THE BLOG
04/02/2008 09:30 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Dancing With the Stars Reaches a New High By Showcasing Alvin Ailey

So, week three consisted of bland, basic tangos, slap-happy judges who almost made Marissa Jaret Winokur cry, audience votes that blithely disregarded those judges, Adam Carolla insulting Mormons (and probably others) everywhere, and, in its results show, a performance by one of America's foremost modern dance troupes.

The judges were really grouchy this week, and their criticisms were often unconstructive and misplaced. In particular, their harsh reprimands of Marissa for her "boring" routine were of the worst kind: they were so completely lacking in specificity as to be meaningless and condescending. The most unhelpful and belittling thing a dance student can hear is that they are "boring" and "better than that," without specifying what "that" is. Did they think her toe/heel swivels lacked precision, her jive kicks were too slow, her lines were sloppy? We don't know; they only said she was "boring," and they knew she could do "better." If they meant her routine was boring, as in basic, it was certainly no more basic than Anna and Steve's. (Interestingly, audiences booted off Steve, whom the judges had nothing but praise for, showing they paid the judges no mind anyway). Tony created a fun Jive for Marissa that suited her strengths, involving a cute storyline that she acted well, and allowing her to put her own spin on things, such as the Hairspray-esque ending with her sitting on his knee and looking upward as if to thank her lucky stars she'd landed him. The criticism was completely under-served, as the audience recognized.

Marlee Matlin's jive was simply stunning. Fabian must have taught her some kind of counting method to keep the couple in sync because she's said before that she's only following his lead. But at the beginning he simply jutted out his hip and she began dancing around him on her own, with no lead from him whatsoever. And she was perfectly on beat. Perfectly. Her arms looked a bit stiff and her jive kicks lacked some height, but it's hard when you're starting dance as an adult, to have that kind of flexibility.

As said above, Steve and Anna's tango was nothing to write home about. Steve had the technique down pretty good, but the routine was simply boring. And, as fun a performer as he is, Steve couldn't do that much with a bland routine. It's not surprising that he was the one to go this week. By the way, it was corny, gimmicky and hackneyed to have Steve dance with Jonathan in Anna's sickness-induced absence, and then use that as the "encore performance," as if two men dancing a sexy routine together for laughs has never been done before.

Equally corny was Cristian's visit to Sea World to learn how to loosen up by watching Cheryl's "friend," a sea lion, flap about madly on wet cement. Where do the producers come up with these phony little "excursions"? But that said, Cristian's Jive blew me away. Those fast jive kicks -- and Cheryl put in a lot of them -- are pretty hard for a beginner. You have to have a lot of coordination and balance. He did them nearly perfectly.

Karina and Mario's tango was odd -- particularly the band's weird, almost creepy, rendition of "Roxanne" - but at least it wasn't boring. Basic, standard tango can be rather bland and the most creative routines, and those that audiences most appreciate, combine Standard with Argentine, as this one did. Karina had some lovely intricate, continuous Argentine ganchos (hooks) and Mario mastered the steps. Only thing is, given the song and Karina's getup, it seemed Karina was supposed to be a reckless young woman on a downward spiral, and Mario her savior, but Karina seemed too much in control. It was as if Mario was following her rather than the other way around; he didn't have the chance to take over and gently rein her in.

Shannon and Derek's jive was fine but not particularly memorable. Her learning kicks through kickboxing made a lot more sense than Cristian's sea lion lesson though.

Julianne and Adam's tango was the highlight of the night. Everything, from the costumes -- her wig, Mary Jane shoes, flaring backless dress, his frilly Ricky Ricardo-esque shirt -- to the quaint music, to the at times intentionally comically overdone steps, was all charmingly retro, very I Love Lucy. This was a clever tango, combining Argentine -- her ochos (stylized forward criss-cross steps) over his outstretched leg - with classical standard tango, but done in a humorous way that riffed on standard with the cartoonish Pepe le Peu-esque smotheringly cheek to cheek promenade runs and the ending slapstick dip which started out sexy until he "dropped" her, she rolling off his knee. Julianne's choreography is genius and one wants her to remain on the show despite Carolla's continuously offensive attempts at humor.

Another lovely classic for Priscilla. This Tango was almost entirely Argentine with a romantic close handhold, flavored with sexy, snaky ochos and gancho hooks. It was beautiful when they both performed slow, develope kicks, and he wrapped his leg around hers. Priscilla seems like royalty, and, though he's the teacher and expert dancer, it's endearing how much Louis appears to respect her.

Equally endearing is the way Jason looks up to Edyta. "One thing I've learned in football: when you don't know something, you should keep your mouth shut and your ears open," he said struggling to learn jive and revealing a winningly meek personality one just doesn't expect from a sports star. Their jive was slow, smooth, and cool, almost bluesy -- a smart choice for Edyta since Jason seemed to be having some problems with the intricate footwork and keeping up with the kicks. Jive is a difficult dance for someone so tall. He performed with great attitude, but some of the footwork was a tiny bit sloppy.

Mark and Kristi's tango, was, in contrast to most tangos of the evening, standard, not Argentine. Kristi's such a natural and her technique here was almost flawless. Her footwork was precise and she's got the martini-glass Standard ballroom frame down pat. But the routine seemed too one-note; it didn't go anywhere, perhaps because, as the judges said, her emotion was too one-dimensional, her intensity too superficial to be taken seriously. Or perhaps it was simply a case of more dull choreography. That was a serious ballroom hairdo though!

Finally, big kudos to the show's producers for reaching a new high by having as guests one of the best-known and respected modern dance troupes in America, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, named after its late choreographer founder. The company chose to dance the final section of Mr. Ailey's most famous work, "Revelations," an interesting choice, and one I'm not completely sure was right for this show. "Revelations," premiered in 1960, is a celebration of the human spirit through the African-American church. The work is divided into three sections, the first, "I've Been 'Buked", slow, sobering, reverential, and set to slavery spirituals; the second, "Wade in the Water," more upbeat, celebrating the salvation of Baptism and the healing powers of the river; and the third, "Move Members Move," an homage to the Southern black church and its essential place in African American history. Here, they performed only the third section's final segment, "Rock a My Soul" (which, apropos of this show, actually has the beat of a slow jive). But, I'm not sure if, without the first two sections for context, the third had the full impact. Plus, Mr. Ailey used his childhood church as a model for the world he created here, so the costumes -- those wide-rimmed 'potato chip'-looking hats and Little House on the Prairie-style dresses are meant to evoke early 20th Century south. I'm not sure viewers understood that. I wonder if it might not have been better for the company to perform something more contemporary, like "Love Stories," a combination of ballet, hip hop, African and modern dance replete with electrifying pelvic gyrations, breathtaking partnered lifts, and beautiful balletic lyricism. In any event, "Revelations" is one of the most famous and most-seen dances in the world, so kudos to the show's producers for giving viewers across the country, who don't live in urban centers where large dance companies visit, access to it.