‘Dancing with the Stars’: Tell us a story
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Break out your favorite slanket and/or cuddle buddy, ballroom fans, because it was story time at the Rectagon Monday night. Each couple was challenged by the judges to dance out a narrative in their respective routines. And despite a couple broken toes and some heightened security detail, it appeared as though the stars and the pros were pretty successful in bringing the drama throughout the evening, and keeping it contained mostly within the perimeter of the ballroom floor. The contestants made their way through paso dobles, waltzes and quicksteps, as demonstrated by some of our noncompeting pros at the top of the program (so nice to see you again, Lacey Schwimmer, Jonathan Roberts, Anna Demidova and Dmitry Chaplin! And hello, Snejana Petrova and Maks’ brother Val). And they spun dance yarns that ranged from ship hands goofing off to the Queen of the Nile to discrimination and prejudice.
Whether or not these dance stories were enough to win over the viewers and judges, however, remained a different tale altogether. While the 10 paddle failed to make an appearance throughout the two-hour program, we did end up with a new leader in the competition. That honor went to …
Evan Lysacek and Anna Trebunskaya. And no amount of broken toes was going to stop this Olympic champion from holding back on a fast and fun quickstep, set to a tune from the musical “Chicago.” Even though his partner’s hairdo gave me more Little Orphan Anna vibes than Roaring ‘20s at first. And as bland as Evan may appear with that monotone voice of his, which seems incapable of registering emotion or any color beyond ecru, I enjoy his droll, emotionless stabs at humor (“I looove me some acting,” he droned like a robot). And who doesn’t want to receive dance instruction in a thick Russian accent?
I also liked how Evan didn’t use his broken tootsies as a crutch to sway the judges or muster up some sympathy votes. Not that he needed to: His quickstep was light and sharp and had the right amount of razzle-dazzle (though maybe that also had to do with Anna’s dress, which was fringe-tastic in the most bedazzling way). And while I thought Len would get on the duo for all that “messing about” at the beginning of the routine, the head judge instead commended them for being “bright” and “light,” but told Evan to watch out for his footwork (maybe it was the bum toes getting in the way?). Bruno worked through his own personal issues by commending Evan for dumping Anna for being late (“Sometimes it’s not about the dance, it’s about what you’re going through in your life,” observed Tom sagely), and Carrie Ann called his routine “twinkling” and “athletic.” The figure skater and his ginger partner earned a dazzling 26 out of 30 right off the bat, and immediately established them as the team to beat.
Falling to second place were Nicole Scherzinger and Derek Hough. And after last week’s premature 10-paddle ejaculation, you knew it was only a matter of time before the inevitable fall. Though while the judges said they penalized the duo for breaking their hold and doing a lift, we all know that their downgraded scores were really due to Nicole’s “I’m at the top of the leader board!” declaration at the bow of that ship. No one can get away with yelling that James Cameron rant out loud without getting smacked down with a big dose of hubris.
Speaking of Cameron, Nicole and Derek’s quickstep was very much like the Titanic – impressive to look at, impeccably executed, a delightful ride to be on but ultimately doomed. Or it should have been, considering the judges’ damning remarks. While all of the judges said the performance factor was through the roof, Derek and Nicole got slammed with what Len called ‘taking a mickey’ out of the judges. Len said they took their song, “Anything Goes,” too literally – “I got clever. I didn’t get quickstep.” Bruno agreed that there was too little of the actual dance. But other than Len’s punitive 6, the other two scores were hardly more than a slap on the wrist, and Nicole and Derek made out like sailors on leave during Fleet Week: lucky. Total: 23.
Also with a 23 were Erin Andrews and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. And while I admired the chutzpah of performing a waltz while blindfolded, I have to say I enjoyed the ESPN reporter and her pro partner’s interaction off the dance floor more than on it this week. I kind of agreed with Len that I wanted the whole thing to start already, as the routine appeared to be heavy on the foreplay, but without a lot of real action. And as Bruno said, Erin looked terrific while in hold, but flopped around like a fish out of water during her solo moves (though let me distance myself from his word of warning – that “it starts in blindfold, it could end in handcuffs”). Still, Carrie Ann liked the use of the prop and called the whole thing “breathtakingly artistic.” And all that, without candlelight and wine and everything.
