Category Archives: television

So You Think You Can Dance – the 7th season

My review after watching about 5 minutes of it

WHY are the judges crying??

Seriously, I tried to give this show “So You Think You Can Dance” another chance, especially when I heard that Alex Wong was back on the show. Don’t get me wrong – there is a lot of absolutely jaw-dropping amazing dancing on the show. But certain things I can’t stand – for instance, the judging has been like listening to nails on a chalkboard. A ballroom dance expert judging hip hop is not an expert opinion, no more than mine is. And it really pushed me over the top when Nigel Lythgoe, one of the judges, said, ”You don’t just need a formal training. It’s because you have a great feel for dance.” And one of the judges lost my respect in his bone-headed arrogance in the documentary of A Chorus Line, Every Little Step, made even sweeter by the fact that he didn’t get the role despite his confidence in that he can do anything.

And crying has become so ubiquitous on reality TV, it’s not shocking or heart-tugging anymore. People cry when they win and move onto the next round, and they cry when they don’t. And now, the judges cry. A lot.

Is it weird that a lot of the dancers are already professionals? I’ve even blogged about two of them, who were in professional companies. Is the point not about getting a job or guiding professional dancers, but widespread promotion and branding yourself?

It feels like a TV show can start off well, and it gets worse, season after season. It’s like the show becomes a caricature of itself, being more and more outrageous. Maybe this show doesn’t even know its point anymore. They’re not trying to find the diamond in the rough, or promote the amazing dance that comes with years of training.

Or maybe the thing that bugs me the most is that this show doesn’t project an image of the world that I know and love.  They promote the breathtaking beauty of dance, but now it’s looking more like a sport or a string of tricks. That is fine in itself – fouettes, sky high split jumps, and a dancing body is a wonderful thing to behold. But that enough isn’t enough to engage my attention and my heart and my brain – not for long, anyways. The dance that I see on TV has ceased to be about subtlety, or complexity. Or perhaps my hopes for TV are just too high.

I’m just going to hope now that someone posts Alex Wong’s solos somewhere on the internet. Would that person mind just muting the judges’ words for me?

Well, if anything, this show got me to blog again. I’m currently buried up to my neck in writing my PhD dissertation, and blogging after writing 70 pages of neuroscience jargon has been a bit much. I did recently enjoy a fun show of A Chorus Line on tour. The dancing was superb, and it was nice to see a Cassie that I liked. A singular sensation, indeed.

Art and Sport in the 2010 Olympics

Plushenko, Lysacek, and Takahashi on the Olympic podium for men's figure skating

The tension between art and athleticism was epitomized in the whole debate in men’s figure skating at the Vancouver Winter Olympics this year. Plushenko was an imposing superstar and tour de force in his impossibly consistent quadruple jumps, yet his focus on jumps took his focus away from the artistic aspects of the sport and other required elements. Evan Lysacek was the elegant and more well rounded skater, although he smartly played it safe by not attempting a quadruple jump in his long program. This won him the gold medal. With this victory, it was a small score for artistry in a sport where the tension seems to split the jump-heavy sport into two factions. And with this gold medal, it’s bound to shape the future of the sport and its emphasis on artistry and consistency.

(Does anyone else think it’s a bit ironic that Lysacek used to be the face of athleticism, especially compared to fellow American figure skater Johnny Weir? With the polarizing presence of Plushenko however, Lysacek became catapulted to err on the artistic side of the sport.)

Aside from this controversy, it seems wrong to think of artistry and athleticism to be completely separate entities. Can anyone doubt the art in the stretch and ease and grace in speed skater Shani Davis’ long lines, especially with the speed that he picks up around the jaw-dropping turns? The explosive power in snowboarder Shaun White’s jumps as he sails through the air? Artistry feeds into athleticism, and you can’t have one without the other.

My favorite men’s figure skaters were Daisuke Takahashi, Stephane Lambiel, and Johnny Weir with wonderful artistry in easing into the ice with their knees which was a welcome relief from nervous stiffness seen on the ice in other skaters. Their scores suffered when Takahashi fell on his attempted quadruple jump and Lambiel was plagued with technical troubles in his long program, but it was their flight on ice that made a mark.

Any predictions for medalists for women’s figure skating? Ice dancing is on TV right now, and I still don’t understand WHAT it is.

