Why ‘The Big Leap’ Dances Stand Out, Even With All the Drama Brewing (RECAP)
[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for The Big Leap Episode 2 “Classic Tragic Love Triangle.”]
In just two episodes, Fox’s newest reality-show-within-a-fictional-dramedy The Big Leap serves classic tropes of not getting the part, romantic jealousy, and a drama-inducing producer who is constantly feeding an already rampant fire.
All the while, we take in each character’s individual troubles and watch as their formerly ostracized lives begin to bleed together within the confines of a soundstage dance studio. Sporadic dance routines (sometimes fueled by the drama and other times used to cool off the heat) add a charming musical theater aspect, and snappy pandemic-related humor balances out the comedy leg of the dramedy.
Below, we take a look at the new Fox series through a dancer’s perspective.
In the premiere, the audition montage is comfortingly familiar. We file through comically tragic auditions from a variety of characters — which provoke choreographer Monica Sullivan’s (Mallory Jansen) grumbling and her painstaking remark that one “just gave [her] a UTI” — and progress through heartwarmingly successful routines that warrant invitations to the next round.
Mike (Jon Rudnitsky), twins Brittany and Simon Lovewell (Anna Grace Barlow and Adam Kaplan), Julia (Teri Polo), and Raven (Karen Rodriguez) perform their individualized dances. When Gabby (Simone Recasner) and Justin (Raymond Cham, Jr.) hit the stage, they start off strong. The music and movements simultaneously build and the show’s producers and choreographers are getting progressively more excited … until Gabby slips and falls. In a classically timed moment, the excitement of the audition scene is abruptly cut off and we watch as Gabby gets cut and Justin gets invited to the next round.
Throughout the audition scene, we are transported back to those first episodes of a new So You Think You Can Dance season. SYTYCD is on hold for an undetermined amount of time, but does The Big Leap’s homage to the classic open-to-all televised dance call replace the auditions that real-life dancers once spent years training for?
The already existing drama of the characters’ personal lives is aggressively spotlit and emphasized by drama-obsessed producer Nick Blackburn (Scott Foley). The moment he sees those minuscule beginning sparks of an explosion, he calls for a camera and begins plotting the editing tactics to paint a gloriously dramatic reality show. Although Monica constantly insists that the show is about dance, Nick reminds her that it is about the dirt — and the same is true for the Fox series we’re watching as well.
For example, look at what goes down in Episode 2 as the contestants sit down for interviews. Nick is behind the camera, prompting in a way to pull the exact answer he wants out of the contestant. He secretly gets footage of Mike admitting that he cheated on his wife (after claiming he’s stopped recording), the twins giggle about their crazy mom, and football star Reggie (Ser’Darius Blain) admits that Swan Lake is boring.
Since The Big Leap tracks both the reality show and the characters’ everyday lives, the drama is flying in from all fronts, making for riveting and humorous situational messes. Nick is sure to dig up every ounce of the character’s personal dramas for the show. His next goal: to find out who Gabby’s child’s father is. This, of course, is difficult to watch, as Gabby is a loving character with all of the audience on her side.
There are, of course, multiple budding romances: Gabby and Reggie, Mike and Paula, and Nick and Monica. Episode 2 brings about speculations of a spark between Justin and Simon, providing us with one of the first glimpses into who Simon really is.
Just as Nick emphasizes to Monica, The Big Leap as a whole — not just the reality show version — is more about the drama than the dancing. But the dance scenes are not entirely overshadowed, and the routines that are woven into the plot are necessary and enjoyable.
The choreography is palatable for non-dancers: Whether it’s the balletic scenes for Swan Lake or the breakout numbers more based in hip-hop stylings, the movement is created for the camera. The dances are not overwhelming in terms of intense technical skills nor do they incorporate too many rapid dynamic shifts, something that would be disparaged for a longer stage-based dance performance. Instead, this works perfectly for brief snippets on the screen.
Episode 2 features some dance as the contestants learn the black swan, white swan, and prince pas de trois (dance of three) of Swan Lake. The ballet choreography is based on spatial patterns, which ensures that all of the dancers look good doing it, no matter what level they are. The rehearsal process is familiar to a dancer, especially as we watch Monica berate Justin with nonstop technical corrections, resulting in angry outbursts and tension.
Mike and Paula share a dance scene at the local bar when she shows up unexpectedly to convince him to stop refusing to “cheat” on the white swan (referencing his marriage separation, which is slowly being revealed). They practice the pas de trois outside the bar, performing the ballet movements to a live rendition of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”. Although this scene focuses more so on the humor of the fact that Mike’s friend is standing in for the role of the white swan and the romantic development between Mike and Paula, the dancing serves as a vital background component to the plot. As Paula choreographically rests her hands on Mike’s face, we feel the spark that we can only assume will soon prompt turmoil within the situation.
The choreography also shines in this episode when Simon visits Justin at the basketball court to help him nail his pirouettes for the casting audition. As Katy Perry’s “Swish Swish” plays, Simon directs Justin through quarter and half rotations, adjusting his arms and carriage to make for a perfect double pirouette.
The training develops into a full-blown breakout-friendly dance battle on the court, making for the most classic of dance dramedy scenes the show has featured yet. Justin shows off his breakdancing moves, this time using a basketball as a prop as he performs truly impressive kip-ups and floor work moves. Their duet culminates with both dancers mirroring each other as they dynamically swerve the basketballs, almost feeling like a reference to the classic High School Musical “Get’cha Head In The Game” dance number.
The Big Leap’s placement in the fall season is perfect, as it is one of the only fictional performing arts shows at the moment. But will its well-balanced amount of drama, comedy, and dancing ensure its spot amongst other long-running arts shows?
The Big Leap, Mondays, 9/8c, FOX