So we arrive, after weeks of auditions and eliminations and wonderful dancing. The season finale, and quite possibly the series finale, of Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance. Over the years the show has turned in to a cultural touchstone for any dancer or fan of dance. It has either produced or featured some of the most accomplished choreographers and dancers in the business, and gave us some truly beautiful and entertaining routines over the past decade plus. At this point in the run, however, it is hanging by a thread in FOX’s summer lineup more and more each year. The ratings have steadily declined as the gimmicks they use to up the entertainment value have done little more than increase the quality of dance but not the legitimacy or fun of the show. For anyone not a hardcore fan of dance, it is understandable that after a decade plus on the air the show has lost its luster quite a bit. Personally, that extends to the talent level as well. After Season 9 (and possibly even Season 8) the talent has failed to reach the same heights, even as Nigel and Mary insist that it has only improved due to the current competitors growing up with the show and being influence by it. An earlier introduction to this level of dance doesn’t necessarily lead to more talented competitors though, which is something the producers haven’t admitted to themselves or to the audience. All the hype and lack of critiques in the world won’t lead me to believe Ricky from this season was better than Melanie or Eliana or Chehon or Jeanine.
It’s because of this general stasis that I would be completely fine with this being the last season. Nigel has been outwardly pessimistic in regards to a potential renewal, possibly the most publicly in doubt I have ever seen a producer. Instead of his usual platitudes about people loving the show and being confident about another season, he has turned to what seems like begging for the audience to start a write-in campaign the likes of which is only seen after a beloved show has been axed. The show is at the point where there isn’t enough talent to make me wish there could be more seasons and we have been gifted with such great seasons in the past I feel that I am at a very content place when confronted with the possibility of this being the end of the road. FOX quite clearly slashed the budget in a big way this season which doesn’t leave much to the imagination when considering what discussions behind the scenes must be like. Moving Hell Week from Vegas to LA, hiring less than 10 judges for the entire season, musical guests and foreign dancers dwindling in appearances, the increased amount of cross-promotion within the show; it all adds up to a show that was given one last chance with a minuscule budget and couldn’t even stem the bleeding. Unfortunate, but 11 years is nothing to scoff at. The only thing I ask if and when FOX makes their final decision is for Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Cat Deeley to host something together on the network in the future. They have such great chemistry it would be a shame not to see them interact ever again (but seriously get Cat something else stateside ASAP).
Tonight, the recap of tonight’s dancing will be at a minimum because so much of it will be repeats of judge favorites. Elena Rivera is back with us for the finale, and instead of the usual step by step opinions from both of us it is more of a hodge podge of our thoughts on various parts of the show. Plus, our Top 3 routines of the season! Come for the memories, stay for the Valerie snark.
Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: Cat Deeley ends the season with more of a fashion fizzle in an almost see-through sparkly purple turtleneck dress from Tadashi Shoji’s Fall 2014 Runway. It looks and feels as busy as that previous sentence feels, and I have a strong aversion to anything that has a turtleneck that isn’t actually just a straight turtleneck shirt. The color is gorgeous, but the whole outfit is confusing. Better to remember other sparkly Cat numbers over the season and let this one fade into the background a bit.
Top Twenty Redux (choreographed by Warren Carlisle) “Doctor Jazz” by Jelly’s Last Jam Original Broadway Cast
Whitney: One of my favorite parts of the finale every year is the return of the entire top twenty to entertain as a group one more time. This routine was a lots of fun with nothing too difficult to keep in sync with as a group. Every dancer looked to be having as grand a time as possible performing with everyone again, and the sharpness of the costuming made it seem as if they had dressed up specifically for this occasion as if it were a gala only they got to enjoy. For a show that will be mostly crowd favorite performances being done for the second time, this was a nice splash of originality to start off the night.
Whitney’s Top 3 of the Season:
“Like Real People Do” choreographed by Travis Wall (Jessica and Casey)
I appreciated this routine even more so the second time around, but I distinctly remember this being the first Travis piece of the year that I loved and the first time I felt like Jessica had some captivating talent beyond her technical excellence and Casey had any staying power in the competition.
“Pas De Deux from Black Swan” choreographed by Marat Daukayev (Jourdan and Jacque)
Even with the amount of ballerinas and contemporary dancers the show casts from season to season, there aren’t too many opportunities to include an original classical piece in favor of another style. I was so happy to see that the show made the best use of having two classically trained ballerinas at once on the show and gave them a piece as traditional as you can get with this Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux. Neither girl was entirely in sync with the other throughout the piece but the costumes were beautiful, their turnouts were near perfection and the pirouettes were mesmerizing. An early surprise in the season from two girls that ended up making it fairly deep in the year.
“When I Go” choreographed by Travis Wall (Jessica and Robert)
I was going to try and avoid doubling up and dancers or choreographers here, but I managed to miss out on both with the inclusion of this piece. It was one of my favorites and most memorable of the season because of the emotion and power both dancers brought to the story, at points it was so strong as to be believable that either of them were actually in that situation right in that second. Travis had a comparatively rough first half of the season as far as his batting average goes but bounced back in a big way in the back half. If the voting public had any interest at all in rewarding the most expressive and technically accomplished dancer Jessica would have won the season but alas that was not meant to be this year.
