Is “good-ish” good enough?

July 10, 2008

“It’s good-ish.”

That’s how Brian Friedman responded when I inquired about the progress of his intensive group’s piece.

, I thought to myself. That doesn’t sound all that good — especially when you consider that I asked him the question only about 10 hours before his group was to perform the The Pulse’s gala closing event.

I asked Brian to explain.

“Good-ish means I’m not completely upset with them,” he said. “I was starting to see in this morning’s rehearsal a piece, not just a bunch of steps put together. There’s got to be flow.”

Brian then explained what was missing most — transitions. “They’re having a lot of trouble having getting on and off stage and making it to their formations ,” he said. The reason is that the stage had no front wings, only side wings, and so the dancers were tripping over each other and the clothes from their costume changes. That morning Brian made an executive decision and eliminated most of the costume changes. And, as he had all week, he delivered a long list of individual corrections, virtually all of them dealing with minutiae: the angle of a leg, the cleanliness of a jump, and so on.

The level of detail didn’t surprise 19-year-old Sloan-Taylor Rabinor. She’s worked with Brian for three years.

“It’s a lot on your mind,” she said. “It’s very detail-oriented. You go home at night and say, ‘What did he say? What do I have to do differently?’ But that’s what you come here for. You come here to be pushed by him. You know that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s the creme de la creme. So if he says it, it goes.”

Later that day, Brian made sure a 4 p.m. Pulse-wide question-and-answer session with the choreographers began on time so that his 5 p.m. rehearsal would begin as scheduled too. It was his final rehearsal for the piece, which included two songs — Danity Kane’s “Sucka for Love” and Ne-Yo’s “Closer.” By a little after 7, with less than an hour to spare before curtain, Brian had managed to address every detail and tie down his ending. Before rushing back to his hotel room to change into a dressy vest for the evening’s affair, he told me, “I actually think it’s going to be really good tonight. We worked out every kink that we had.”

Brian’s number closed the show, and it was indeed a success. As his dancers performed, Brian watched from the front row, moving around in his striped-cushion chair, hands waving, acting, as he told me later, like “a blubbering idiot.”

“The adrenaline was there,” he told me afterward, “which made me not care what was going on onstage.”

What! After all those corrections, all that critical feedback, the references to making their work as clean as Ajax, Brian didn’t care?

Well, I don’t think it’s that he literally didn’t care. I do think, however, that dance reaches a level – even for Brian Friedman – where emotion overtakes exact execution

“They performed,” Brian continued. “When you put performance on top of something and you’re dancing to your heart and soul, it doesn’t really matter, all of the little things I was picking apart in rehearsal. I was completely entertained. I loved what everyone did. I was proud of every single person onstage.”

Brian stuck around for a couple hours after the show, posing for pictures and signing autographs. The next day he was to leave New York for Barcelona, where he is going to choreograph pieces for the Polish version of “So You Think You Can Dance.” The 24 finalists for that show are going to perform his work in an effort to make it to the top 16.

For Brian, it turns out, The Pulse and his intensive were just a warm-up. The Polish dancers were about to feel the real wrath of his precise choreography.

“I intend to make them hurt, make them bleed,” he said, “and make them wish they were never dancers.”

Do I believe him? Partly. Polish finalists be warned: Brian Friedman will work you hard. But he delivered those words to me with a sly grin, which makes me think that any Polish dancer who can perform with pure emotion has a real shot at winning Brian Friedman’s approval.