To borrow a question from Kyle MacMillan in yesterday’s Sun Times:
Can the mass appeal of television dance shows transfer to the stage?
Sure it can.
Shaping Sound showed up at the Harris Theater and proved it. “A new contemporary dance company” with TV dance super stars Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini, Teddy Forance, and Kyle Robinson at the helm, Shaping Sound was launched in 2012 and now embarks on a national tour just a year later. Chicago was the fourth stop of 13 in a whirlwind tour around the country.
This is not a world in which I live.
90-minutes of fully-funded dance in union houses all over the country only a year after forming a dance company is pretty unfathomable to me. It takes most companies several years and a huge Indigogo campaign to get out of their home towns. These are artists who will never know what it’s like to starve (given the level of talent onstage last night they’re worth every penny they make).
From what I saw, commercial dance can translate to the stage, but it’s still commercial dance. Angst-y. Heteronormative. Sometimes literal, sometimes liturgical. All the women are sexy, all the men are macho. I sensed some sort of narrative, but I couldn’t keep up with it. Random themes guided by nothing other than musical choices abruptly changed the atmosphere from ambiguous mystery world to speakeasy to Bob Fosse’s Cabaret to Victorian masquerade. The only apparent through-line was a single rose that appeared over, and over, and over throughout the evening. Though we traversed a plethora of time periods within the first act, the genre of dance rarely altered from competition-style “contemporary dance” (the exception being a phenomenal jazz dance set to Sing, Sing, Sing during the speakeasy scene).
I felt better when I checked Instagram at intermission and found out I wasn’t the only one who was confused:
…but then I decided I was watching this performance through the wrong lens.
As a dancemaker, a patron, and a critic I belong to the world of dance as high art, and this is not that. In my world, every step, every light, and every musical choice is shrouded in meaning, and once I let go of all of that I began to witness amazing dance for the purpose of pure entertainment.
Through this lens, there’s not a thing I can criticize about last night. The dancers of Shaping Sound are technically fierce, and know exactly what to do to perform in a massive house like the Harris Theater. Not a moment was wasted; from beginning to end this 90-minute performance had more flips, turns, and high kicks than I’ve seen collectively in 2013… and they were all perfect. Full company unisons were plentiful, but tightly rehearsed and not unwelcome among the variety of groupings explored through the night.
This stuff isn’t our competition – it’s the gateway drug to dance. Can a model like this translate to the other dance world (you know, the one where every movement and every light and every musical choice have to mean something)? Can Shaping Sound transform SYTYCD viewers into full-time dance patrons? Likely not… but I’m not sure that it matters.
In thinking more holistically about the question of TV dance on stage, Shaping Sound got people off their couches and seeing dance live, in a professional venue, spending money. If angsty, overly-dramatic, technically amazing dance with a high production value is the type of dance that’s going to survive and produce revenue, I don’t care if it’s not for me. TV dance brought people out, away from their TVs, in droves. Regardless of whether or not they go back, here are people who are now talking about dance, paying for dance, visiting public performance venues, and advocating for dancers who otherwise wouldn’t.
That’s something I will never complain about.