For the recent Top 14 show, So You Think You Can Dance returned to the small screen with a night of performances created by Mia Michaels, which swerved into the controversial by recreating 7 previously performed routines from past seasons that got rave reviews from judges and fans alike. There are a great number of fans who railed at the idea of desecrating the memories of numbers that were so brilliantly performed the first time they almost take on a signature tone with the original dancers. I, for one, was willing to give it a fresh look—after all, if Judith Jamison had told Alvin Ailey that Donna Wood, Linda Celeste Sims and Dwana Smallwood couldn’t perform “Cry” because it was all hers, the world would be deprived of a stunning piece of art. I was largely impressed by all of the recreations, but one transcended mere performance and moved me so much that I had to write about it.
Season 9 contestants Lindsay Arnold and Cole Horibe pulled the Mia Michaels contemporary known as “Addiction,” performed to the Sara Bareilles tune Gravity. The mix highlights the lyrics that, though originally written by Sara about a destructive relationship, fit the tone Mia sets of drug addict and the embodiment of her addiction.
Something always brings me back to you
It never takes too long…
Set me free, leave me be
I don’t want to fall another moment into your gravity
Here I am and I stand so tall, just the way I’m supposed to be
But you’re on to me and all over me…
I live here on my knees as I try to make you see
That you’re everything I think I need here on the ground
But you’re neither friend nor foe though I can’t seem to let you go
The one thing that I still know is that you’re keeping me down
You’re on to me, on to me, and all over…
The piece debuted during the show’s fifth season with contemporary dancers Kayla Radomski and Kupono Adewu. The piece was spellbinding—Kupono as the addiction was an attractive, compelling force that embraced his captive with sinister undertones, and Kayla as the helpless addict whose struggle to be free of her demons constantly clashed with the seductive call of temporary escape through the “drug.” The piece was well received enough to gain a spot as a judges’ favorite in the season’s finale and a spot on the national tour. So Lindsay—a Latin ballroom specialist—and Cole—who is extremely proficient in a martial arts and dance fusion—were given this physically aggressive and emotionally complicated piece to interpret as their own in the light of an already widely-loved rendition.
(Due to the anal-retentive nature of Dick Clark Productions regarding their show clips, I won’t out the specific users who blessedly posted side-by-side videos of the original and remake versions of the night’s dances for easy comparison. But seek them out to see what I’m talking about….)
Cole’s approach to characterizing the “drug” was more emotionless and detached, playing more of a destructive force than the seductive one offered by Kupono. Harsh and robotic in motion, he seemed to batter Lindsay’s addict from one side of the stage to the other. Lindsay, for her part, emoted the agony of her role very well. She was more perfect in her technique than Kayla was, which worked with Cole’s air of devastation—since her movements were choppier and more jerky that fluid, this performance read battered as opposed to manipulated like a puppet. You see more of the fight against the drug with Lindsay, versus the surrender to the drug with Kayla. While Kupono radiated this two-sided energy—beguiling and viciously cruel and completely smug in that knowledge and in the power over his captive—that created this interpersonal relationship of sorts with its quarry, Cole’s complete lack of personification shifts the emotional burden of the piece to the addict character (Lindsay). The drug doesn’t have “feelings,” so it doesn’t care about the victim or its effects, and therefore makes a more true-to-life portrayal of drug addiction than the imagined relationship from the addict’s hallucinations. I mentioned in a YouTube video comment that the two performances were “kind of the visual difference between a heroin addiction (Kayla and Kupono) and a meth addiction (Lindsay and Cole).” Not that I know from any firsthand experience about either, but I do remember watching a Frontline episode about crystal meth and the ravaging effects on those who have taken it—and the interpretation offered by Lindsay and Cole was an artistically accurate portrayal of the depictions in that program.
It is most thought-provoking how one choreographer’s idea and vision can tell two vastly different stories with the same sequence of steps. The first pair’s fluid interpretation of the lyrics viewed alongside the second pair’s translation of the precise rhythms and beats of the instrumentation fashion two distinct and separate dance masterpieces. That both versions can elicit such powerful reactions and stand as two distinct pieces rather than an original and a homage is a testament to the power of art and creativity.