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Why Superstars of Dance Was Not So Super

Posted Jan 11 2009 4:21pm

I am not an avid viewer of reality television and ultimately this holds true for reality dance competitions as well. I watch a bit if I happen across a show while channel surfing, and I occasionally check out some of the offerings on YouTube. But, for the most part, they fail to hold my interest. I do understand their appeal and why audiences are rabid about their favorites, I just don’t share the enthusiasm.

The platform, however, has brought about a renewed interest in dance that can’t be argued. What has been debated is whether this is good or bad for the dance world, and I suppose this depends on your perspective. (That’s another post, altogether). Some professional companies do seem to be benefiting from their exposure on television. Take this quote from a California newspaper for example:

Just ask the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The New York-based company performed live on “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” and director Yvette Campbell said the dancers were treated with the utmost respect. Twenty million viewers watched the performance, about as much as has seen the respected company perform in its 50 years in existence. And when the company did its normal tour, seats were packed.

Actually, this is why, when news of NBC’s latest offering, Superstars of Dance, reached me, my interest was sufficiently piqued. What made me curious was the word that this show would be highlighting renowned dancers from different disciplines and different countries. I saw this as the next logical step and a great opportunity to begin transforming and deepening the general public’s (and for that matter, young dancers’) interest in dance as a performance art. As a company with great theatrical appeal, the Ailey company were perhaps the perfect company for getting people off their couches and into a theatre. The results they experienced after going “mainstream” into the homes of viewers offered encouragement that other dance artists could also inspire viewers to make this leap.

Great Expectations

My hope for Superstars was that it would prepare viewers for a wider variety of dance, offer them the tools to watch and understand the dances of different cultures and of different sensibilities. It was my wish that this would finally be the segue between Great Performances and SoYouThinkYou’reAmerica’sBest- DancingStarsearchIdol. I wanted something that would give us the “personalities” that inspire a following, a good look behind the scenes of professional dance, a showcase of dancers and companies producing compelling and exceptional work, and for once, a reality show that wouldn’t underestimate the ability of its audience to think for itself or appreciate art.

Perhaps I expected too much, especially from a show called Superstars of Dance. But, I don’t think it is too much to ask. It may have a lot to do with getting the right people involved in a project that will up the ante but, I can’t think of a better time than right now, when the public is ripe for more than just another dance competition show, to present such a project. I guess I see the renewed popularity of dance as a form of currency that those with influence could be using to showcase dance at its best. I keep going back to the idea that people generally rise to your expectations if you give them the tools and opportunity to do so. In the realm of dance made for television, the audience is given very little credit. They are rarely asked or challenged to appreciate anything too very far from what they know or have experienced.

So, what did we get with Superstars of Dance?

Well, despite seemingly good ratings, the show has not been well received by those writing about it online. Dancers and non-dancers alike found the premise and execution of comparing and scoring vastly different dance forms, senseless. There were complaints about the level of dancing displayed by those billed to be “the best in the world,” about the glitzy production, and annoying camera angles. Honestly, I have little to add to what’s been written and have done a bit of commenting on twitter and on some of the blogs that have already covered the show. I want to note that, even among the dance bloggers in this list, each author here has a vastly different background and emphasis, yet most had similar feelings about this show. You can read the reviews for yourself, they vary in intensity of hatred…

Conclusion

Superstars of Dance was far from super. The show did highlight some good performances, and some interesting spectacle, but fell quite short of its super-sized claims. For this reason, and because I think it patronizes viewers with lots of flash, little substance, and sugar-coating (to make the dance go down easier), it has ignited negative feedback. If for some reason you’ve recorded and not watched the show yet, I recommend heavy use of the fast-forward button. Skip every bit of judging and inane commentary and just watch the dancing. It is not the best the world has to offer. For now, you’ll probably have to get off your couch to see that.

Posted in News and Events, Performance Reviews, The Dance World   Tagged: performance, television   
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