So You Think You Can Dance: Top 20, 2 Eliminated

Last week, we got our first look at the Top 20 dancers performing live on stage. This week, two of those dancers will find themselves in the unenviable position of heading home first leaving only 18 left in the competition. The dancers will also find themselves out of their comfort zones in regards to styles of dance assigned to each pairing after having the opportunity to show off their preferred styles last week. The show maintains the same elimination format that it adopted last season, with the bottom six being announced by Cat at the top of the show but still getting to dance their planned routines before the judges make a final decision The guest judge beside Mary and Nigel this week is Misty Copeland, former principal soloist of the American Ballet Theater and one of my favorite judges from the audition rounds returning for her live show debut. I had no idea she first began ballet at the age of 13 and not four or five which is when most professional ballerinas in the world began their training (as informal as early ballet classes are). It makes me love her that much more.

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Top 20 Group Dance – Broadway (choreographed by Josh Bergasse), “New York, New York” by the Original Broadway Cast of On the Town 

One of my favorite movie musicals of all time ( and one I still own on DVD), any song from “On the Town” would have been a nice choice for a routine here but this one worked wonderfully. It’s a perfect staging for a large group of people while that is still a possibility, and most importantly it looks like everyone is having fun on stage instead of focusing too hard on where their next step will fall. This piece was also a realistic way to represent and interweave many styles together whereas last week it looked overwrought and out of place if a jazz sequence transitioned into a  contemporary sequence. My one complaint here is that the girls did not have much to do, which is understandable seeing as the story centers around three male sailors enjoying the city, but disappointing nonetheless.

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So. FOX really loves their corporate shilling, huh? At first I wondered why the entire panel was wearing baseball uniforms, but I should have known it was a deal Nigel made with the network to save his ass in the future.  Anything they can do to keep this show on the air is fine by me, but this particular instance of promotional tactics stung due to its blatancy. More on this later on.

Tanisha & Rudy – Jazz (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), “You Need” by Bengsons

Tanisha does not do abrupt movements well, which is more of a letdown than an outright surprise. The routine as a whole underwhelmed me in its timidness; Sonya said it was about aggression and I’m not entirely convinced I saw much passion or aggression for more than a quarter of their time on stage. The urgency of the music should have dictated the sharpness of their movements more, yet it looked like a first or second dress rehearsal instead of a performance in front of a live and excited audience. Although I liked the bit with the chairs scooting inwards at the end, the movements that transitioned into that fun moment were lacking in energy too. I disagreed with literally everything the judges felt about this dance (this turns into a running theme tonight) and I hope at least Tanisha is in the bottom three next week. Maybe I’m being too harsh for this early in the live shows, as the dancers always improve markedly after the first few Top 20 performances as they get used to the format and rehearsal schedule, but I don’t think so.

Valerie & Ricky – Contemporary (choreographed by Travis Wall), Oh Darling” by Gossling

My first thought when they announced he was choreography these two dancers was please stop wasting Travis Wall on people that don’t deserve him. And by ‘people’ I mean ‘tappers’. Valerie ended up acquitting herself respectably with the routine, but at most points it looked like Ricky was carrying her through this performance both literally and figuratively. There’s a difference between being simply thrown around by your partner and having some agency as a dancer while being lifted and thrown. Even while acknowledging the aesthetic of the routine was meant to have a rag doll quality to it, the emotional punch was lacking because of Valerie’s performance opposite Ricky. The one part that made me sit up and pay proper attention was the slow dip to the floor while Valerie was standing on Ricky’s knees need the end. Ricky maintains the frontrunner status he cemented in the first week, and at this point I almost hope the judges acknowledge that and just toss him Travis Wall/Sonya Tayeh routines every week. [Sidenote: I never want Cat to stop saying dance partayyy]

Bridget & Emilio – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Luther Brown), “Work” by Iggy Azalea

An issue that most ballerinas find themselves confronting when transitioning into other styles, Bridget very much needs to stop smiling when she is trying to paint a sexy, aggressive, or sad picture with through dance. Emilio brought everything he had here and made Bridget look better as a result, although Bridget did just fine on her own. Both overcame the early slip up of Bridget’s necklace falling to the stage, which shows that they are both comfortably performing live and can handle on-stage difficulties. Iggy fits this routine well, as the story isn’t so serious as to necessitate a more intense rap and most of the action matches up with the focus of her lyrics. In a routine about a hot girl strutting her stuff in front of a guy, what better than a song that plays in clubs where hot girls strut their stuff in front of guys? Hoping neither goes home any time soon, as I feel like Emilio could teach Bridget how to look more intense on stage which will for sure help her as a soloist down the road, and Bridge brings out a great energy in Emilio’s dancing.

