“Superstars of Dance” kicked off on NBC Sunday night (January 4). Co-hosted by “the world’s most famous dancer,” Michael Flatley, and former Miss USA, Susie Castillo, the international dance competition got underway in Los Angeles with sixteen performances from the eight participating countries. Sunday night’s performances are to be combined with the scores on Monday night (January 5) with the two lowest scoring countries (in each of three categories) leaving the show.
Appropriately enough, Ireland started the competition off. (Appropriate because Michael Flatley resurrected Irish traditional dance in “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance.”) The Irish team dance was from “Lord of the Dance,” also appropriately enough. With precision timing, the Irish scored high, a 65, and set the bar high for the other teams.
All the teams compete with a two solo performances, a duet performance, and a team dance performance. Much like international competition, lower scorers are dropped from the competition, with a predetermined set of contenders continuing onward.
The panel of judges are from the respective teams’ home countries. The judge from the country performing has to recuse themselves, so the highest possible score for any one performance is 70.
Despite Michael Flatley’s rather flat hosting, overcompensated for at times by Susie Castillo’s far more ebullient personality, “Superstars of Dance” had moments of brilliance, beauty, and inspiration. At times the judges minds seemed to be elsewhere, such as during the Australian team performance, where the energy and innovation went unrewarded. At other times, they were focused, such as when team China ended the first night’s dancing with a team dance from the Shaolin monks, a rich display of acrobatics, martial arts, and dance that pushed China to the top of the team competition.
Several of the performers are world famous, world champions in a particular style of dance. Some are from award-winning dance troupes, musicals, and shows from around the world. Some of them are also familiar to American audiences through “So You Think You Can Dance,” such as Pasha and Anya, who performed a sensual duet for the Russian team. But world famous or not, some of the dance routines chosen and choreographed for what is being billed as the “greatest international dance competition in the world” have been utterly and disastrously boring.
Russia’s first solo performance was so excruciatingly dull, the Russian judge, Mikhail Smirnov, told a Kremlin joke that sounded more ominous than funny (and out of that dry panel of judges, Smirnov actually was a breath of levity), perhaps to intimidate the other judges into giving the performance a higher score. It did not work. A beautiful ballet piece by Russia’s second soloist saved the Russians from embarrassment, considering that their team performance of traditional Cossack dancing seemed out of sync and dull.
And the only thing that can be said about India is: Thank the heavens for Bollywood. If not for the Bollywood team dance, India’s two solos and duet would have put the audience and the judges to sleep. The solo performances, however, received high scores. The Bollywood-style team dance received a mediocre review.
The South African duet performance was probably Most Robbed Performance of the competition thus far. One of the most elegant, sensual, and engaging dance routines this writer has ever seen, yet they barely rated a 59 from the judges.
Most Overrated Performance has to be a tie between both Indian soloists and the South African second soloist. The Indian solo performances were well-executed but their lack of excitability took away from the artistry. In a word: BORING. Which was something that South Africa’s second soloist was anything but, except that one wanted to give the jerking, convulsing, writhing and shaking figure a sedative to calm the seizures. The performance looked more like a self-exorcism than dancing. Regardless, all three performances received high scores.
Dance, it must be remembered, is a subjective art form – and its beauty and artistic merit definitely lies in the eyes of the beholder.
But if most of the performances left one “wanting more” (words that were becoming a catch-phrase among the judges), the American dance team delivered at show’s end on Monday night. A hip-hop troupe, the Groovaloos, brought everyone to their feet with an exciting mix of hip-hop, beat, and street dance. They also received the highest score of the competition so far (66).
The first night of “Superstars of Dance” ranked second in the Neilsen ratings, coming in behind Fox’s NFL Wildcard Playoff Game between Indianapolis and San Diego. Americans love to watch dance competitions (as is evident by the strong following and high ratings received by shows like “Dancing With The Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance”), but football, especially playoff or championship competitions, are more popular still. Which, given that “Superstars of Dance” was up against the BCS Fiesta Bowl on Monday night, does not bode well for the show’s hopes of taking a No. 1 ranking its second night out.
With Michael Flatley’s rather dull hosting, it makes for slow going at times, especially when the dance routines do not seem to be rising to the level of excellence one expects from such a group of talented performers. The occasional flash of beauty is not going to be enough to compete with new episodes of “House” or even reruns of “Two and a Half Men.”
“Superstars of Dance” continues until the end of January.
Sadly, as good as many of the performances have been on “Superstars of Dance,” the judges’ complaints are point on. Much of what has been performed has left one “wanting more.” Normally, “wanting more” would be a good thing for a show. Not in this case. When high expectations are met with lackluster actualities, “wanting more” will soon be translated into “something else.”
“Superstars of Dance,” NBC Television