Dancing With the Stars swirled its way into Pittsburgh, much to the delight of its many fans. There was only one from the “Star” side, winner Alfonso Ribiero. But the pros themselves took up the slack, creating a casual atmosphere that was almost intimate, despite the Benedum Center’s audience of thousands. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It was a “Ballroom With a Twist” at the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops program, continuing through this afternoon and featuring Dancing with the Stars’ Edyta Sliwinska, who was even more fit at Heinz Hall than in this early clip from the program with her real-life husband, Alec Maso. Read more on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It was like that final push at the goal line, fourth and long, do or die. But the field of play was “Dancing With the Stars,” down to the final three dances with the final three competitors.
The dances were spread over two nights. Monday’s performances featured the judges’ selection and the much-vaunted freestyle, which usually determines the winner. Yes, this is when DWTS voters get serious and, it seems, vote for the most deserving celebrity.
Only this year it seemed different.
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas led off the Judges’ Choice with the samba, hard-hitting with lots of fringe (29). Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiiy followed with another samba, dripping with sensuality (27). That set it up for Hines Ward and Kym Johnson and the quickstep. Kym did her research, streamlining Fred Astaire’s iconic tap solo with cane and a flurry of Fred clones into a smart duet (29).
But let’s get down to the nitty gritty — the freestyle. This dance has determined, more than any other, the winner of the Mirror Ball Trophy.
Chelsea and Mark came up with another “fresh,” as they like to put it, routine. Full of street smart moves and light-up hands and feet (although Chelsea’s battery pack failed midway through). Score: 30.
Kirstie and Maks. Well, when she ripped off her brown dress it made me realize the her circle skits made her bigger than she was. Kirstie looked great in the sequin unitard, showing off her new body. Score: 27.
Hines sported a big “S” on his black and gold drum major uniform. Steeler? Super Bowl? Sassy? Anyhow, they overcame the injury with daring and spectacular lifts in this “halftime” show. Score: 30.
So the judges left it up to the voters by giving Chelsea and Hines the same score. You can say that Mark Ballas gave Chelsea the edge in choreographic complexity, although they could look like they were pushing. Hines and Kym had an indefinable connection on the dance floor, with both rehearsal and dance footage reflecting a sunny ease about them.
Now for Tuesday.
The celebrities chose their favorite dance: Chelsea and Mark the “Wizard” (as in Harry Potter) waltz (30) and Kirstie and Maks, a parallel of her journey, showing an exuberance at age 60 (30). Wait — could it be possible that this was the strongest finale yet? I couldn’t recall a year where all the competitors got perfect scores. Yes, Hines and Kym got another 30 for their samba. And the judges definitely left it up to the viewers.
Was the scoring planned? It almost seemed so in this fairytale ending to the series.
The results? Viewers went with the story rather than the technique. Chelsea and Mark surprisingly took third, much like fellow Disney dancer Kyle Massey last year. Kirstie and Maks took second. And Hines and Kim, as I felt from Week One, took first.
Was it destiny? The Mirror Ball Trophy is silver, of course, but with gold accents and a black base.
Probably it was because he had plenty of support, including the Pittsburgh fifth graders, who had their own Dancing Classrooms ballroom competition last Saturday.
There was more drama than dance on “Dancing With the Stars” this week. The lead story was Kym Johnson’s injury during rehearsal, resulting in a strained vertebrae in her neck. It was the most serious problem yet in a program that pushes celebrities in ways to which they’re not accustomed.
But that wasn’t the only bit of theater. As it turned out, the footage of the celebrities’ biography proved more compelling than the dances. I mean it, really — Kansas-born Kirstie’s cocaine addiction and Hines growing up biracial (plus the whole Steeler organization was available for commentary, from Art Rooney, Jr. to Mike Tomlin, Jerome Bettis, Troy Polamalu and Hines’ mom, of course). Even Ralph, who grew up in a more American Pie lifestyle, and Chelsea, who pushed a shyster agent aside and went after her dream, had some nifty footage.
