The first episode after an elimination this season, and this is truly the make it or break it time for the dancers. The second and third eliminations are usually where some strong dancers slip and end up going home mistakenly, and others who have exhibited some weak characteristics step it up and prove they should make it through to the Top 10. I’m very unhappy with the Bottom 6 this week and was tsk-tsking at America from my couch after every name that was called. Zero dancers of the six that landed in the bottom deserve to go home, but such are these early episodes where voting is based on charisma over skill more often than not. Misty Copeland returns as a guest judge for the second week in a row, which is out of the ordinary but in no way unwelcome. She has proven herself to be one of the best judges the show has ever had and if they made the panel four judges with Misty a permanent installment in the third seat I would be fine. It calls in to question, though, whether the show has started to lose its weight when calling upon guest judges or if this was a unique situation where the previously scheduled guest was unavoidably detained and Misty was available and willing. The lovely Elena Rivera joins us again this week after a week away, so without further ado let the critiques begin!
Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: Of course Cat Deeley can rock a silky black pantsuit from Bird, because she has mile-high legs. Accessorizing with long necklaces, dangly black earrings and some really stunning red lipstick, she’s mixing 70’s glam with 20’s flapper jewelry from XIV Karats, and it’s working for me. Her Emmy nomination as host last week was also so well-deserved. She’s such a sweet, genuine person with all the contestants, and I’m hoping she hosts her own talk show soon.
Top 18 Group Dance – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Pharside and Phoenix), “How It’s Done” by District 78
Whitney: I appreciate the makeup and costuming departments of the show getting a shout-out from the judging panel as they deserve every accolade they get for the unique and creative facets they bring to the show, but here those two pieces of production managed to take me completely out of the performance. Between the “living chess set” tableau and the over the top costuming, it was decidedly difficult to focus on one particular dancer in the madness or see how the entire routine was meant to come together. The entire thing came off like a rip-off of a Lady Gaga or Gwen Stefani concept video. Hip-hop with this many dancers at once (unless they are a highly practiced dance crew) tends to muddle everything rather than making it look sharp and impressive. After the energetic opening, the talent that was shown off didn’t impress me enough to keep my attention.
Elena: I don’t have a ton to say about the opening number other than it was funky and chess-themed, but I am so glad Misty Copeland’s back on the judging table. May she stay for most of the season! Her criticism is always specific enough for the dancer to really improve from it but explained well for people who don’t necessarily know dance as intricately. She’s my new favorite.
Zack and Jacque – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Mari and Keone Madrid), “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith
Whitney: Right off the bat I had basically no trust in the choreographers to make a hip-hop routine work to this song, and I was right. As overjoyed as I am to see the show working through In The Lonely Hour seemingly track by track each episode this season, the song still has to work with the energy of the routine itself. The early floor work and tutting had just the right amount of specificity of movement combined with emotional connection and entertainment, yet as soon as they left the horizontal position I lost all interest. The majority of this routine was the worst thing a performance could be: boring. Even the costuming brought nothing to the table but the fact that it clothed them successfully. I’m not sure if Zack and Jacque actually deserved better from this routine, because I still don’t feel like I know what their capable of at this point. This could be their ceiling or it could be a sad case of choreography missteps bringing a couple down, but either way it’s not an especially good sign that I have no idea which it is heading into the Top 16 dancers.
Elena: I’ve mostly forgotten about this partnership since last week, but I’m all into married couple hip-hop choreography (NapTabs as the shining best of this). Keone and Mariel Madrid threw a lot of intricate hand movements into their hip-hop, tying the choreography to the story about a couple realizing they’re in love with each other. I enjoyed that this routine had a bit more tutting but still stayed on the lyrical side of hip-hop with some really tender embraces and hand-holds between Jacque and Zack. It had intricacies and character moments, my only criticism is I wish that Zack’s concentration didn’t show so much on his face. At some moments you could tell he was focusing on the dance instead of getting lost in it, but that’s understandable seeing as hip-hop is neither Zack nor Jacque’s style. Cat compared it to the amazing NapTabs routine to “Bleeding Love” with Chelsea Hightower and Mark Kanemura during season four (which is maybe my absolute favorite dance from the show), and while I don’t think it quite reached that levels, it did remind me of a different NapTabs routine, season five’s “Mad” with Jeanine Mason and Philip Chbeeb. Sam Smith also seems to be a really popular choice for choreographers this season, which I’m all about.
