lost chasing anyone’s approval. Dmitry could learn from her. Their totally inexplicable trip horseback riding (lamely motivated as “fresh air”) shows us nothing of the kind – just a dusty trail covered in fresh piles of Len’s arguments for not scoring her higher. I don’t know from where he’ll pull them this week, because her Quickstep is all-but-impeccable – Dmitry comes up with a sturdy routine filled with classic steps and variety in pace, all of it executed by Mýa with just the right mixture of fluidity and snap. Those cross-floor glides could have kept a three-foot vase balanced on her head, and when she’s flick-kicking in place (daring to do it right in front of the judges’ table), she seems to be floating. The crowd is not inspired, until Len effortlessly suckers us into an unexpected compliment. Is he finally ready to give her her due? His “10” paddle says yes.

Samba (70’s) – 30/30

Dmitry has finally found a way to steal focus in the rehearsal montage by declaring that his job is hard and he has “choreographer’s block”, and then pouting aimlessly. It’s only with a partner as self-possessed as Mýa that he could have pulled this trick – and even she’s worried. Kelly probably would have responded with a hysterical pregnancy. His show-night wig and mustache make him look like a member of Stillwater – one of the ones who would have been blurry on the T-shirt. For me, it helps that he briefly resembles a different human being; I think I am becoming annoyed by the sight of him. Whatever “block” he claimed, it makes no appearance in the ballroom, they serve up a splendid mix of samba steps and disco flourish that Mýa performs with gymnastic flexibility and a heap of sass. I’m still trying to figure out the Kama Sutra logistics of that folding leg pass-under trick. Mýa needed to go big for this dance – and starting with her hair she sure did; with the first perfect score of the season she sets the Decade Dance bar as high as it goes. Bruno tries to impersonate Diana Ross but it sounds like a chain-smoking cautionary ad, while Tom sneaks in a crack at ABC’s cancellation of Life on Mars.

AARON CARTER/KARINA SMIRNOFF – Foxtrot – 23/30

Even young Aaron knows that the quickest way to America™’s good graces is in a big poofy sweater. He gets dewey-eyed as he describes his concern for the clammy and ill Karina, praising her as his backbone and showing her extra sympathy in rehearsal. Even if this is just camera-savvy fake-it-‘till-you-make it, he understands that the voters want to see a better-behaved Aaron, and he does not have much time to show that growth. Remembering the quivering blob of resentment and entitlement he was earlier in the season, he’s admittedly done an impressive makeover on himself. His work on his attitude will show well on his report card, but has his dance suffered in the meanwhile? His foxtrot, while fine and pleasant in a way he never would have been able to project a month ago, feels less than challenging for this late in the season. And his posture is visibly off. Is Karina protecting her reduced endurance for the Latin dance ahead? After some supportive-but-tepid judges’ comments, Tom cracks a V joke (probably glad he doesn’t have to stump for Shark Tank anymore) and Bruno obliges with some reptilian tongue action. Donny hasn’t even appeared yet, Bruno – there will be better opportunities to steal the camera.

Samba (90’s) – 27/30

Aaron is as thrilled as Karina is horrified by dusting off moves like The Rodeo. She acts as if she was cryogenically frozen during the decade of the Boy Band and now must face the truth we have all worked to forget. Will his eager usurpation of crucial choreographic duties poke holes in the restraint that has brought him back to the land of high scores? Well, nostalgia is in the air – the house orchestra version of unshaven jam band anthem “Two Princes” took me back to high school (and a dirty dance I watched performed by a not-to-be-named classmate on a cruise ship), and it took Aaron back to his mid-season excess, wildly whipping his arms around and ignoring his partner. The crowd looks pumped and the judges have nothing but praise, but to me it was an awkward song choice for the samba, performed at a weird tempo, with too much flash and not enough shape. We knew he had technique and energy over a month ago – it was the discipline that was his best hope for the Finals.

JOANNA KRUPA/DEREK HOUGH – Quickstep – 23/30

It ought to be an old saying in sports that if you’re the first one to call it a rivalry, it usually means you’re the second best one involved in it. And Derek and Joanna are overtly assigning themselves as Mýa’s rivals, analyzing tapes of her performance for tips rather than (just as a crazy alternative) actual professional dancers. Come performance time, Derek’s in a Lido Deck waiter’s outfit, which helps fill out his shoulders but doesn’t exactly marry up to the music. Joanna betrays inner tension in the first half, missing the timing of a couple moves and getting rigid in transitions; but around the time of their second full-length trot of the floor, a sunny feeling has taken hold and the dance finishes very well. Not every dance is a match for the personality she is able to project – she had to work to reach this one performance-wise, and answered that challenge admirably. The judges have been handling her with bunny paws up until now – this time they’re punching with rolls of quarters in their fists. Always overcompensating…

