A Chance to Dance Episode 1: A New Reality Dance Series Premieres
Dance is no longer reserved for the concert halls. Mainstream culture is embracing the athleticism of dance, integrating it into popular forms of media like advertisements and television. With this pop culture dance explosion, many networks are commissioning new dance-centric series. From longstanding programs like Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance and ABC’s Dancing with the Stars to newbie shows like CW’s Breaking Pointe and Oxygen’s All the Right Moves, Americans are turning on their televisions to watch, listen, and learn more about what it takes to make it in this crazy profession. The ‘new kid on the block’ in this catalogue of dance programming is Ovation TV’s A Chance to Dance, which premiered on Friday.
The premise of the reality show centers on forming a new American dance company. Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, former Royal Ballet dancers who are known internationally as the BalletBoyz, are given a daunting task by SYTYCD executive producer Nigel Lythgoe; in the span of only 28 days, the two must scout twelve of the country’s best dancers, nurture a new dance company, and present new work at the Dizzy Feet Foundation Gala. After the gala, the newly formed company will perform on the SYTYCD Season 9 tour.
Nigel opens the first episode with a brief introduction, chatting to the cameras about the Dizzy Feet Foundation and his hopes to uncover the nations “undiscovered [dance] talent” through this series. The opening is clearly scripted and a bit cheesy, but the series is promoted as a documentary style reality show—sometimes this cinematic perspective comes off more like a Christopher Guest movie rather than a documentary. But hopes are high that A Chance to Dance will provide a more realistic, gritty glimpse into the dance world than some of the other current dance on TV offerings.
After an exchange between Billy, Michael, and Nigel, the cameras cut to the BalletBoyz en route to their first audition in Salt Lake City, UT. Nigel sends SYTYCD Season 2 finalist Allison Holker to greet the two and bring them to some of Salt Lake City’s best dance schools.
Their first stop is at Center Stage, where Emmy Award-winning choreographer Bonnie Story is teaching a master class. Bonnie arranges her students into a horseshoe formation and asks each dancer to enter into the center to “show what they have.” Initially, Billy and William are turned off by this approach to showcase the studio’s talent. “We’re not looking for soloists, we’re looking for someone to be in a company,” they state. This style does not show how dancers work together as an ensemble. But Allison explains to them that in America dancers are trained to be soloists and this is a common way to audition. Maybe this is a typical way of finding employment in Utah, but most dancers have had countless experiences of securing a number on his or her dance attire and being asked to learn a combination or take a class with hundreds of other dancers. It’s arguable that either an open audition or company class are more acceptable ways to earn a position with a dance company. Additionally, being a member of a dance company requires a dancer to be able to function in a group setting as well as a soloist. Most dancers experience life in the ensemble, learning how to move in unison and stay in formation. The lines of reality are already blurred.
Billy and Michael feel anxious about this improvisational display of dance pyrotechnics as well, but they warm up to the concept after seeing two young ladies display an exceptional amount of talent. Nineteen-year-old Bayli and eighteen-year-old Tanisha are given “golden tickets” straight to “ballet boot camp” in New York City. The remaining dancers are invited to attend the open audition.
The second studio, The Dance Club, is where Allison grew up dancing. She takes them in to observe students in the midst of an improvisation session. The young dancers are using a “flocking” method of improvising, in which the dancers follow the dancer is front and when the front changes so does the leader—simulating a bird-like formation. Billy and Michael seem mildly impressed, but, surprisingly, not much time is given to this second studio. Allison brings them to the next and final dance school, an unconventional facility called Sugar Space. Here, they drop in on a rehearsal and see everything from contemporary dance to aerial , to a hoola-hoop dancer.
Now it’s time for the open audition. Michael and Billy are looking for many things, strong technique being one of them. But they are also looking for the “intangibles” like personality, work ethic, and emotional depth. They tell the auditioning dancers, “Don’t hold back don’t waste your time.” This is the moment for them to give everything they have.
After Allison teaches a simple contemporary combination, it’s clear some of the dancers are out of their comfort zones. One leaves at the top of the audition without saying a word to anyone and others are cut after struggling to pick up the choreography. Things get more intense after the first cut when Billy demonstrates a jumping and turning passage across the floor. Some of the early favorites stumble through the technical elements including number 52, A.J. The young dancer is the first to dance, despite not knowing the combination. He confesses to not paying attention and continues to fail at picking up the steps, making Michael “feel like a dad” as he scolds him to do better.
The BalletBoyz are highly disappointed with the dancing and want to cut everyone. But they want to not be rash, and give the dancers another chance. Using the horseshoe model they saw at Center Stage, they decide to see the dancers “individually and get a sense of who they are.” This is more satisfying for Michael and Billy, reviving their hopes in finding some great Salt Lake City talent.
Another small cut is made and the dancers are then broken up into duets and small groups to create their own material. Additional focus is given to two dancers, Sarah and Eldon. Both are nice movers and Michael loves the raw emotion Sarah exhibits when she dances. But he warns her that emotions can be “dangerous” and it shouldn’t “jeopardize her technique and performance.” By the end of a long day, Michael and Billy give out invitations to eleven female dancers and two male dancers—including Sarah and Eldon, but excluding the seemingly pompous A.J.
Next Friday, the quest for American dance talent continues in Washington D.C. and Austin, TX. Twenty-four dancers will go to New York to have their physical and mental capacities put to the test. Only twelve dancers will perform at the gala and go on the SYTYCD tour, so the stakes and emotions are guaranteed to be high. Will A Chance to Dance separate itself from the rest of the pack? Or will we see the same type of drama other networks have been highlighting to pull in a non-dance audience? Only time will tell.
Photos: Ovation TV