If Erin and Maks’ routine was performed bare-bones like a Lars Von Trier movie, Jake Pavelka and Chelsie Hightower’s Egyptian-themed quickstep/archeology dig was packed to the gills like a Brett Ratner extravaganza. Though this routine was impressive in that it managed to be a cross-promotional hydra, shilling not one, not two, but three Disney/ABC products: the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, the “Bachelor” Jake himself and the sly plug for the archeology-themed episode of “Castle” that aired post-“DWTS.” Though the production missed another ABC-promo opportunity with that Egyptian theme: Surely that four-toed Taweret statue from “Lost” could have been squeezed on the stage as well. And at that point, why not add some “Lost” numbers or a Dharma sign for good measure?
Or maybe Jake just was feeling too disrespected to bother putting that “V” countdown clock on the back of his jacket like the ABC marketing folks had hoped. Because while Jake claimed that he was “bitten by the dancing bug,” he acted more like an asp when it came to taking direction from Chelsie. Though maybe it was just a communication problem, as clearly, these two are not on the same page: Chelsie was focused on dancing and Cleopatra, while Jake seemed to be focused on formaldehyde (“good stuff”). Still, Chelsie and Jake appeared to have reached some sort of common ground during their “Walk Like an Egyptian” quickstep. Len called the production “slick — but some of the dancing was a little slack.” Carrie Ann pointed out that the Bachelor’s legs “were a little soft.” Bruno dubbed him “Indiana Jake” and wondered what Chelsie was up to in the sarcophagus. Fiancée Vienna sat dutifully in the audience and looked surprised after the routine ended. Maybe she was expecting more formaldehyde? Total: 21.
Which was tied with Niecy Nash and Louis Van Amstel. And their dance tale – about an interracial couple dealing with discrimination and prejudice – definitely struck an emotional chord with the dancers and the audience members alike. Niecy got teary thinking about not being able to be with someone that she loved, while Louis frankly revealed that he was still in that boat and needed help in his battle. And their tender and sweeping waltz, danced to Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright’s “With You I’m Born Again,” took on a greater meaning in its engaging performance. Niecy revealed that vulnerability wasn’t something that she was used to as a comedienne, which made her nervous and caused her to stumble. Len and Bruno both applauded Niecy’s emotion, but told her to work on her feet and the technique, but Carrie Ann was confused when the bittersweet energy carried through to the end. Total: 21.
Also with a 21: Pamela Anderson and Damian Whitewood. Though I wish they’d cool it with the double entendre overkill (“I wanna keep doing it. And doing it. And doing it.”). Luckily, their paso doble made up for all that dirty talk – and for the fact that Pam and her frilly busty dress looked as though she could easily grace a Harlequin romance cover (another cross-promotion opportunity!). Liked how the dance took a heated stand against animal cruelty – a cause near and dear to Pamela’s heart. And how they got Charo to help! Charo, who came in like a spitfire with her polka-dotted skirt and her hair up to there, ratcheted up the energy and so charmingly reminded Pam not to look down – “anyway, you cannot see your feet with your big maracas.” And while their paso’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” song choice was a little dubious, Pam still was able to work her feisty, fiery magic as the gypsy who flamenco dances with the devil matador. Bruno said it was like “watching the gypsy queen played by Brigitte Bardot at her peak,” Len told her she needed “refinement” and Carrie Ann said that Pamela has this “certain artistry through all the movements” but “you threw yourself off a couple times.”
