Last year, it looked like "So You Think You Can Dance" might be on its final season. Viewership and ratings were down, and the show seemed to be trying to hang on by switching up its format, focusing on young talent ages 8 to 13 instead of the adult dancers audiences were used to.
But this summer it's back to its traditional formula, and embarking on a 14th season starting next Monday. That means we get another summer where dance gets an audience numbering in the millions.
That much exposure for that many seasons begs the question: What kind of mark has the show made on the dance world?
After a season experimenting with a younger cast, "So You Think You Can Dance" just announced that it'll return to its traditional format this summer.
“This season is about giving our loyal fan base what they’ve been asking for,” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe wrote in a press release. “We’ve decided to go back to basics by bringing the best of our past formats together for an exciting new summer featuring accomplished adult competitors partnered with fan-favorite All-Star dancers."
That means the show is now searching for dancers ages 18-30. Want to audition? This season, rather than holding open calls, "SYTYCD" is asking all potential candidates to apply online: You can upload or provide a link to a video of yourself performing.
Here's the timeline:
- February 19: New York audition application deadline
- March 4-6: New York in-person auditions
- March 5: Los Angeles audition application deadline
- March 17-19: Los Angeles in-person auditions
The pre-screening makes us hopeful that the early audition episodes will focus less on the sometimes cringe-worthy non-dancers making fools of themselves just for fame, and more on real dancers with real potential. Fingers crossed!
Music videos are embracing concert dance more than ever.
It was the music video the world couldn’t stop talking about. Sia’s “Chandelier” featured “Dance Moms” star Maddie Ziegler moving with reckless abandon in a forlorn apartment. The video became the 17th most viewed on YouTube, and won the award for Best Choreography at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards. After two more collaborations, Sia’s projects starring Ziegler and choreographed by Ryan Heffington have collectively garnered over a billion views on YouTube.
Though we don’t yet know who will take home a VMA this month, one thing is for certain: Dancers are no longer just a backdrop. They’ve become the heart of many videos, like in Taylor Swift’s dance mash-up “Shake It Off” and Carrie Underwood’s splashy “Something in the Water,” featuring the dancers of Shaping Sound.
Pop culture and dance have already come together in television, on shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Breaking Pointe.” But music videos, generally with a three- to four-minute window, pack in only the most impressive movement. It’s a quick dose of culture packaged for consumption. “What we have been creating these past few years are products of evolution and sit in the confines of current culture. There is no chance I could have created this work a decade ago,” says Heffington, who has also choreographed for Arcade Fire, FKA twigs and Florence + the Machine. “The more people see dance in music videos, the more they can relate to it.”
But is boiling dance down to a few minutes of flash good for the art form? The success of a music video is generally determined by its director, says Jade Hale-Christofi, who choreographed a viral video to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church,”danced by Sergei Polunin. He says that director David LaChapelle’s understanding of dance helped give himself and Polunin the freedom to develop a powerful final product. “If it’s done right and it’s done with care and love for the art, more dancers would definitely go into music videos,” he says. “Anyone can look at it and understand the piece. And I think that if you can inspire enough people to watch ballet, that’s a great thing.”
Dancers grooving at National Dance Day 2012. Photo Valerie Macon/Getty Images North America via Dance Spirit.
For some of us, tomorrow is the best day of the summer. It's National Dance Day! Now in it's fifth year, the annual event was started by Nigel Lythgoe and the Dizzy Feet Foundation to fight obesity and celebrate communities through dance.
There are many ways to get involved tomorrow -- whether it's watching a free hip-hop performance outdoors at Lincoln Center in New York, participating in a flash mob in Savannah, Georgia, or attending an '80s dance party in Stuart, Florida. Nearly every city in the country is celebrating, so find an event near you! Or, you can always celebrate by taking your favorite ballet class, binging on Netflix or having a dance party in your living room.
"So You Think You Can Dance" superstars tWitch and Travis Wall have created the official routines of National Dance Day. Dancers all over the country will be learning and performing them tomorrow, so pick one and get grooving!
How has the rising popularity of competitions affected the concert dance world?
