Dream between the lines… dream like a ninja

While pondering this week in culture, dreamingbetweenthelines did wonder what the connective tissue was between the highlights of the week. After all, there’s nothing immediately obvious that links Eminem and So You Think You Can Dance.

Challenge accepted.

Eminem’s Recovery is what might be considered a legacy album. The shocks and the jokes he made his name on are clever and fine, for a while. But even the man himself, in a recent interview in Spin magazine, admitted that  last year’s Relapse didn’t break as much new ground as it could have, with its familiar Mariah Carey disses and old-school Eminem insults.

Fortunately, he did something about it: Recovery is a forceful, incredibly detailed, furiously rapped set of tracks that lays bare, with painful, raw detail, his long, tortured journey through loss, addication, rehab and, yes, recovery. It’s brutally honest, searingly self-aware. This time Eminem has turned his fierce analytical skills and lacerating wordplay on himself, and the result is extraordinary. Whether flat-out singing on the Lost Boys soundtrack-sampling, moving anthem to fallen friend Proof, You’re Never Over, or serving up a raw personal journey on Going Through Changes, or dissecting an abusive, destructive relationship through a combustible, explosive duet with Rihanna on Love The Way You Lie, Eminem keeps moving, ducking and diving, weaving like the pro that he is, ever moving, ever evolving, always hungry, never satisfied. That prowling restlessness punches through every track here.

It’s Eminem’s brilliant writing and creativity that’s particularly thrilling on Recovery. Likewise, on the unusually inspiring TV show So You Think You Can Dance, creativity is breaking through in exhilarating ways. Executive Producer Nigel Lythgoe has crafted a show that evolves its dancers far beyond their comfort zones, drawing greatness from them along the way. It’s true of the show too, which has had to evolve in the face of adversity this season: it’s great to see a large-format show that can think and move so lightly on its feet. This season’s contestants have had flashes of brilliance; tough to do when you’re on stage with the designated All-Stars. Props must go out to b-boy Jose Ruiz, whose breaking has become truly sick in the last couple of weeks: his solos have been breakneck, precise, fluid, furious, like Eminem’s rhymes. He was always decent, but he found a way to energize and galvanize, and he’s been spinning and busting moves like an inspired Bruce Lee, if Bruce Lee did headspins. He hasn’t delivered on the other styles though, unlike this season’s breakout star Lauren Froderman, who is basically already an All-Star at this point. As judge and movie director Adam Shankman pointed out, she’s essentially already graduated the show with her extreme skill and flow, and some insane moves that look like special effects. When she was in the bottom three, her warm, soulful solo set her apart from the pack.

Throughout the season, All-Star Lauren Gottlieb has reinforced exactly why she’s one of the greatest dancers the show has ever produced, dancing a lot of the competitors off the stage despite being a great partner in any routine. Perhaps the most startling development though has been outside of the competition, with the ascension of All-Star Kathryn McCormick. She was a standout on season six, with her beautiful emotionality, and her fluid chemistry with breaker Legacy. But on this season, she has grown beyond even that, by demonstrating that dance can and should be a transcendent form of creativity and self-expression. The emotion pours out of her in the contemporary routines as she couples intensity with lightness and grace. It’s remarkable how she can submerge herself so deeply into the feelings of the choreography: it’s the difference between someone repeating steps and someone flowing through beautiful moves that make you feel loss, want, need and desperation. We hear a lot of talk from the judges about clean lines, when describing a contestant’s movements. Many of them have beautiful lines, it’s true: but Kathryn moves like the dream between the lines.

Transcendence is where you find it. And what else is transcendence but mastery of your creative world? True mastery of a chosen form is thrilling to witness: hearing Eminem spit quick and skillful rhymes, and watching Kathryn transform her movements and taking us on an aching journey, it’s hard not to feel inspired. Whether we are rappers, dancers or writers (spoiler: I am only one of the above), this is what we should be aiming for: being able to master our form, transcend it so that those watching can’t even see how we do it. We need to be like ninjas; you should never know we were there. As a screenwriter, how do you handle a complex scene with exposition and character development and make it subtle and exciting? Hide the heavy lifting and write like a ninja. Many thanks to talented TV writer and blogger Margaux Froley for that analogy: it’s the perfect way to think about creativity. Do complex and beautiful things and never give away your secrets. Make the reader or viewer forget they are listening to a rap album, watching choreography, reading a novel or a poem: go beyond the mechanics to another place. Know the lines, master them: then dream between them.

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