Paso Doble (The FUTURE!!!) – 29/30

Why is it when dance choreographers think “The FUTURE!!!” they always go to robots? And did Derek really just take his “future robot” voice from Jinx in Space Camp? If he had any ability to tell a joke I would have had to give him a point for that. Their makeup and costumes, aside from the obvious Blade Runner touches, look borrowed from a production of Starlight Express staged in the world of Escape From New York. We are so stuck with generations-old visions of the future – couldn’t he have choreographed an Idiocracy dance complete with balls-kicking? But now that I’m done with the jokes, it’s a testament to Derek’s skills that there are about one million ways that this could have turned out stupid; and it didn’t. Far from it. It was different, but thematically-consistent and still recognizable as a paso doble. Joanna committed to the concept, matched him pop for lock at full extension, and made it one of the best bits of couples’ work we’ve seen on the floor all season. It’s a fine distinction to say that she has never really become a dance star for me, but she has become a remarkable dance partner, and game for all Derek’s inspirations (well, the ones you can put on TV, anyway).

KELLY OSBOURNE/LOUIS VAN AMSTEL – Foxtrot – 25/30

There’s more than a whiff of scriptedness to the rehearsal gag about Louis locking up all Kelly’s distractions in a box to keep her focused on practice – but it’s the sort of scriptedness that probably arose from something genuine. Kelly of all people knows how to roll with something like that. Her foxtrot shows off the fruits of her season-long transformation into a confident, consistently joyful performer; though there are one or two hiccuppy transitions, overall she balances control with character. Did the judges even see the best attitude details of Louis’s routine? At least they will have seen the smoothness she learned. She’s deservedly happy to have the 25 – if she’s done the math she knows her position on the bubble is a precarious one, and she may need a competitor to perform below expectations in order to sneak through to the semi-finals.

Jive (60’s) – 26/30

Kelly drew the 60’s, which stopped us from learning how we’ll Jive in The FUTURE!!! So that’s a reason to keep on living. She has a couple of moves left over from an old 60’s-inspired music video she did – which ought to have the message boarders crying cheat all over again. I think the only celebrity they will ever accept as having no unfair advantage would be one who was raised while nailed to a board. Kelly’s green wig made me double-take – I could have sworn I rescued her from some techno-monster in Phantasy Star III for the Sega Genesis. Len will no doubt condemn the rag doll prop for being a prop; my problem with it was that it gave the whole dance between Kelly the thumb-sucker and Louis the leering older man a really creepy vibe, and needing to worry about its location in the choreography cost her crucial energy in the first third of the routine. She picked up in the middle and nailed some of the trickiest steps she’s had in the competition. But she needed, at this crucial stage, to show she could give a routine full abandon in addition to her improved technique, and the early choreography robbed her of that. Carrie Ann is the only judge who seems to have seen the weirdness of the doll clearly; Bruno’s “Come back to Daddy!” is even creepier than the dance.

DONNY OSMOND/KYM JOHNSON – Viennese Waltz – 26/30

Donny should have chosen a moment when he wasn’t drenched in sweat to claim that he and Kym feel rejuvenated. He shows winning sincerity when admitting that he hit a wall between his obligations to this show, his Vegas show, and his family. Most other celebs, on bemoaning their lack of downtime, would have scooted off to a montage of family time (like one of those surely-spontaneous camera-crew-accompanied jaunts to Disneyland), but Donny plunges right back into rehearsal and is working himself at the perpetual threshold of exhaustion. I don’t think he knows any other way to be, and I doubt the people who vote for him would want him to be any other way. And it only makes you appreciate his waltz more – such easy grace and polished footwork; we know the hours that went in to making it look so relaxed. Kym’s steps have the courtly romance you want, but with some trademark little flirty touches to make it even more memorable. Their partnership still produces the least amount of drama and the most consistent good results. Len throws his quota curveball by praising Donny’s technique and fleckerl steps, then turning around and pronouncing the routine “arty-farty”.

Paso Doble (80’s) – 24/30

Donny is going to Rock someone, Amadeus, but I don’t yet know who. I didn’t think you could make a past-50 Mormon look like a bleached human mashup of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Falco, so kudos to the costume and makeup department. You’d hardly know this rehearsal montage was culled from the same days as the night’s previous one, when he was so despondent and tired. Everything about doing an 80’s dance thrills him. And he sure gets the attitude right in performance, using the de rigueur fan and smoke machine with panache, and even adopting that physical attitude that was so particular to the 80’s version of gender-confused glam. His muscle endurance sometimes fails him, particularly in his last throw of Kym, but he gets full points for footwork and fun factor. The judges are so bamboozled they can barely address the dancing – only Carrie Ann is astute enough to point out that their costumes made it difficult to assess their body lines.

Next up: Week Eight Results Night!

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