Backstage at Youth America Grand Prix finals. Photo by Kyle Froman.
Showstopper hosts more than 50 events each year. Photo courtesy Showstopper.
A disembodied voice calls out a number, name, age and title of the dance. Out of the wings comes an expert strut of lanky limbs and big pointe-shoed feet as an adolescent dancer begins her solo. Maybe it’s Kitri’s sassy Act III variation or perhaps some hypermobile contemporary choreography to the latest pop ballad. Either way, the stakes for this young dancer are incredibly high: Sitting in the audience alongside nervous parents, tense teachers and a table of judges are the artistic directors of major dance companies, who’ve come to scout for fresh talent.
While competitions are certainly not new to the dance world, they are now taken more seriously than ever as part of a dancer’s training. It is no longer possible for traditional dance schools to turn their noses up at competitions where top ballet and modern companies routinely hand out scholarships and contracts—Youth America Grand Prix, for one, estimates that over 300 of its alumni are now dancing in 80 companies around the world. More dancers from competitions/conventions such as New York City Dance Alliance and JUMP are now finding professional homes in companies such as Batsheva Dance Company, Dresden Semperoper Ballett, Aszure Barton & Artists and Boston Ballet. Not only are competitions now a place for dancers to be seen early in their pre-professional career, these contests are also giving concert-dance companies that special something: bold dancers who can do it all.
YAGP boasts more than 300 alumni dancing for 80 companies worldwide. Photo by Rachel Papo for Pointe.
“These dancers have an indomitable will and a sense to just get out there,” says Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute, who routinely scouts for dancers at The Music Center’s Spotlight Awards, YAGP, World Ballet Competition and USA IBC in Jackson. About a quarter of his company members have come through competition-dance channels. “I look for young students who are fearless and I follow their progression over a number of years.”
Coached from a young age to perform virtuosic tricks and pushed to command a stage, competition dancers tend to exhibit a precocious confidence that sets them apart from students who develop in the more traditional dance school format of humbly honing technique before performing regularly. “I think a lot of competition dancers come into companies day one with verve and fire,” says Desmond Richardson, co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, which launched the new Élite Dance Tournament this year in conjunction with the Joffrey Ballet School in New York City. Even though former competitors’ stage presence can sometimes look exaggerated, Richardson says it’s typically easier for artistic staff to tone down dancers’ performance quality rather than turn it up later.
But how does all of this spirited willfulness work out when it moves into the more understated world of a corps de ballet or ensemble? Many young dancers experience a learning curve when they have to adjust to working in groups and learning to match their peers instead of stealing the show in just one solo. There can sometimes be a culture clash between competition dancers and their non-competition peers. After competing at events like Showbiz National Talent and LA Dance Magic, Ida Saki remembers feeling somewhat looked down upon as a “trickster with no artistry” when she first transferred to a performing arts high school where competitions weren’t the norm. However, when she later joined Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, though she sometimes wished she had more training in strict ballet, she often felt she had an advantage with choreographers who saw her as more adventurous about taking on foreign movement vocabularies.
Competitions also seem to promote an exceptional kind of resiliency. Being constantly coached for competitions creates dancers who absorb constructive criticism easily—and the judging process teaches them early on how subjective dance is as an art form. As Saki learned at a young age, “One person may fall in love with you while the person sitting next to them couldn’t care less.”
Dusty Button credits her work ethic today to her time on the circuit. Photo courtesy Button.
Dusty Button, a Boston Ballet principal who cut her teeth at NYCDA and Showstopper, believes her competitive sensibility helped her rise to the top of the ballet company hierarchy unusually fast. “It fostered a work ethic in the sense that I believe if you’re going to rehearse, it should be at your best 100 percent of the time,” she says. “Otherwise, you slow yourself from progressing.” Button is only one example at Boston Ballet: Fellow young principals like Whitney Jensen and Jeffrey Cirio also racked up multiple titles before rising through the company’s ranks. It’s an unsurprising trend in a company where the rep thrives on thrilling virtuosity.
