'America's Best Dance Crew': Swizz Beatz, Arnel Calvario and the final two revealed
This season of "Randy Jackson Presents America's Best Dance Crew" has been a tough one to gauge -- from the emergence of Jungle Boogie and Saltare to the backing of Blueprint Cru (or lack thereof) to the steady popularity of Poreotix and Hype 5-0. Many have their favorites, but there wasn't a clear, dominant crew.
Despite all that, we are finally down to the top two. But before we get to that, and to the season's assessment by guest commentator and Beat Freaks/Fanny Pak/Kaba Modern manager Arnel Calvario, we were able to speak with one of hip-hop's hottest producers, Swizz Beatz, backstage. He made custom beats for the three remaining crews (only two of which we got to hear) and their Last Chance Challenge. The busy musician talked a bit about how he came to enjoy "ABDC," and the hard work it takes to succeed.
Now on to Calvario's recap and observations on the episode and the season:
We are at the home stretch, with this episode revealing the final two crews vying for the title of America's Best Dance Crew. The energy of the crowd was strong in anticipation, as cheers roared for the three remaining crews: Poreotix, Blueprint Cru, and Hype 5-0.
The members of season 4's champs, We Are Heroes, were in the audience to witness this exciting episode. To many members of the audience's surprise, Blueprint Cru was announced as the crew who earned the most votes from last week's illusion challenge! This was not shocking because of a perceived lack of talent or lack of respect by viewers, but because the Canadian Blueprint Cru has been viewed as an underdog, often landing in the bottom two because of a lack of votes.
You could even see the shock in the eyes of members of Blueprint Cru, who could barely fight back the tears as their names were announced as a definite finalist for next week. I feel that it is precisely this humility that has fueled them to fight so hard each episode. Clearly, the finals were now going to be one East Coast crew and one West Coast crew.
Blueprint Cru kicked off the episode with the first challenge, Hip Hop Nation, in which they had to incorporate the following three dance styles in their routine: Turfin', Baltimore House and the New Orleans Bounce.
Although the Blueprint Cru members definitely started off their routine with the energy and power they are known for, they did appear uncomfortable with these styles, which drastically differ from their own. This crew typically performs with amazing stage presence and charisma, but throughout their performance, you could see some of the members with a "thinking look" on their faces, versus their typical confidence.
The style that appeared particularly difficult for the crew was the New Orleans Bounce, during which they looked a bit too stiff at times. JC said, "You didn’t have enough junk in your trunk" and Lil Mama felt they were "humorously" taken out of their element. Regardless of this challenge, Blueprint Cru was sailing through to the next round, and I anticipated the brilliance of their artistry for the Last Chance Challenge, when they would have an opportunity to do what they do best.
Introduced by a hilarious video where they spoke about how their "Asian Booty Disease" made this challenge difficult, Poreotix stepped up to the plate next. Clad in red with Kallusive T-shirts underneath their jackets, Poreotix exploded onto the stage with not only their trademark humor and intricacy, but lots of b-boy power moves sprinkled throughout the routine. What was really smart on their part was their approach -- doing the style they are most comfortable with (Turfin’) with confidence while tackling the other two styles with so much humor that you wouldn't focus on their ability or lack of ability to do the styles legitimately. It was a crisp and entertaining performance that definitely got the audience up on its feet.
Hype 5-0 took the stage with determination in their faces; they were going to fight for the last open spot in the finals. The opening formation filled up the stage and conveyed passionate energy that was visually powerful. Of the three crews, they performed the New Orleans Bounce and Baltimore House the best. The crew's battle mentality came through in this performance as they mocked a piece of Blueprint Cru’s Lady Gaga challenge choreography and took out oversized sunglasses reminiscent of Poreotix and kicked it out to the audience.
Some fans of Blueprint Cru and Poreotix booed Hype 5-0 as the judges commented on their call-outs of the other two crews, but I personally agree with JC’s assessment of their performance: He praised the crew for bringing "passion to the stage." Their energy reminds me of b-boys I would see in the circles battling it out for braggin' rights, but still remembering to keep it respectful after the battle is done.