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Jessica & Nick – West Coast Swing (choreographed by Benji Schwimmer), Respect” by Aretha Franklin (Live ca. 1971)

As much as I was excited to see Benji come back for the first of his standard couple appearances every year, this was a huge disappointment. The only way Jessica’s injury could have impacted this dance is with her confidence levels early in the routine, yet I wish it was slightly more severe so I would have something on which to blame this performance. Neither dancer was committing fully to the lifts and swings that were required, Nick got completely lost at multiple points as well. He’s clearly not a strong enough dancer for this type of routine, and his showing here all but locked in his elimination tonight. I did love Jessica’s shuffle across the stage as it was one of the few moments that had really energy and fun. Jessica’s pantsuit is great for this type of routine, allowing lifts to be performed more easily and placing her solidly in the 70’s era while dancing to the Aretha classic. I would argue one of the main reasons Benji got so carried away with the difficulty of this routine is partially due to his choice of music. As the song picked up the pace, so too did the steps which is how it should be. However, these two dancers were not expert enough to keep up with that pace and were overwhelmed as a consequence. The entire thing could have benefited greatly from a steadier 70’s jam.

Carly & Serge – Contemporary (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), Latch” by Sam Smith

All of my Sam Smith dreams are coming true y’all. It was only a matter of time before a song off his debut album tracked a routine, and I am so happy it was a Sonya Tayeh routine. Not only did she choreograph a beautiful piece that worked well with Smith’s acoustic version of one of his strongest songs off the album, but Carly and Serge both made up hugely for their performances last week. All of their lifts were executed effortlessly and lovingly, giving Serge an opportunity to prove that the partnering skills he had during callbacks didn’t disappear. I hope these dancers don’t get broken up for a while because they both work so well together and look comfortable on the stage for the first time this season. The emotion just pouring out of this routine was breathtaking to watch and went a long way towards making me love one or both of these dancers and their talents when neither have been a personal favorite throughout the process that got them to the Top 20.

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Emily & Teddy – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Dave Scott), Don’t” by Ed Sheeran

Of all things, I definitely wouldn’t have expected back to back episodes with songs by Ed Sheeran, yet here we are. I also would not have expected anything from Sheeran’s catalogue to work so well with a hip-hop routine but once again, proven wrong. Teddy and Emily wouldn’t have been two dancers that I would have matched up right off the bat if given the option but the chemistry they bring to the stage works like gangbusters. Emily has the same problem Bridget did in that she smiles far too much at the audience instead of focusing on her routine and the mood that she should be representing.  Note to producers: put Teddy in suspenders more often. A cute, fun, energetic routine, that was well executed by both parties (especially after learning Emily’s back went in to spasms during rehearsals) that should be just enough to land them in the middle of the pack next week even if I’ll probably forget it ever happened three weeks from now.

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Malene & Stanley – Broadway (choreographed by Spencer Liff), I’ve Got Your Number” by Nancy Wilson

Even if I agreed with her ending up there, I was shocked to see Malene in the bottom 6 this week as I thought voter love would be on her side, but after this routine I’m OK with it. The largest issue here was a huge overuse of the phones as props, resulting in Malene and Stanley not being able to interact for more than 2 seconds at a time. They weren’t in synch during the parts they were supposed to be, and didn’t look like they were even supposed to be playing off each other for the rest of the time. Malene looked uncomfortable and stiff on the stage. Nancy Wilson’s music would have been a nice choice for a Broadway routine that had more entertainment in it but here I was focusing more on the depressing misuse of “I’ve Got Your Number” for this choreography. The failings of the dance were mostly Spencer’s fault as a choreographer as this would have been nice as a solo routine for a 40’s era movie musical, but not for a competition of this sort. All of the judges agreed they didn’t have any sort of chemistry as dancers, and I’m on board with the panel wholeheartedly. Hopefully this routine didn’t shake Stanley’s confidence or hurt his chances at a deep run in the competition.