Jourdan and Marcquet – Contemporary (choreographed by Dee Caspary), “Disappear” by Mikkey Ekko
Whitney: What perfect timing to discover that Jourdan is a gym rat, as she certainly shows off her strength in this performance. Of all the nice pieces of this routine, what most impressed me were the transitions from the floor to a lift and vice versa. The music felt like something Marissa would dump Ryan to during the heyday of The OC, and it almost took me out of the emotional component of the routine. I agree with Nigel that there is no connection between the dancers and the audience, but what’s really working against both Jourdan and Marcquet is their lack of emotional connection with each other. They both dance as if they are alone on the stage with a prop that they are dancing opposite to, which is preventing them from taking par-for-the-course choreography and bringing it to the next level. This can’t have been the performance Jordan was hoping for with her neck on the line tonight, even if it was technically impressive.
Elena: Dee Caspary has never been my favorite contemporary choreographer: while Travis Wall has that Mia Michaels emotionality and Sonya Tayeh has quirky and unsettlingly beautiful, Caspary fades into the background for me because he doesn’t have something that defines his choreography. The dance itself was just okay, because I don’t feel that Marcquet and Jourdan have enough chemistry together to sell a dance like this. I also didn’t understand the umbrella props, as lovely as they looked suspended in the air. I’m surprised that Marcquet, who was so dynamic in the Los Angeles callbacks, seems to be fading away with his partner Jourdan week by week.
Stanley and Jessica – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Tyce Diorio), “Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter” by Nikka Costa
Whitney: I’ve never been a fan of Tyce Diorio, but one thing I will give him credit for is that for all of the crazy and creative concepts he throws at dancers on this show, he always knows exactly how to execute the choreography follow-through of his ideas so they don’t seem quite so absurd. Making “magic carpet ride” a legitimate performance takes exactly that type of mind, and I am happy he was paired with Jessica and Stanley tonight to give them something more out of the box. I understand constraining them to the carpet’s area was part of the concept but watching two of the show’s most explosive and energetic dancers forced to stop short of moving across the stage like they should was borderline painful. Everything else worked well to combine into an aesthetically pleasing piece; the music didn’t take away too much from the story while still being light, and the costuming allowed them to move naturally with only the smallest pieces of distressed netting giving the sense of flying.
Elena: A new couple this early in the competition can have the chance to develop chemistry quickly and succeed, but they can easily be mismatched. I’m not sure this Tyce Diorio jazz number did anything to make the new couple stand out or be memorable, but it was a fun two minutes. The concept of a magic carpet ride didn’t really read in the choreography other than having the couple dance on a giant bargain bin rug, but Stanley and the Khaleesi of Dance (I can’t unsee Jessica as Daenerys, all of her hairstyles and her face are so much like Emilia Clarke’s in Game of Thrones) had some great air on their leaps. And while Nigel’s glad to have Tyce Diorio back as a choreographer, am I allowed to reveal how much I think he’s overrated and way too full of himself? He’s always grated on my nerves, and while he does have some spectacular choreography, it doesn’t negate his pompous attitude.