Elena’s Top 3 of the Season:
As underwhelming as this season has been, it’s produced a lot of singularly great dances. Group dances, especially, took off after episode 3 and have been a huge highlight for me across the season. And Travis Wall and Sonyah Tayeh’s body of work this year proves that they are So You Think You Can Dance’s biggest assets.
Top 16, “So Broken” (Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh)
I was torn between this and Travis’ explosive choreography to “Love Runs Out,” but in re-watching them I found that this piece left a stronger impression. Travis’ routine was fire and passion, but this one, centered on Tanisha’s vulnerable, broken-down dancing, was painfully beautiful. Sonya as a choreographer is always playing with the dancers, challenging their bodies to bend and twist into impossible shapes, and this routine had a lot of shaky, unsettling movements that illustrated illness. It’s the first time Tanisha stood out to me as a dancer, but the whole ensemble was supportive and emotive, something I wish everyone could have harnessed in their partner routines.
Top 6, Casey and All-Star Makenzie, “Over You” (Choreographed by Stacey Tookey)
It isn’t that this is the most original Contemporary routine, or that Casey was my favorite dancer this season (although he won me way, way over and then, of course, was voted off), but this piece had two technically proficient dancers getting lost in the emotions of the piece. Makenzie’s extensions and perfectly pointed feet are a sight, but beyond that, she and Casey imbued even the small moments with such a palpable sense of sadness, desperation and heart that I could almost feel it through my television screen. The end of the dance is what has stuck with me: Casey and Makenzie, heads touching, holding each other, Casey’s chest rising and falling. Those small moments are as much what dance is about as the bombastic grand jetés.
Top 18, Tanisha and Rudy, “Sing Sing Sing (Part 2)” (Choreographed by Warren Carlyle)
This season of So You Think You Can Dance included a part on Broadway, and the Broadway numbers have been consistently the best danced and the most interesting routines on the show. While Rudy was prized for his bubbly personality and Tanisha’s Ballroom training came in handy during more technical routines, this Broadway number was the perfect marriage of technique and personality, classic and yet timeless. Instead of a tired, schmaltzy storyline, this was pure Broadway: a woman in a glittery dress doing awesome kicks, a man in a three-piece suits knee-sliding across the floor and into our hearts.
Runners-up: Top 20, Carly and Serge, “Latch (Acoustic)” (Choreographed by Sonya Tayeh); Top 4, Zack and All-Star (And Future Boyfriend) Aaron, “Piano Man” (Choreographed by Anthony Morigerto)
At first I wasn’t sure what they were doing trotting Paula out. Publicity stunt? Secret announcement? But no! A surprise performance from the SYTYCD Australia winner that was truly wonderful. That is the type of thing I love that this show makes an effort to include, highlighting talent from all over the world in order to broaden the audience’s appreciation of the form. Michael is a whirling, flying, astounding talent that I’m glad I got the opportunity to watch even once. Loving those leather pants too.
Here is a solo he did set to “Not In That Way” by Sam Smith (not the only reason I picked this specific video, but it definitely contributed). I’m convinced he is an Olympic caliber gymnast and accomplished contemporary dancer and talented choreography all in one body. You can thank me later for sending you down this particular YouTube rabbit hole.
Season 11 All-Stars, “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap
There will never be a time that this song doesn’t bring to mind a 90’s teen romance/dramedy and an earnest ending sequence that involves the two leads realizing they are in love, and this routine fell squarely into that cliche. This doesn’t mean it was a bad showing, in fact it was one of the more creative examples of choreography this season. The action of each bench’s inhabitants as the camera zoomed in and out was cloying but well done and the group pieces were entertaining enough to warrant the inclusion of the routine at all. I thought we had decided to retire all bench-related routines in honor of Travis Wall though.
I really think Jessica deserved the win, from her season of growth to even last week’s stellar performance with All-Star Robert. Ricky has been too stagnant for me over the course of the season, although he really stood out in group numbers and did a lot better when partnered with the All-Stars. I think Ricky will have a long career in Broadway if he wants it: he’s got the personality and the long, long legs for it, but I was still hoping the Khaleesi of Dance could run away with this one.
Overall I feel pretty “meh” towards the whole season. I’m happy the show exists, and I think it’s essential that it keeps going (so I hope Fox keeps renewing it even though it’s pulling low numbers), but the combination of this group of dancers didn’t do a lot for me. While I had some early favorites, they faltered quickly week to week, and this top 4 wasn’t the one I could have predicted even a couple of weeks ago. I’m hoping the show has a chance to find some more dynamic, diverse dancers in following seasons, because this season wasn’t my favorite.
I’m with you as far as my general feeling towards this season, Elena. Valerie making it to the Top 10 (nonetheless to the Top 2) was one problem indicative of a much larger issue at play. The critiques from judges were practically nonexistent this season except for when they wanted a specific dancer to find their way to the bottom. I remember the days when Mary would freak out over one knee gap or missed turnout instead of placidly patting everyone on the head and hoping Nigel would do the dirty work – which he barely did this season.
Jessica deserved the win, but I’m perfectly happy with Ricky getting it in her place. They will both have long careers whether as supporting players on Broadway or in a company of some sort. As contemporary dancers, they are both incredibly talented and have the skills to go far in that lane. Neither is very diverse, but Jessica beats out Ricky there and as such should have come out on top tonight.
Thanks to everyone for reading this summer and following along with our opinions, even if you didn’t always agree. In gratitude, I leave you with the greatest .gif of the season…