Jordan & Marcquet – Jazz (choreographed by Sean Cheeseman), Work Bitch” by Britney Spears

This routine was…hmm…how to phrases this…so. freaking. hot. Jordan redeemed herself in her jumps and lifts off the table as well as in the way she connected with Marcquet in order to sell the opposition of the dance. Both of them worked great together as dancers, the only nitpick really being that it seemed like they ran out of energy during the last 30 seconds of the routine. Jordan was the first girl all night that transitioned to a different style confidently and successfully, but fell into the same trap as the others by smiling when it was entirely unnecessary. I would have been happier with the use of “Work Bitch” if the routine didn’t have such a clear story, which the song didn’t really work well with entirely. A more loosely plotted dance that took place on the street or in another more casual setting may have been more believable for Britney to be singing in the background (an Olivia Newton John inspired work out themed dance, anyone?).

Brooklyn & Casey – Argentine Tango (choreographed by Miriam and Leonardo), Gallo Ciego” by Luis Bravo’s Forever Tango

First off and most importantly, I have to point out just how beautiful and impressive the strings in “Gallo Ciego” were. This routine required half a rewind because I caught myself getting more lost in the music than watching the dancers on stage. Early on, it looked as if they were focusing too hard on the intense movements of the dance and not feeling the music and emotion of the piece, but that changed after the first minute and transitioned into one of the best routines of the night. Both dancers showed off their impressive lines and Brooklyn was on point with her flicks and extensions throughout the piece. I didn’t feel what Mary was saying about the two of them melting together at all, but I also didn’t need that from this routine at all. An Argentine Tango is more about each dancer executing every movement perfectly and maintaining the proper spacing and positioning than the partners coming off as fluid.

Jacque & Zack – African Jazz (choreographed by Sean Cheeseman), Dibiza – Kick Ass Mix” by Danny Tenaglia

The good news is that were was at least some energy present, but the bad news is that it was not quite enough to make this kind of routine work. They looked out of shape and tired by the end, not even getting their kicks up past their knees during the last few bars. A fun piece from Sean (and a welcome respite from the more traditional African Jazz routines we have seen on the show before) but even with all the splashes of color and floofs all over the place it didn’t leave much of an impression. Both need to work on their placement in relation to each other and the stage, as Zack almost flew right off the edge at one point near the middle. Zack looked good to me but in a way that was more “looked good for a tapper” than looking good outright as a dancer. Even while appreciating the vision and inspiration that Sean had here I disagreed with the judges’ opinions once again, making me being on the opposite side of the fence from the panel an official theme of the night.

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I would almost never object to a group of talented people dancing to Beyonce, but the dance crew routine went on way too long and lost whatever originality it had when the ladies kept the exact same pacing and movements going throughout the piece. This whole thing is a complete waste of time, and I would rather have Misty Copeland performing or another talented professionally than this farce of a side-competition. Or better yet, give us more than 10 seconds to get to know the 20 dancers you still have in the real competition.

As far as the closing eliminations, I’m not super sad to see Malene go as I think most of her maturation as a dancer was done after callbacks. Yes, she got let down by Spencer’s choreography this week but she also didn’t bring much of her own touch to it besides looking good dressed as a 60’s pin-up girl. Nick was the obvious choice to be sent home and I’m happy the judges chose properly there. I did get sad watching Ricky cry in the corral of dancers as his friend got eliminated though. Looking at the overall trends this episode, the girls need to stop grinning from ear to ear throughout every routine and most of the boys need to work on becoming stronger partners.

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It’s a little sad to see all of the corporate shilling that Nigel and Co. are forced into at this point. National Dance Day and a few musical acts here and there are one thing, but forcing them into MLB team jerseys to promote the upcoming All Star Game is too much. How much of a crossover does FOX even think there is for those audiences? Myself, and maybe 4 others? Not only is it an ineffective marketing strategy for an event that already has enough promotion, but it risks turning off even a small percentage of the remaining So You Think You Can Dance audience. It is an obvious and embarrassing promotional tactic by the network and I can only hope we see less of it in the future.

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