But this season has been more about personalities than paso dobles. Even throwing technique to the wind — no one here is as dominant or as technically formidable as Olympic figure skating gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi or “ Dirty Dancing’s”Jennifer Grey — audiences have responded mightily and ABC’s ratings have been dominating the other network competition.
So who gave the go-ahead for more Instant Dances? Okay, maybe Brandy was eliminated way too early and this would be a way to keep stronger dancers around for the finale — and make it a little more competitive.
The couples had to learn a third dance, then the two winners of that head-to-head competition (Chelsea and Hines) had a commercial break to put together the final cha-cha. The result? I think the prepared routines were watered down to accommodate the extra dances. And as soon as we heard the rules, I knew that Chelsea and Mark would be the couple to capture the 15-point bonus bump. Leading up to that, here is the way I called the action:
Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff. Ralph drew the tango and the salsa. I thought the tango had a lazy start and after that he pretty much stood by while Karina slashed and sliced and twirled around him (25). As for the salsa, why did Karina suggest that he wear bootie pants to enhance his hip action? And why did Ralph agree? And why did they film that exchange? It didn’t help (23). Total: 48.
Kirstie Alley and Maks Chmerkovskiiy. Their waltz was quite lovely, but not memorable (27) and the paso doble meandered, a repetitious dance that included a lot of straightforward walking (27). Total: 54.
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas. The tango was oddly innocent, with softly flickering feet, but the judges awarded them 28. And Chelsea acted her way through the rumba in place of a sensual body action, but her execution gave her that perfect 30.
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson. With the injury still looming over them, Hines was extraordinarily protective of his partner, which elevated their impact in the tango and produced tears all around, netting them a 30. Their salsa was both hot and cool at the same time, and again, no one has his hip action in the Latin dances. They rode an emotional wave for another 30. Total: 60!
As it turned out, Kirstie and Ralph were on the chopping block and the Karate Kid threw his last dance punch.
Am I the only one who was not a fan of the so-called “Instant Dances?” So the ballroomers practiced a choreographed dance to different songs. Then they had 20 minutes to fret and learn to adjust to a new tune right on the show. Everyone had lower scores (Hines and Kym’ s jive was charming and bouncy, but had a weak ending, as if they ran out of time) and I just didn’t think that the “Instants” were all that entertaining. Oh well, on to the planned agenda (Instant Dance scores are listed as the second part of the total):
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas. These two led off the program for the second week in a row. Mark has been pushing too hard and his perky Disney star pushed back, effectively telling him to control his temper in their rehearsal clip. He toned it down a bit, making this waltz their best dance in a while, sweet and serious at the same time. Score: 29 + 26 = 55
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson. Some people were saying Gene Kelly in referring to their fox trot, but I’m sticking with Fred Astaire. This was a light-hearted, modern-day play on Fred and Ginger skipping across the movie screen, despite Hines’ manly muscular frame. Obviously the duo has the connective tissue with the audience as well, but I would like to see a more substantial way in linking the steps from Kym. A little more Mark Ballas, maybe, who is the choreographer of the season without Derek Hough in the ballroom, but without his ego and the occasional over-the-top “oddities,” as Len puts it. Score: 28 + 26 = 54
Romeo and Chelsea Hightower. What was that Texas-sized black bow on an otherwise great red gown? Anyhow the pair swept through their tango, he boyishly sober, but she almost flourishing like a cape (a little paso doble?). Score: 27 + 25 = 52
Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff. What can you do when a cyst bursts in your right knee? Stop the rehearsals and KISS when it comes to the routine. That’s exactly what happened, but the audience was hugely sympathetic with Ralph. Score: 25 + 21 = 46
Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiiy. Oh that crazy Russian! He goes from stripping down Kirstie in rehearsal to stripping off his shirt. Oh that earnestly impish Kirstie! We love her wry sense of humor, punctuated, it seems by numerous falls. But she’s been a part of the diet syndrome long enough that she has to realize that she needs her food — no skipping meals in order to keep that blood sugar level. Score: 28 + 25 = 53
Results: Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou? Well, off DWTS, for sure.