The pitfalls of focusing so much attention on performing a variation for a contest, especially for a less experienced student, tend to show up in the details of proper technique. Either because of a rush to do advanced steps too soon or out of a desire to absorb so many different styles so quickly, the fine-tuning can be overlooked. Teaching ballet for Velocity Dance Convention and Competition, Melissa Sandvig, who danced for Milwaukee Ballet and on “So You Think You Can Dance,” often sees amazing movers whipping off eight pirouettes, yet finds herself focusing on basic technical aspects of a step or transitions between positions. Richardson agrees: “They may have no problem with performing, but it’s the transitions, passing through fifth, that sometimes is left out.”
Ida Saki became more adventurous at competitions like LA Dance Magic. Photo courtesy Saki.
Richardson’s new competition brainchild, Élite Dance Tournament, tries to meld the best of both worlds by giving young dancers an opportunity to be seen—and to focus on technical details and artistry. In a fashion similar to the Prix de Lausanne, EDT requires contestants to take scored master classes that are limited to just 25 students.
It’s no surprise that aspiring professionals are attracted to the unparalleled exposure offered at competitions. “You have to go for it to get noticed now and take risks to get better,” says Sandvig. Competitions train young dancers to do just that. But as more and more come through this route, the trick will be converting so many standout dancers into members of an aesthetically coherent ensemble, rather than a band of solo artists sparring for the spotlight. n
A former dancer, Candice Thompson is a frequent contributor to Dance Magazine.
A street dancer at the "SYTYCD" NYC audition. Photo by Jeffrey Neira, Courtesy FOX.
Major changes are in store for Season 12.
Another installment of FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance” will premiere on June 1, and the show is promising a departure from former seasons. In its new “Stage vs. Street” format, contemporary, jazz, ballet and tap dancers will be pinned against street dancers. Executive producer Nigel Lythgoe admits this is partly a strategy to keep the show on air for many more seasons. But he is also excited about the talent it may attract. “We lost a lot of people last season who I liked, like animator Jaja Vankova and popper ‘Mary Poppins’ Bonnevay, because they couldn’t pick up choreography in other styles,” says Lythgoe.
This year, dancers who make it to callbacks will audition only in their designated stage or street category. Ten stage dancers and ten street dancers will be chosen for the Top 20. Then, Lythgoe says, producers plan to play with the format, like placing dancers in groups and having them perform styles other than their own. A dancer from each side will be eliminated every week until one is crowned “America’s Favorite Dancer.”
Another big change is that “SYTYCD” is cutting back on ballroom dance, an effort to help differentiate the show from competitor “Dancing with the Stars.” Ballroom expert Mary Murphy, who has been a judge since Season 1, has been replaced by Paula Abdul, a regular judge on “So You Think You Can Dance Australia,” and Jason Derulo, who was a guest judge last season. Cat Deeley will remain as host, and Lythgoe says that viewers can still expect appearances from All-Stars and celebrity judges, as well as guest performances from industry professionals.
This isn’t the first time the show has changed its format. Season 7 introduced the return of old contestants as All-Stars, and the show crowned two winners in Seasons 9 and 10. “We were becoming very formulaic, so we needed a change,” says Lythgoe. “But I certainly don’t want to alter the DNA and integrity of the show. Most importantly, we want to keep up the same standards of really good dancing.” —Rachel Zar
A Diamond Anniversary
American Ballet Theatre opens its 75th season this month at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. And on May 15, PBS will celebrate with a new Ric Burns documentary, part of the network’s award-winning “American Masters” series. The program will chronicle ABT’s journey, from humble beginnings to international acclaim, with current and archival footage of interviews, rehearsals and performances. That means we’ll see everyone from contemporaries Hee Seo, Herman Cornejo and Alexei Ratmansky to luminaries Alicia Alonso, Twyla Tharp and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Check pbs.org/americanmasters for local times. —Kristin Schwab
Alicia Alonso in Swan Lake. Photo Courtesy WNET.
News of Note
Comings & Goings
Wayne McGregor and his company will open an arts space in 2016. Studio Wayne McGregor will be located at Here East in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. ■ Pennsylvania Ballet principal Zachary Hench retired in March. He will continue in his role as ballet master. Oksana Maslova, formerly of Grand Rapids Ballet, has joined as a soloist. Former Barcelona Ballet dancer Russell Ducker has joined the corps.
