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.
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…
- Superstars of Dance a Disappointment – A Time to Dance (scroll down to see comments on this post)
- “Superstars” a total flop – Dance Outlook
- Superstars Night 2 – Swan Lake Samba Girl
- Supersuck of Dance – TenduTV
- ‘Superstars of Dance’ premier: Just…WHY? – Entertainment Weekly
- Puttin’ On the Glitz – Washington Post
- Superstars of Dance Misses the Point – Give Me My Remote
- TV Review: Superstars of Dance – HitFix
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.
POST UPDATE – 1/30/09
I wrote this recently on another blog, and felt it was good summary/re-cap of my thoughts on this show.
My feelings on the show are similar – it definitely fell short. I wanted to point out that while in our culture dance seems more clearly defined as separate from other arts, in some cultural traditions dance is, in a sense, synonymous with things like storytelling, music, and martial arts. So from our “western” perspective of dance, yes, this term was used loosely but I just wanted to point out that that would not necessarily be so in other cultures. HOWEVER, one of this show’s many shortcomings is that it offered no real opportunity for understanding or explanation of the dance forms presented. For a show which many thought was supposed to be a sharing and celebration of dance around the world, this was a major oversight. This ties in with my disappointment that producers chose to make this some sort of strange competition between apples and oranges, rather than truly sharing and celebrating diverse dance forms.
I also felt that many of the acts (not all, but many) chosen were highly theatricalized versions of the dance forms/cultures they represented. It was obvious they were picked not for the value they brought to the competition, not for enriching televised dance with a spectrum of great dance, but were selected according to someone’s preconceived idea of what a television audience might find “likeable.” It seemed almost a desperate attempt at a “sure thing,” in fact. I hope that the producers walk away from this (and maybe go back to the drawing board) knowing that their audience isn’t necessarily as fickle as they think.
Can Superstars be saved? Not in its present form (or anything like it), but I do think it is possible to have a program on television that actually DOES share and celebrate dance on a global scale.