Just a point behind them were Chad Ochocinco and Cheryl Burke. And after last week’s fox trot fumble, the humbled football player was ready to return to the basics and regain his focus. And their paso doble definitely showed some steps in the right direction. That chest-baring bolero jacket didn’t hurt, either — nor did Cheryl’s feistiness and that fiery hot pepper of a dress, which looked like it could give Tabasco a run for its money in sauciness. C+C dance factory’s paso had Bruno rolling his Rs in ribald delight and announcing that the Bengal had released the Kraken, though at times the judge pointed out that the Kraken was “a little bit all over the place.” Carrie Ann told him to focus on lowering the shoulders, and Len told him to work on his posture. They earned a total of 20 for their dance, though I have to admit that I had hoped Chad would be further along with his ballroom abilities, and that the NFL star’s dance swagger would match his off-stage confidence at this point. In the studio audience, Mama Brady (Florence Henderson) and George Lopez sure liked it, though.
Also with a 20 were Aiden Turner and Edyta Sliwinska. This week, the soap star got some moral support from his wife and 7-month-old daughter, who adorably dropped by during rehearsals with cake, balloons and party hats to celebrate Aiden’s birthday. And I thought that added confidence boost showed during their quickstep. “Edyter” fit the part of a guy’s dream girl come to life to a tee, floating down the ballroom steps and sporting as little clothing up top as possible. Too bad the house band punctured the fantasy with its distractingly shrill version of Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister”: the squeakquel. Len thought Aiden was “a little bit careful” and wanted him to “let it go a little bit more,” but Bruno remarked that the actor was “happy as a clam” though “a bit skippier.” Carrie Ann, also, thought Aiden’s confidence was growing, but maybe too much: He was “a little too bubbly.” Though after last week’s oh-so-pleasant upchuck visual backstage, any dance where Aiden doesn’t toss his cookies is a good one, I guess.
Did you catch Tony Dovolani gamely donning a sombrero during Chad and Cheryl’s paso doble, and then doing the “Three Amigos” routine with Jonathan Roberts in the holding tank? It was so fun, and carefree – and one imagines a refreshing change of pace from the partner situation he’s presently saddled with. Because as we were reminded again, it can’t be easy to be therapist/dance teacher/unwitting lackey for Kate Gosselin. And after all the buildup to Monday night’s performance, set to Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” — which the media had painted as a dance interpretation of “Jon + Kate” — Kate and Tony’s paso doble ended up being a lot of disappointing hype. First of all, Kate’s face was made up in a way that could scare off clowns. And then there was the dispassionate plodding across the dance floor. Where was all that pent-up anger that the acting coach had Kate take out on the punching bag? The strike against the invasive media? The dance ended with her holding on to “press hound” Tony’s leg, which doesn’t necessarily look like a triumph over the TMZs of the world.
“It was hard to watch,” remarked Carrie Ann. “I don’t feel that the emotion got to your face.” Len echoed Carrie Ann’s statements from last week and applauded her for getting her through the dance. But he also said “the whole thing was too pedestrian. There was no passion, drama, intensity.” Bruno had the kindest words of all, and complimented her for playing “the super bitch from hell.” To her credit, Kate minus 8 plus Tony did break out a smile now and again – even through the judges’ harsh comments -- which was an improvement upon last week. Though any goodwill that she had mustered in the celebraquarium disappeared when the first 5 paddle appeared. Total: 15.
Which was still better than Buzz Aldrin and Ashly Costa’s score. Though Buzz has got all the contestants beat when it comes to patriotism. And, you know, walking on the moon. “Bruno’s never been on the moon,” he remarked in response to Bruno’s comments last week about Buzz’s inability to walk in a straight line. “How would he know what it’s like to avoid craters?” You tell ’em, Buzz! The astronaut continued to play up his role as a national hero with his military-themed waltz this week, set to “What a Wonderful World.” And he also upped his feistiness levels as well, with that fake-out hat flinch that he aimed at the judges for picking on his stiffness and poor technique. Guess Buzz showed that he’s still got some fight in him yet. Still, he ended up with a total of 13.
Which, again, puts the OG moonwalker squarely in the danger zone. Though Buzz is certainly not out for the count just yet – as we saw last week, the astronaut has a huge fan base. And after last week’s surprise ouster, the elimination could fall on anyone.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Which story did you like best? Who do you think will go Tuesday night? Are you voting for the self-proclaimed “patriotic geezer” Buzz? What – or who – was in that military duffle bag? Post your comments below, and then check back on Wednesday morning for the results show recap.