Dancing with the Stars: Macy Gray

Jonathan Roberts and Macy Gray in ABC's "Dancing with the Stars"

Jonathan Roberts and Macy Gray in ABC's "Dancing with the Stars"

Come on, ABC producers, throw Jonathan Roberts a bone.

I haven’t watched it of late, but Jonathan Roberts first caught my eye during the first season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. It was his elegant carriage and a classy presence that probably did it, although his tall, dark and handsome looks didn’t hurt either. I know to the ballroom world he isn’t ranked the best in the world, yet I’ve always liked watching him. And he continues to get kicked off early in the show. Isn’t it time for him to get paired with a young hottie, just once? I recommend Taylor Swift, or wouldn’t Britney Spears be cool?

With Macy Gray, I couldn’t think of a pair that was more mismatched or more opposite. Yet they still made an admirable effort that was refreshing to watch, capitalizing on her strengths and sassiness that have long made her popular through her songs. Judge Carrie Ann Inaba said astutely, “It was beautiful in it’s own bizarre way.” Not classic ballroom, mind you, but with her proportions (towering above Roberts in her low heels) and personality, it was impossible to be. It was a great message that anyone can dance. And now, she’s gone.

This was the first time I’d seen the show in a long time, probably since the second season or so, and I was a bit appalled at the number of promotional ads that run DURING the show. A rapper singing a song whose album is dropping the next day, and pulling in stars from ABC sitcoms to sit in the audience? I wonder how many teeth they had to pull to get them to sit there.

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I probably won’t continue to watch. Is anyone still watching it? Any thoughts on how the show has evolved over the past few seasons?

‘Dancing with the Stars’ New Season

A lot of you who read my blog regularly know that I’m not the biggest fan of dancing on TV. Not to say that it’s not a good thing – I love that really great dancers are being showcased more and more on TV. The things I don’t like about it is that often, the famous people (e.g. teen stars, models, and actors) are featured in lieu of the expert dancers, just because they are household names. And for many of the shows, I just can NOT stand the judging. It often feels as if the judges are very cognizant of the fact that they are on TV, and feel the need to say something in a strong, “judge”-y way, whether or not 1) it makes sense, and 2) they are experts in that specific type of dance or not. Or they’re judges like Bruno

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Tonioli, who just swoons over beautiful women shamelessly.

Nonetheless, one of the shows that I do like is Dancing with the Stars because they feature really great ballroom dancers, and it has encouraged the average American TV viewing audience that if these amateurs can be taught to dance, so can we. My mother is a big fan of this show and has incessantly been bugging my dad to take social dance lessons with her (he will not). So here’s one of the videos that ABC has sent out. I refuse to post the one that spends the most time focusing on Kim Kardashian’s physical assets and others talking about it. Nor the one feeding rumors of a possible romance.

Kudos to ABC for getting lots of Americans to dance.

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Dancing with the Stars starts on September 22 on ABC.

On My Radar

It’s going to be a late night at work today – I’m just going to jot down some things down while I’m waiting for my protein gel to run.

  • I just saw the documentary Suzanne Farrell – Elusive Muse – my two word review: absolutely riveting. It’s hard to obtain (I believe it’s technically out of production) but rent it from Blockbuster. I always thought that sometimes ballerinas of days gone by looked a bit dated, no matter how amazing they were, most likely due to my “modern” eyes that are used to seeing things in a certain style. Suzanne Farrell proves me wrong, as she is just as uniquely ravishing as any ballerina dancing today.
  • Lots of things starting up in the Bay Area – Berkeley Rep is back with Yellowjackets (check out their free “tastings” and other events that precede their shows), ACT presenting Tom Stoppard’s Rock ‘n’ Roll with a stellar cast, and Spring Awakening‘s national tour makes its stop in SF.
  • Movie theaters are hoppin’ these days. Rent, the musical that defined a generation, closed on Broadway this weekend, with its final performance being aired in movie theaters on Sept 24-28. Also, The Met: Live in HD returns this year with even more live performances – I’m especially looking forward to Richard Strauss’ Salome, airing in October, after reading about it in Alex Ross’s book, The Rest is Noise. It sounds hauntingly entrancing.
  • SF Symphony storms in with Beethoven’s 9th symphony, and a Leonard Bernstein program next week in preparation for their performance at Carnegie Hall’s season opener which will be aired on PBS.
  • Due to demand (I know, I can’t believe it myself) on a blog related note – I added an option where you can subscribe for email updates, on the right column of my blog (scroll down). Check it out.