Emilio and Bridget – Jive (choreographed by Pasha Kovalev and Anya Garnis), “Happy” by Pharrell Williams
Whitney: This is what “Happy” was meant for. I don’t know about you, but this is exactly how I dance along to “Happy” when I’m in my apartment cooking dinner or vacuuming. The whole routine was fun, fresh, entertaining, and up-tempo in all the right ways. Bridget is still falling into the same mistake that all the girls left are, in that she doesn’t know how to stop grinning when she’s on stage, but fortunately for this routine she was meant to be beaming from ear to ear as she bounded around the stage. She looks so perfect as a 50’s pin-up if I were casting a Broadway musical or movie set in that era Bridget would be one of the first names on my list for a chorus role. The little bits of solo work Emilio got near the end were a nice nod to his native style while still fitting well with the rest of the routine. This is the high bar for jive routines for the rest of the season, which usually doesn’t happen until an All-Star is in the mix, so high praise for these two indeed.
Elena: Anya Garnis and Pasha Kovalev as choreographers is kind of my dream team of ballroom dance, but jive is one of the more difficult dances that a couple can get on the show. The flicks and kicks have to be so quick and precise, and it’s a dance that’s heavy on footwork and foot retraction. Anya and Pasha choreographed a dance that catered to Emilio’s hip-hop background but also showed off Bridget’s technique by including a lot of lifts and some musical breakdowns for Emilio to do some flips and floorwork. Jive isn’t the most emotionally connected dance, but at least Emilio and Bridget seemed to dance it well and it wasn’t a complete trainwreck.
Teddy and Emily – Contemporary (choreographed by Tyce Diorio), “Ne Me Quitte Pas” by Nina Simone
Whitney: Switch the dancers in both Tyce routines tonight and I think everyone does a lot better. Stanley was built to dance a contemporary routine to Nina Simone, and Teddy and Emily would have had a blast getting to go on a magic carpet ride. As it is, both pairs were stunning but the entire time I was watching these two I wanted it to be Stanley up there catching Emily in midair. That isn’t to say this was a bad routine in any way, it was actually one of my favorites of the night, and I think it’s safe to say Emily and Teddy saved themselves from elimination with this showing. Emily’s lines continue to be some of the best out of the entire cast and her inability to be undaunted by anything thrown at her bodes well for her (hopeful) future on the show. Other dancers on this show could learn from the chemistry between these two and how to really let the music encapsulate your movements. Nina Simone was an inspired choice and, as Nigel noted, the lyrics in English work very well with the story of this routine as well.
Elena: More Tyce Diorio, but now with contemporary. Since Teddy reminds me so much of season two’s Ivan Koumaev, I’m strangely not surprised that he did so well in contemporary. Perhaps it was that the duo were in the bottom two tonight, but there was a rawness to their performance that was missing in last week’s hip-hop. The angst and hurt of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” was articulated through their bodies; I totally agree with Misty who said that Emily’s body just sang the words of the song. I loved all the moments with flexed feet instead of pointed toes, that stopped the lifts or the extensions in interesting ways. I’ll give this one to Tyce, I really enjoyed the movements combined with the music. (I also have been watching a ton of the French drama “Les Revenants,” so I might be biased towards being in love with French things right now)
Casey and Brooklyn – Jazz (choreographed by Bonnie Story), “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Michael Buble
Whitney: This was sort of painful. What’s worse than how I felt about the performance is the fact that I’m not really sure why I feel that way. It was an entirely serviceable ballroom routine, yet somehow stilted on Brooklyn’s side of things and strained on Casey’s end. You could practically see him straining under the pressure to make things looks smooth and normal to no avail. It looked like a high school production of Grease where the two leads were cast only because they had a few years of dance lessons when they were kids. Brooklyn not only looked uncomfortable in the dress but with most of what was asked of her as well. It surely does not help that if you put Casey and Brooklyn in a lineup with 10 other random dancers I might not be able to pick them out accurately. Even though I don’t out and out hate Michael Buble in any way I felt like the music was a big misstep as well. All in all, a misfire for me and hopefully America votes more intelligently heading into next week.
Elena: A Bonnie Story high school prom jazz routine (from the choreographer of High School Musical)! The great thing about jazz that’s different than contemporary is it’s a lot more staccato: it’s a lot about hits and holds, whereas contemporary is more about fluidity of movement. The routine itself was sweet and simple, not entirely memorable but not half-bad, either. Casey had two really cool turns: one where he did a one-legged spin with his foot bent up on his thigh, and another where he did fouettés that turned into slow spins with bent knees towards the ground. He was given a lot more things to do that showed off his technique than Brooklyn, who didn’t really stand out to me.
