- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

Beyond arts-heavy cities like Los Angeles and New York and outside of creative circles, the question “Who are your favorite dancers?” would stump most folks. But when the “So You Think You Can Dance” Live Tour co-opted Washington’s Constitution Hall on Tuesday night, everyone in the audience seemed to have an answer at the ready.

Teenyboppers in tight “I Heart Travis” tees strutted up the aisles before the show’s start just to get a closer look at the stage. And in the nosebleed section, youngsters readied their handmade signs: “Ivan Be My Bling,” “Dmitry Marry Me,” “Alison U Rock”; an homage to their favorite dancers from this season’s Fox reality hit. Older couples flying solo (sans the kids) discussed the matter more quietly.

Finally, when the 10 dancers twirled out into the spotlights, proclamations of admiration rained from every direction like a hailstorm.

While the tight-bodied youngsters who grinned onstage appeared comfortable with the adulation, they didn’t begin their careers dancing for thousands. They started like most dancers do and where most dancers end up — as relative unknowns. They auditioned for the TV show alongside the William Hungs of the dance world, lent their voices, victories and defeats to sappy, three-hankie montages; and danced their booties off on national television for the winning title and its accompanying fame and fortune.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s the “American Idol” formula right down to the live tour component. “Idol” producers-creators Simon Fuller and Nigel Lythgoe cooked up this variation on a proven winning theme, a hipper version of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars.” The Fox show already has outlasted similar experiments by acclaimed dancer-choreographers like Debbie Allen (2003’s “Fame”) and Wade Robson (“The Wade Robson Project,” also from 2003).

As with “Idol’s” live tour, the top 10 dancers from “So You Think You Can Dance?” reprise brief pieces they’ve performed on the show throughout the season, and the audience gets to revisit video footage they’ve probably already memorized. It’s like watching the DVD, but in a giant concert hall complete with a big disco ball.

Propaganda… er, repetitive clips aside, the dance performances were impressive.

Solos, duets and ensemble pieces, almost 30 dances in all, showcased not only the incredible choreographic talent from which the show draws (Mia Michaels, Brian Friedman, Tyce Diorio, et al), but the signature contributions of the young hoofers as well.

Show highlights vary depending on who you ask. Some may have preferred Ivan Koumaev’s Justin Timberlake-inspired popping routine to Ryan Rankine’s Alvin Ailey-esque solo that showcased near-perfect pirouettes and extensions. Others, though, may have favored the blissful, fluttery contemporary duet Travis Wall created for himself and partner Natalie Fotopoulos over the dizzying ballroom-style demos performed by winner Benji Schwimmer and Heidi Groskreutz.

However, everyone agreed about two particular pieces: the edgy group works created by Wade Robson (and set to Roisin Murphy’s “Ramalama (Bang Bang)” and Mr. Timberlake’s recent hit “SexyBack”). The thrashy, theatrical moves illustrate the current melding of hip-hop, modern and jazz that is revitalizing dance studios and music videos these days, and also showed the dancers at their collective best.

For the average fan of “So You Think You Can Dance,” the evening was a TV dream-come-true. The dancers were every bit as real and fierce as they appeared on camera (“Oh my God!” one woman kept yelling at the performers) — a camera that clearly favors big, acrobatic lifts and leaps over subtle, emotional moments.

Yet for fans who came from the dance community, the dances felt a bit like a heavy make-out session that’s continually interrupted by parents — in other words, cut short. One- and two-minute dances are perfect for the TV format, but not on stage. Some of us wanted more — the whole story, not just a “best-of” reel.

Still, it was thrilling to see so many people watching this “best-of” reel show that appears to have revitalized an art form that (until now) seemed dormant to many in the U.S. It’s wonderful that Americans have their favorite dancers. And, hopefully, they will for many seasons to come.

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