Crossing Culture Lines

I wanted to add my thoughts to the lackluster, non-existent debate* swirling around the July 16 episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” when ten dancers remained: five guys and five girls. The night before, to show off their talents in smaller groups, the girls performed a group number together and the guys did one later in the show. The girls’ number was a sassy, athletic, graceful, exhilerating Bollywood number. The guys closed out the show with an acrobatic and athletic African dance routine. I fully enjoyed the Indian-style of dancing but was less than entirely impressed by the guys. The guys’ routine seemed more random and I could feel myself yawning.

On Thursday nights all the remaining dancers perform together and we saw the curtain rise (so to speak) on a night-time set with a full red moon over some shadows evoking the rooftops of Japanese-style establishments. The routine was choreographed by the super husand-and-wife team of Wade and Amanda Robson and set to Janet Jackson’s “So Much Betta”.

The routine gave the Melissa the ballerina solo opportunities and she stood out for her different style of dance and for being the only one wearing a gossamer white kimono-style robe. (White is the traditional colour for death!) Two girls wore long red translucent kimono-style robes, two girls wore short black satin kimono-style robes with black fishnet stockings, and the guys wore dark Asian suits with dyed-black cone-shaped bamboo hats.

You could call the routine “Asian-inspired” as it was obviously not strictly Japanese the way the previous night had more classical treatments of ethnic dance. The dancers hopped around in somewhat cariacatured “Asian” movements in the jerky motions that are a signature of the contemporary/modern style of the choreographer. The guys had “martial arts-inspired” movements. At one point, the red-robed girls walked about jerkily as if wearing those constrictive and unstable wooden sandals. Without an intro leading into the dance number, I don’t know what the “story” is about. But watching it several times, I think the girls represent free-wheeling dead spirits while the guys are goblins or something.

I don’t really know what it is that I want except it wasn’t that. I know we’re supposed to applaud the inspired work (“genius”) of Emmy-winning choreographer Wade Robson. I’m so hesitant to be critical — also uncertain about which part to be critical of — when the choreographer tends to transcend the normal and I’m but an average in arts-thinking viewer. His wife is Asian, by the way, thereby “justifying” that they can be responsible for an ethnic number . I felt as if there was some thinly veiled insult. NPY thinks I don’t like seeing non-Asians made up to be Asian. (It’s not that.) Why was it less traditional? Why was Janet Jackson’s music used instead of a traditional song, at least something by an Asian artist? Is our dancing – as I suspect – too “quirky” or tame and untranslatable that interpretation and/or “fusion” is required?

* After all, the real debate is about the amount of hype about Katie Holme’s appearance and then in her Broadway number, she barely danced and reportedly lip-synched.

On this day..