Okay, we can just call the dueling team cha cha a wash for week six. Team Chelsea (with Ralph and Romeo) was laser sharp and benefitted from the presence of two female pros. Team Hines (with Kendra and Kirstie) was, yes, more bootylicious, but lacked the finesse.
Why a tie you say? It had to be the producers’ call in fielding four judges. Guest judge Donnie Burns had a ton of credentials (including President of the World Dance Council and 16-time undefeated World Champion Latin dancer) and he read his notes/script well, although he made an obvious mistake in giving Romeo an 8 instead of the intended 7. Oh, the pressure!
It all came down to the solo routines and this is the way I called it:
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas. Mark was blowing hot in his choreography for the paso doble, often overshadowing his partner. Was that a hint of frustration between them in their rehearsal clip? Mark was also hot over the scores, which he felt weren’t reflecting his talents…a little too much ego there. Score: 34
Kendra Wilkinson and Louis van Amstel. Kendra got Most Improved Dancer this week. She seemed almost content in her tango after her Jello-y samba last week that so impressed the judges. Not so hard-core, but instead a sensual grace that she developed in many ways. Score: 31
Kirstie Alley and Maks Chmerkovskiy. I love the way Kirstie’s whole body responds to the dance. So her jive was always interesting, but Maks had to tone down the relentless bouncing and keep things on a simpler track. Score: 30
Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff. Sometimes the design and cut of a costume can make a world of difference in scores. Ralph’s pinstripe suit fit him perfectly and the brimmed hat covered enough of his face so that his unflattering grimacing was, for the most part, concealed. This quickstep was his best routine of the season, full of snappy footwork and covering the flaws in Karina’s choreography. Score: 36
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson. Hines and Kym had to overcome a tango accompaniment that inspired tiptoeing through the tulips rather than a passionate, slicing duet. The judges usually like tangos with stops and starts, thrusts and parries and head snaps. This was a little too ginger, but there were enough breathtaking moments (particularly when they launched into the first phrase) to give them a share of the lead. Score: 36
Romeo and Chelsie Hightower. Romeo’s hips are a little too tight to allow for the most entertaining gyrations to be found in the samba. Despite his strong work ethic, that weakness gave him a share of the bottom. Score: 30
Kendra’s reality-based fans couldn’t pull her through. She took her exit with a strong dose of sincerity and a touch of regret. Hines goes on to next week having to put aside the Big Mistake by L.A. police, where dozens of cars descended upon him at a gas station. As it turns out, he was a passenger in a vehicle that had been reported as stolen. They ordered him to the ground and handcuffed him before finding out that the driver had not reported that the car was found. I’m sure The Incident will show up on DWTS next week.
So things are getting serious as “Dancing With the Stars” heads into the second of this season’s competition. This week was “Guilty Pleasure” night, where apparently Hines’ gratification came from snuggling (and dancing) with a pillow when Kym wasn’t around. Isn’t ABC owned by Disney?
Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Is Kirstie getting her cheekbones back? She’s obviously shaved off a few pounds while regaining her form in a fluid samba. Score: 26
Chris Jericho and Cheryl Burke. I couldn’t see how Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” merited a tango. Obviously Cheryl didn’t feel that it merited her usually musical choreography. Score: 22
Romeo and Chelsie Hightower. Romeo seemed genuinely taken with Chelsie during his waltz to the “Titanic” theme — or else he’s a better actor than we thought. Pretty smoo-oo-ooth. Score: 28
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas. She was “Walking on Sunshine” — he was dancing on a bum ankle, injured during dress rehearsal, in this nifty quickstep. You couldn’t notice it, though. Maybe they should assign a difficulty level at this point, because Mark has been creating both the most imaginative and toughest choreography. They deserved more than a share of the lead. Score: 28
Kendra Wilkinson and Louis van Amstel. Well, this Playmate could shake her bootie, along with a few other key body parts (admittedly not all of them real) to Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” It was enough for her best score of the competition and a much-appreciated birthday gift for Len. Score: 25
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson. Well, Hines made it past the waltz, which can be the graveyard for contestants — no flash, no dash. I do declare, he reminded me of Fred Astaire in a couple of moments, but could have provided more connective tissue. Score: 27
Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff. Maybe his eagerness served him well as the Karate Kid, but he’s overdoing things, particularly with this wild-eyed version of the paso doble, where Karina tripped on his caped coat. Macchio is losing his mojo. Score: 24.