Oddly enough, I felt that the two crews at the bottom this week were actually the two crews who delivered the two best performances for this particular challenge. Ultimately, it was up to the judges to decide who would advance, and Poreotix was chosen as the finalist to represent the West Coast for the Last Chance Challenge.
Hype 5-0 members were in tears as Josh Ulep gave his closing remarks to the audience. They should feel proud of themselves for representing Hawaii well, for their tremendous artistic growth as a crew while on the show, and for persevering through the rough comments they received from the judges week after week. They truly lived up to their name as they definitely brought the hype to the "ABDC" stage.
We were then finally down to the last two crews of the season with the Last Chance Challenge. Not only did both crews incorporate impressive, large-stage props that really represented their themes, but both were able to collaborate with the talented Swizz Beatz, who has worked with blockbuster artists such as Jay-Z, T.I., Beyonce and Snoop Dog. The crowd knew they were in for two amazing last performances.
Blueprint Cru stepped out of cutouts of their bodies in a piece entitled "Come to Life." Their routine was powerful and precise. The only part of the routine that I didn't feel was executed well was the windmills done by Derek "Derty" Rice and B-boy Hero. Derek's windmills were slower, with his legs bent, while B-boy Hero powered through his windmills at a faster and more dynamic pace. I later discovered that Derek had a shoulder injury, so maybe it was not such a smart choice on the part of the crew to subject him to mirroring the windmills of B-boy Hero, especially at the front of the formation for the final challenge.
Despite this, Blueprint Cru delivered a strong performance characteristic of their dynamic stage presence, intricate choreography and mixture of choreography and clever stunts.
The final performance did not disappoint as Poreotix presented "Tetreotix." The performance set was a giant Nintendo Gameboy controller clearly depicting a video-game theme to the brilliant sound effects mix of Swizz Beatz. Poreotix incorporated finger tutting, waving, hitting, and tutting in trios as well as many intricate ripples, level changes and their typical humorous moments, such as the eyebrow waving and belly waving. Though their piece was primarily made up of poppin' styles, the diversity of styles within this genre was impressive. Poreotix is clearly a crew of dancers that have trained in poppin' and who have mastered the art of freaking the beats of the music. Although I wished they would have incorporated the breakin' power moves that Justin and Lawrence are obviously capable of, their performance was clean, entertaining and very intricate.
Who America will vote as this season's "America’s Best Dance Crew" champ is yet to be revealed. My take on this season is that the casting of the dance crews was definitely a drastic improvement to Season 4, with talented, entertaining new crews such as Jungle Boogie, Static Noyze and the three finalists.
Saltare was also so original as they truly opened up the world of jump roping as phenomenal entertainment to viewers. One of my frustrations about the show (in defense of the dancers) was the lack of constructive critiques offered by new judge Omarion.
Though I completely respect him as a dancer, a singer and a talented entertainer, he often did not offer any constructive feedback to the dancers regarding the specifics of their performance. Anyone can say "that was dope" or "I wasn't really feelin' that," but for all the work the dancers put into grinding out their weekly performances, I would expect all of the judges to respect them with feedback that these dancers can build on and grow from.
At the very least it would serve to help the voting audience understand some of the technical aspects of each performance, such as the staging, the musicality, the cleanliness of the execution and/or the performance quality of the dancers.
The current judging panel is full of talented performers, but in the future I would like to see at least one judge on the panel who is either a pioneer of hip-hop dance, a choreographer with the technical eye for innovative choreography, or at least someone who can articulate feedback that is consistently helpful to the contestants from the point of view of a dancer/choreographer.
Other than that, I have enjoyed this season and, just like everyone in America, I am looking forward to seeing who will take home the grand prize.
-- Arnel Calvario
Founder / Manager of Kaba Modern and KM Legacy
Board President of Culture Shock LA
Photos: Top: Blueprint Cru flips out. Second: Poreotix busts out. Third: Hype 5-0 brings the energy. Fourth: Poreotix can taste the championship. Bottom: Blueprint Cru breaks out of the mold. Credit: MTV
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