A Chance to Dance: Episode One
by Steven Woodruff
Cue former Royal Ballet Principals, Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn, a.k.a. BalletBoyz, arriving via motorcycle at London’s Covent Garden Opera House. Cue the staged phone call from producer Nigel Lythgoe. The task: to create a new dance company to tour with So You Think You Can Dance. The catch: the opening night gala performance for Lythgoe’s Dizzy Feet Foundation will be in New York City in just 28 days. It’s reality dance TV meets Mission Impossible. First stop for auditions, Salt Lake City (don’t ask), where eleven girls and two boys make the cuts at auditions that don’t give you a lot of hope that there is gold at the end of the rainbow. The likeable duo of Nunn and Trevitt along with SYTYCD side kick Allison Holker, give the show interest that the dancers themselves fail to provide. The first episode shows that the two former ballet guys can be tough, entertaining and can come up with ready, English style, put downs. Says Nunn, “If I were going to be tough, I’d just send them all home, but we need dancers.” Next stop for the Ovation series is Washington, D.C. . Look for more tears and disappointments, but hopefully, more accomplished dancing. Trevitt and Nunn have generated serious dance credits during their respective careers with films and the all-male company BalletBoyz. A Chance to Dance is going to give them a run for their money if it’s going to live up to that legacy.
A Chance to Dance: Episode Two
In the second episode of A Chance to Dance our wisecracking, dynamic duo Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn make stops in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas. First stop is the Fun and Flirty Dancing studio where the two interrupt a pole dancing class and Billy strips down to his skivvies for a session with some exotic dancers in training. Then it’s on
to the Kirov Academy of Dance where only a dozen dancers audition and five get the nod for the boot camp in New York. Next stop Austin, where dancers from the Austin University School of Dance and Alisa’s Dance Academy show up in force for a packed audition. In the end an assortment of ballet, contemporary dance, and hip hop dancers make the cut following a group effort at impromptu choreography. Trevitt and Nunn continue to hone their road schtick, but the joking is genuinely entertaining and makes some valid points. “Look at her, beautiful, she can turn”, says Nunn, and then, “who cares”. These guys know that gluing together their hastily made ensemble is going to be real work when they get to New York. Of interest in this episode were auditions by Eric, a hip hop dancer, whose turned out footwork gave him unusual appeal, and Kaitlin, an accomplished ballet/contemporary dancer who covered both genres with style. Best line of the episode came from Nunn after their short excursion to the pole dance studio–“Ok Billy, put your pants back on and get back into the car.” If these guys weren’t doing serious dance they could make it as a comedy duo. Next stop for the fledgling company is New York, where choreography and more cuts await.
A Chance to Dance: Episode Three
Eighteen days left until show time in New York at the Dizzy Feet Gala. After a brief rendez-vous at Yankee Stadium, the company heads off to Western Massachusetts for boot camp at Jacob’s Pillow. While the dancers bus it, the BalletBoyz are in pursuit in their sporty blue Mustang. The content for the Ovation Series is starting to feel more substantial now that the initial auditions and the accompanying road hijinks have drawn to a close. Rejoining Billy Trevitt and Michael Nunn is Allison Holker from Episode One, who will continue as assistant and choreographic repetiteur. First order of business is ballet class, where the focus shifts to Shepard, the self- taught hip hop dancer, who is having difficulties negotiating the new terrain at the ballet barre. While I am betting on him to carry through as a counter weight to the ballet and contemporary dancers things are not looking up. Billy offers encouragement after watching him plié and then tendu a la seconde saying, “I can work with that”. Also getting attention are Chase whose heart condition causes problems (he’s a month out of surgery) and Cooper, who crashes hard in the men’s rehearsal and injures his knee. Nunn and Trevitt are already piecing together choreography as they put the all women through a corps de ballet exercise which is filmed on the outdoor stage and which will end up as a projection for the finished piece. The episode concludes with a cook out prepared by Nunn and Trevitt and a reminder to expect the imminent departure of six more dancers. A Chance to Dance is a seven-part series airing on Ovation every Friday at 10pm from August 17 to the finale September 28.