Kendra lives on while Chris Jericho takes a fall…
IT’S BA-A-ACK. Cheers to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “unnamed benefactor” for his or her generous contribution that will restore the orchestra to the opening season performance of “Peter Pan” in October at the Benedum Center. The score will include music by Sir Edward Elgar, Sir Benjamin Britten, Eric Coates, Ron Goodwin and Montague Phillips, which Royal Winnipeg Ballet choreographer Jorden Morris feels will convey the period of the classic J.M. Barrie story.
HINES UPDATE. It’s week two on “Dancing With the Stars” and Hines Ward continued to impress, this time with a fox trot. So he can not only move and groove, but has the goods to tackle the intricate, more elegant dances.
SUMMERDANCE. Speaking of seasons, Jacob’s Pillow has announced its 2011 series in the wooded glens of the Berkshires in Massachusetts. Many are familiar to Pittsburgh through the Dance Council, including Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, David Dorfman Dance, Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM and our own Kyle Abraham. Check it out at http://jacobspillow.org/Virtual-Pillow/. But there is even better news because the Pillow has launched a new Dance Interactive Project, which is a performance video collection from 1937 through today. See dance evolve before your very eyes at http://danceinteractive.jacobspillow.org/.
SHOWING OFF. What a great opportunity for seniors at Point Park University to take class and perform for artistic directors around the country in the annual school showcase. This year’s guest list included Desmond Richardson (Complexions), Julie Nakagawa (Dance Works Chicago), Arlene Sugano (Ballet Arkansas), Malana Walsh-Doyle (Houston Metropolitan), Melissa Young (Dallas Black Dance), Nan Giordano (Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago), Stephanie Pizzo (Eisenhower Dance Ensemble) and our own Greer Reed Jones (Dance Alloy Theater/August Wilson Dance Ensemble). What a stepping stone!
BANDY-ING ABOUT. Former PBT dancer Christopher Bandy is up to a new toymaking adventure. Check it out at his website: http://www.etsy.com/shop/bandywoodworks.
RAUH ON GERSHWIN. PBT paid tribute to long-time supporter Richard Rauh at its Friday performance of “Shall We Dance.” It turned out that he is a dedicated fan of George Gershwin and shared some personal stories with the audience just before a compilation of Gershwin movies. He then joined the audience in the Byham lobby for a toast afterwards and moved on to party with the company at the Renaissance Hotel.
Okay, the over-the-top Vegas extravaganza (was that redundant?) called “Dancing With the Stars” is up and running again on ABC. This year we have a strong Pittsburgh connection as Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward makes the transformation from helmet and pads to sequins and ballroom shoes. “I am a dancer. I am a dancer. I am a dancer.” That is apparently his mantra, delivered with the ease of a champion. But, hey folks, Hines apparently has a lot more going for him than his trademark smile. From these veteran dance-watching eyes, he could take the top prize.
Of course, anything can happen on this show. But as I see it, there are only four real possibilities. Former “Karate Kid” Ralph Macchio scored 24 and took the judges’ honors for his foxtrot, while Kirstie Alley, only one point behind, was the surprise of the night with a smooth, undulating cha cha. Disney star Chelsea Kane (who?) showed plenty of personality (think Kate Hudson) in her fox trot and landed in a tie with Hines at 21 points.
Well, hello! Hines has the swivel hips of a Latin lover, is light on his feet and, once he lets loose from his washboard abs and stands up taller, will score in style points as well. For my money, it’s between him and Kirstie, although she could easily self-destruct. Ralph is a dark horse. Obviously he has had some dance training, but is not a natural and even looks a little awkward with his tall, lean frame. Chelsea is talented and perky and could go down the same road as that other talented and perky Disney star, Kyle, who place third last year. I guess we’ll have to see…