Late Saturday morning the theater district is a dead zone; matinee crowds have yet to flood Argo Tea and Borders, killing time before the 2pm performances of “Billy Elliott” and “Jersey Boys.” A freak snowstorm whips the few solitary pedestrians with slop, a reminder that this is the true first day of Chicago spring. The severe mood grows thicker in the atrium of the Cadillac Palace Theatre, where b-boys, hip-hoppers, fresh-faced jazz dancers and one be-necktied hoofer gaze floorward as they mark out their routines in dimly lit, ornate corners. The pride of their studios, the talk of the clubs, these young dancers take their three-minute turns on stage, then walk, panting, downstage center for the verdict, delivered by three brightly-lit judges seated in plush swivel chairs on a platform above the orchestra seats.
“Adam, did that have the ‘wow’ factor for you?”
“More like the ‘ow’ factor.”
A video camera on a boom swoops from above the stage to below; a handheld operator stands a row in front of adoring parents, zooming in for reaction shots. These are the callbacks for “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the standards are brutal. Every triple pirouette is flawless, every windmill exited with precision, but something always seems lacking—poor use of the floor, repetitive phrasing, not enough smiling. A breakdancer is asked if he’s done any ballroom. By season seven the standards of the immensely popular amateur competition have become extraordinarily high—contestants must master every style of pop dance and deliver moves with the pizzazz of a Broadway veteran. Out of the ten dancers who audition in the course of an hour, only one makes the cut. (Sharon Hoyer)