In Nature: Blogging, Dancing

PBS Dance in America

I found my official favorite blogging spot, in front of a calming yet lively fountain, half hidden by the plant. I hope everyone’s having a nice weekend like I have, it’s been especially relaxing after a frantic, klutzy week. eek, a hummingbird just visited me and I nearly jumped out of my skin; it made the sound that was a cross between a mini war plane and a bee. My mom said he mistook me for a flower.

Tonya’s blog brought to my attention that another great PBS Great Performances program is to air tomorrow night, on March 21, featuring dance choreography in the backdrop of the natural grandeur of America’s national parks. This program is a part of their Dance in America series, which highlights one of my favorites, the dance company Project Bandaloop, a group I’ve blogged about before. I’m amazed how this group is helping to redefine dance in innovative ways. It’s also led to philosophical questions such as, “If there is a dance show and no one is there to see it (or record it), did it really exist?” (This is an extension of the existential question, if a tree drops in the forest and no one sees it, did it really fall?) This program also features the U.S. Synchronized Swim team in the coral reefs of the Virgin Islands. Check your local listings for air times in your area, or even better, check out the entire program online.

I’ve been uber impressed with the dance programming at PBS, from Morris’ Mozart Dances to Jock Soto’s documentary, Water Flowing Together. I hope such quality tv programming continues.

Dance in America: Wolf Trap’s Face of America

In Comes Company

EDITED TO ADD: Was it not brilliant?? I was left exhausted (well, also literally since it was late), but feeling very satisfied. I had forgotten how great of a show it is, and the TV translated the show very well, with crystal clarity. You know it’s a great recording if its most avid fans are mollified; there are 11 pages of live commentary as it was showing, with most of its fans loving every minute of it. And pleasing its avid

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“I meant to, does that count?”

There were many chill-inducing moments. Some of my favorite moments were way more poignant and piercing that I had remembered. After Bobby asks Kathy “Did you just fall in love?” and she doesn’t respond, the pause was much longer that I had remembered. The pause was so pregnant with her regret, her obvious answer that she’s not in love, and a determination to become a wife and to have real things. I hated her for it, and yet you can’t blame her for wanting to live her life. I also didn’t realize how sad the ending to “Side by Side” is – Raul’s expression after no one returns his kazoo attempt was heartbreaking. Another favorite moment was a shot from the back of the stage, you got a peek at stuff that was going on upstage. Harry (Keith Buterbaugh) is playing his trumpet as a part of the ensemble, and he plays directly at his wife, Sarah (Kristin Huffman), who waves him away. I love how they incorporate the instrumental playing with their characters.

“The problem is, you want too little.”

I was also impressed with the marketing of this PBS recording, which was worlds better than the marketing and PR for the actual Broadway musical. I’ve heard more about this than the Broadway musical, and I liked the summary that they released (shown at the bottom of this entry). Kudos to showing a high quality show on PBS, I just wish they were airing it again. They’re re-airing it in my neighborhood super early in the morning (from 1 AM til 3:30 AM) next week, which makes it impossible for me to watch again.

“Stop looking at my charisma. “

I have a question for you Company-lovers out there. I realized why I didn’t get the musical the first time that I saw it; I was completely confused on the chronology of the show. Can someone help me? Does it occur within minutes, during his birthday party? Is he looking back at his life, or is it happening in real time? Sondheim, in the post-Company interview (don’t turn off the TV after Company is over!) talks about the “metaphysical” birthday party. At that point, I realized that I had no idea on what the time scale of the show was.

“Mock me with praise.”

I realized I can’t talk about this musical without gushing, and so I’ll take a back seat in explaining it in vague terms which of course doesn’t do it justice. Matt did a much better job of explaining the details of this show and the staging much better than me, so click here to read about his take. How do you write about something that you think is so wonderful?

“It’s better living it than looking at it.”

You can also buy the DVD!