A Chance to Dance: Episode Four
The bucolic idyll at historic Jacob’s Pillow continues for some but this episode also sees the departure of five dancers and the dimming of hopes for two others, including Shepard the hip hop dancer, who continues to struggle to find a place for himself among a crew of
trained ballet and contemporary dancers. One of the side dramas focuses on Eldon and his partner Chase, who does not survive the first round of the boot camp cuts. A Chance to Dance continues to elevate the dance reality show genre with its smart focus on an actual goal, in this case a performance of a new work to be premiered at the Dizzy Feet Foundation Gala in New York–sixteen days and counting. Add to that the savvy, steadying influence of two real, ballet and choreographic stars in Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt. They show themselves to be tough, but also thought provoking and even handed in their treatment of the dancers. In one of the interviews Sarah gets a reprieve when Billy challenges Michael’s intention to cut her. We get a glimpse of the working relationship between Trevitt and Nunn. Nunn jokingly refers to him as “young Billy” on occasion. While their relationship may be hierarchical it doesn’t interfere with an easy back and forth and some good humor as well. Episode Four is structured around pairs of dancers working on what is going to become the featured duet of the piece. While Nunn and Trevitt are busy overseeing the partnering, assistant choreographer, Allison Holker, coaches four trios of women in a contact improvisation that will also be incorporated in the finished work. The least effective part of this episode was the at times tiring focus on the overly tearful Laura, whose insecurities come across as annoying rather than deserving sympathy. I’m still pulling for Nunn and Trevitt to find a way to include Shepard in their opus. This time out, it his partner, Chelsea, who shows “great strength of character” in making him look good in the partnering. It made a poignant statement about the essence of cooperation in the dance world, where outcomes are not always so altruistic. A Chance to Dance is a seven-part series airing on Ovation every Friday at 10pm from August 17 to the finale, September 28.
A Chance to Dance: Episode Five “The Final showdown”
At thirteen days until performance time in New York, it’s looking like Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt, the BalletBoyz, might not make their deadline for the Dizzy Feet Gala. So instead of working on the choreography they do what anyone in their situation would do: head to New York for some relaxed checking on the progress of the music, costumes, and the performance venue at the Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Studios. So, who’s minding the store back at Jacob’s Pillow? David Dorfman, that’s who. Dorfman is perhaps America’s most eccentric choreographer and dance man. And he doesn’t disappoint while introducing the company to his manic but expressive take on movement. He is also given the responsibility in rehearsals to cut two dancers while Billy and Michael are away. Michael has it right in saying about Dorfman: “If you met him on the street you’d think he was a plumber.” The few truly interesting clips of Dorfman working with the company (he conducts class while seated, and playing the accordion) are unfortunately buried among dullish interviews of the dancers mulling over the chances of being among the twelve left standing. Billy and Michael test drive their company and choreography in front of a small, live audience at the famed Ted Shawn Theater before cutting five more. In all seven more exit, including Shepard whose lack of technique finally proves too big an obstacle to fitting in. Ballet guy, Chase, also fails to make the cut. Among the twelve remaining are Eldon, Patrick and the incorrigible worrier, Laura. The best off beat line from Dorfman during the rehearsals: “You are going to have to do more with your off balance, curvaceous work”. The happy few shove off for New York with an unfinished ballet, and only eleven days left until show time.
Episode Six: “Let the Countdown Begin” For the Ovation Series “A Chance to Dance”, It’s Nearly Show Time
The good news, David Dorfman is back for another round on the Ovation Series, A Chance to Dance. The bad news is that lots of potentially interesting dancing goes missing as six days of studio rehearsals are condensed into one episode. Dorfman is charged by Trevitt and Nunn to choreograph an entire section with eight dancers to music that is, so far, unused. His plan: place the dancers in eight discreet down pools of light for improvised solos which ultimately morph into a unison finale driven by Dorfman’s swirling, flung, curvaceous movement. While Dorfman works on his section, the BalletBoyz decamp to a second studio to work on the concluding duet with two pairs of dancers. It’s a showdown of sorts to see who gets the assignment for the Gala. Nunn leaves the four dancers to continue working on the duet with the sincere admonition to “be nice and help each other out”. Meanwhile, Laura is back at drama camp as she is selected for a featured spot in one of the sections. Sadly, Eldon injures his back and looks like he is out for the performance, causing a major reshuffling of the duet lineup. Ultimately, Joni and the untested David, the least experienced dancer in the company, are chosen for the duet. There is one touching vignette of Eldon looking into the studio through the door of the rehearsal room as the company presses on without him. The as yet unnamed company lurches toward show time. Billy puts it succinctly. “We’ve created a super tanker that is now going to collide with the performance.” Relaxed and sure editing by Barnaby Levy avoids giving the episode a manic look as a full week is condensed into less than an hour. Also excellent, the original camera work by Seth Marshall and Brian Ochrym (especially the sections filmed at the Cedar Lake studios) for the two duet sequences. I was glad to see those mostly preserved as interesting, continuous long shots of the choreography. Brightest moment of the episode: Billy comments on the company and Dorfman’s work in the studio run through. “Look at them, they’re a company, they look fantastic.” Billy is the ultimate good vibe guy. As the Dizzy Feet Gala looms large, Michael is leaving one spotlight open for Eldon, who may yet recover and take the stage for opening night.