Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Show: Superstars of Dance


Episodes: Two (will run all current episodes)
Clips: Seven clips, most of which feature particular performances
Studio: NBC
Rank: C
The latest in the "So You Think You Can Dancing With the Stars On Ice" genre tries to cash in on the dance reality game and the Olympics. The basic idea is that countries compete against each other by putting up dancers and routines that reflect their native culture. Each country puts up two routines in each of three categories: group dance, duet, and individual performance. Judges from each country hand out scores, with the overall proceedings overseen by the Lord of the Dance himself, Mr. Michael Flatley (and beauty pageant queen Suzie Castillo, but who cares about her?).

Memorable moments in the first episode included a contortionist pop routine by the American individual performer, a steamy Argentinian tango duet, and a few of the group performances (Ireland, South Africa, and China were all fun to watch).

As the competition goes on, the low-scoring acts in each category are eliminated, with a master scoreboard that keeps track of each country's overall score.

The best part of the show is the opportunity to see some traditional cultural dances performed by fantastic dancers. It serves as an entertaining educational window into the time-honored traditions of other parts of the world.

That's the good news. The bad news is substantial.

There are a few problems with this show. There are 8 judges, none of whom get to say more than a sentence while they reveal their score. We get the sense that the Argentinian judge is a harsh and haughty woman, that the South African is a big pile of sleaze, and that the Chinese guy is adorably genuine beyond belief, but we don't get to know them. Some of them say their score in their native language before they repeat it in English.

Okay, I can't resist putting in this short clip of the Chinese judge. It's better in context, when you get to realize that he is repeating this over and over (and hasn't demonstrated that he knows any English other than his scoring numbers):



Another downside is that, since there are no amateurs performing, there's very little to criticize. Everyone is doing at least a competent job, on their own terms. But it's difficult to judge the very diverse dance styles against each other. The performers have obviously all come with their own routines, and some of the traditional dances are impressive, while others are less athletic and therefore underwhelming. Some are very athletic and impressive, but aren't really dances at all, such as a routine involving the skillful deployment of whips or weights on thin ropes.

With no stated criteria for the performances, and so many judges, the scoring becomes a big muddled mess of numbers with very little meaning. I would guess that about 65% of the scores are 8 (on a 10 scale), and about 85% of the remaining scores are 7 or 9. That adds up to a lot of boring scoring.

There's also a lack of equality in the post-performance discussion. Sometimes Flatley weighs in with a glowing review, sometimes the judge from the represented country talks, sometimes the performers are allowed to talk after they go, and sometimes Suzie Castillo interviews the performer or a completely different person. Sometimes a performance will get as many as three of these items, while sometimes they get none of them. If this isn't just some editing magic, it must influence the judges to some degree.

There's also some very bad camera work, with real-time dissolves that obscure some of the performance, tight shots on heads during times of presumably impressive footwork, shots in which the action is partially obscured by stage props, and extremely wide shots in which it's difficult to see what's going on.

My understanding is that this show is only planned to occupy a four or five week slot, and I'd be surprised if it holds onto its decent debut ratings for half that long.

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1 comment:

J.E. said...

"Superstars of Dance" insults myself and all those around the world that truly enjoy all the different international dances. How does anyone have the right to judge one culture against another? This show isn't judging dance. It is polarizing cultures. Luckily most of us can see past this garbage.
Honestly, we would, all, enjoy this show if the host were dancing, all the judges got a real job they might know something about, and all the dancers would just dance for our entertainment.
Producers, wake up. This isn't "International Idol"; not even close.