I’m a bit torn; there are three fantastic things going on tomorrow night – Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Giselle at San Francisco Ballet, the PBS airing of Broadway’s Company, or the pre-finale to Project Runway. So Project Runway will continue to re-air into eternity, so that’s out. I just can’t miss seeing Company again. This musical spoke to me and so many of my friends, even thought it took a viewing for me to understand it. But sometime after the second time that I saw it, it clicked with me, and I couldn’t get it out of my head for weeks. Also, watching Raul Esparza sing “Being Alive” literally inches away from me from the front row is a powerful theater experience I’ll never forget.

What is it about? It’s about Bobby, a bachelor on his 35th birthday, looking at his life and the life of his married friends. It’s a story of searching for love, life, and a sense of self. It’s filled with humor that makes you laugh, but reverberates in a bittersweet pang of reality. I’m really not doing it justice. I’m really curious what newbies will think of this show, so feel free to comment if you saw/are planning on seeing it (Matt? Tonya? Art?).

An interesting fact – Bobby is based on Warren Beatty, pre-Annette Bening. Some other characters are based on real people as well.

There are preview video clips that PBS has released, here is their opening song, “Company”. Notice how the actors are playing their own instruments, and all the music you hear is what you see onstage. Watching this clip again, I’m amazed at how the actors are able to act while they’re playing their instruments. I also love how the instruments serve as a metaphor for being involved, for playing the game. Director John Doyle is a genius.

The PBS website version:

“Company, the 2007 Tony Award winner for Best Musical Revival, airs February 20 on PBS’ GREAT PERFORMANCES series.

Long before Sex and the City, the Stephen Sondheim/George Furth musical Company took an unconventional look at love and commitment in complex modern New York. The 1970 era-defining classic was – and is – an honest, funny and sophisticated portrayal of five married couples as seen through the eyes of their mutual friend Robert, a waffling, 35-year-old bachelor evaluating the pros and cons of wedded life. Raúl Esparza, who won Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for his portrayal of leading man Robert, heads the cast of actor-musicians. John Doyle (Sweeney Todd) directs.”

Be sure to watch it!

Great Performances presents “Company”

Company on PBS: Pictures

The fabulous Barbara Walsh with Raul Esparza, who should have won the Tony award this year

If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know how EXCITED I am for the airing of Company on PBS. It is a relief that such an amazing production has been saved on film, and how cool is it that I will be able to own a copy soon?? One of the highlights on Broadway this year was this production, and I ran across some photos from the recording that will be aired soon. It’s scheduled to air on February 20, 2008.

More pics:

Jolene’s Best of 2007 list


Best performance of the year: Two shows come to mind -

I spent as much space in a scary moment in Joshua Bell’s show than the more positive aspects of the show, but thinking back in 2007, Bell’s fresh and innovative take on a beautiful yet overfamiliar piece really brought it to life, and it shines in my memory as one of the best performances of the year. Two runner ups, in two pieces that really stand out just because they were so fun: Miami City Ballet’s “In the Upper Room” and SF Ballet’s Nutcracker.

Best male performer of the year: Raul Esparza in Company, Herman Cornejo spicing up a random collection of pieces at ABT’s first program at Cal Performances in the Le Corsaire pas de deux.

Best female performer of the year: Felicia Fields in the Color Purple, Lea Salonga as Fantine in Les Mis.

Best new discovery of the year: Miami City Ballet

Best regional production of the year: My discovery of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre was a great one, in which I still feel the effects of the quietly moving ripple that was after the quake. Another fun one was Expedition 6, at a much smaller local theater. Just wondering how many more local gems remain to be discovered?

Best performance event in a non-traditional theater venue: Project Bandaloop at Orange County’s Fall for Dance on the outdoor walls of the OCPAC.

Favorite televised theater event: Mark Morris’ Mozart Dances on PBS

Biggest theater obsession: Jersey Boys

Most anticipated performance for 2008: Company on PBS, watching Alvin Ailey for the first time, SF Ballet’s 75th anniversary season, esp the New Works Festival and Giselle!

Ugly in Wicked

I can’t wait for this! Ugly Betty often films in front of a friend’s work in LA, and location would also explain why Eden Epinosa, who’s currently playing the lead in Wicked in LA, is in this episode. Eden Epinosa as Elphie, Megan Hilty as Glinda, airing this Thursday night.