Awards & Honors
The Juilliard School will give Suzanne Farrell an honorary doctorate on May 22. ■ Steven Reker has received American Dance Institute’s 2015 Solange MacArthur Award for New Choreography, with $10,000 in commissioning funds and development support. ■ Garrett Smith has won Milwaukee Ballet’s Genesis: International Choreographic Competition. He will create a work for the company next season. ■ Lincoln Center has given its 2015 Martin E. Segal Awards to 11 artists, including dancers Silas Farley and Claire Kretzschmar, of New York City Ballet, and School of American Ballet’s Alec Knight. ■ American dancer Julian MacKay is a 2015 winner of the Prix de Lausanne.
From top: Russell Ducker, Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy PA Ballet; Suzanne Farrell, Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Juilliard; Steven Reker. Courtesy Reker; Garrett Smith, Courtesy Milwaukee Ballet
Adé Chiké Torbert, Maria Kochetkova, and Allison Holker talk about TV's impact.
ADÉ CHIKÉ TORBERT
Since finishing in the top four of So You Think You Can Dance Season 7, Adé Chiké Torbert has performed on Broadway in Fela! and NBC’s SMASH Season 2, and Dancing With the Stars. He appears in an upcoming film with Cuba Gooding Jr., Something Whispered.
“Being on So You Think has given me a certain visibility. I can walk into an audition and some people are already familiar with my work. But it’s a blessing and a curse. The show forces you to wear a label. On the show, I was Adé Chiké the contemporary dancer. But I do everything.”
“Right after So You Think I got a gig on Saturday Night Live with Nicki Minaj. I had just signed with an agent on Tuesday, and I was booked for SNL that Thursday. I didn’t even audition! Having an agent has really helped with weeding out some projects. It’s so cool that I now have the ability to be selective.”
Photo by Mathieu Young, Courtesy FOX.
A principal with San Francisco Ballet, Maria Kochetkova appeared on the short-lived NBC competition show Superstars of Dance in 2009. After she won the gold medal in the solo category, her Twitter followers spiked, and now the number has surpassed 188,000, likely the most for any ballerina. “Masha” guests at galas near and far, and is also working on film projects.
“I definitely got a lot of attention during Superstars of Dance. I think it’s great that ballet was out there, especially for people who have never seen ballet before. If you think about sports, first people see it on TV and then they watch the game live. It would be great if the same thing could happen in ballet. In Russia, there is a special channel where you can see the latest premiere or debut at the Bolshoi every week or two.”
“I was the first ballet dancer on Twitter [in 2007]. Living in San Francisco, where the social network companies are based, I was curious. I get a lot of replies—when I’m dancing in New York and Moscow and London—from people saying they were at the show. And in cities where I haven’t appeared yet, people write and say they would like for me to dance there someday.”
Photo © Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
She may have a home in Los Angeles, but Allison Holker lives on TV. First competing on So You Think You Can Dance Season 2, this self-proclaimed contemporary dancer returned to the show as an all-star on Seasons 7, 9, and 10. She’s also appeared on Dancing With the Stars, Ovation’s A Chance to Dance, Oxygen’s All the Right Moves, and VH1’s Hit The Floor. In 2008 she gave birth to a daughter, Weslie.
“So You Think is truly what gave me the career that I have today. The show puts you under excruciating circumstances—I’ve had to learn new styles in a short time and perform them to the best of my ability. Now when I get a job anywhere else, I feel prepared for anything.”
“Season 2 was during the days of MySpace. But back then, you weren’t allowed to use social media at all during the show. Then, when I was brought back as an all-star, they said, “You have to have Twitter!” I didn’t even know how to use it. But now, all of my followers [close to 53,000] come out of So You Think. I have a lot of young girls who want to be contemporary dancers—convention goers and comp kids. And I talk to a lot of moms who ask how I’m able to work and be a mother.”
Photo by Mathieu Young, Courtesy FOX.