Ricky and Valerie – Viennese Waltz (choreographed by Lacey Schwimmer), “I Won’t Give Up” by Jason Mraz
Whitney: …And we go straight from a high school production of Grease to a Taylor Swift music video. All I want at this point is for Ricky to be with any other partner besides Valerie. He does all of the work on stage (which I’m almost fine with because it lets him show off his myriad of skills) but other than hitting her spots and doing serviceably well on the footwork I didn’t see any facet of her performance here that further endeared me to her presence on the show. It is definitely a bad thing for Valerie that I’m already thinking “why is she still here?” after only one elimination has taken place. I honestly don’t understand her appeal to the audience of the judging panel, even if she did look like “Cinderella at the ball”. On the other hand Ricky was consistently amazing yet again, handling every lift and swing with ease and every footwork combination with precision. Ricky for president. Ricky for emperor. I honestly don’t care. Lacey also dipped back into the well of Jason Mraz’s catalogue that the show has found success in time after time over the years. You really can’t go wrong attempting to choreograph any type of love story to Mraz’s emotional lyrics, and it was great to have Lacey back on the show the week after her brother returned to choreograph as well.
Elena: Lacey Schwimmer’s back, and with the Viennese Waltz, which is always dreamily romantic on the show. Valerie and Ricky seemed to lose their steam when doing the normal steps around the floor, but quickly found their energy again when they launched into a series of lifts. The lift where Ricky spun her around by the arms and then let her slide across the floor was gorgeous with Valerie’s big princess dress. Ricky’s strong partnering showed throughout the dance, and both dancers had big, genuine smiles on their faces throughout the whole routine. I’m still waiting for something as amazing as Ricky’s last Los Angeles callback solo from him, but this was a great continuation of their partnership.
Serge and Carly – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Luther Brown), “Senile” by Tyga and Nicki Minaj
Whitney: It is time to end the hip-hoppers in skeleton suits trend. Done, squashed, out of here please. There is no longer anything creative about this costuming idea, especially since I remember my friends in high school wearing homemade outfits like this for a Halloween party dance crew performance we had junior year. Carly was by far the better partner in this routine, seemingly having an out of body experience (sorry for the coincidental phrasing there, I still hate the outfits) during many of the loose sequences. Serge, after such a stellar performance last week, slipped back into boring dancing instead of continuing his upward momentum. It’s possible my disillusionment with this routine stems from my general lukewarm feelings about Luther Brown’s work and Tyga’s music, but when it comes down to the wire it is the dancers job to entertain and pull the audience in to their orbit. That didn’t happen here.
Elena: Serge and Carly had my favorite routine of last week, so I was hopeful that they would hit Luther Brown’s hip-hop hard and precise, but unfortunately they didn’t pull it off for me, and the odd skeleton make-up that obscured their faces didn’t help. Carly got down and really moved her body in a way that matched the music and the choreography, but Serge didn’t involve his hips and back enough. His torso and hips stayed really stiff during the movements that should have hit harder by using the power and force of his torso. I’m bummed my favorite couple last week had an off-week, but hopeful they’ll find their groove again.
Tanisha and Rudy – Broadway (choreographed by Warren Carlyle), “Sing Sing Sing” by Fosse (Original Broadway Cast)
Whitney: For most of the first part of this routine I wasn’t getting much energy out of Tanisha in comparison to Rudy, and then just before the halfway point she exploded into the smiling, exciting, dancer we first got a glimpse of way back in her first audition. Rudy was truly in his element the entire time, and it should really prove a point that he stole the show when he was dancing next to a beautiful blonde in a sparkling flapper dress and I still could not tear my eyes off him. Taking into account the difficulty of dancing with props in addition to the fast footwork and synchronicity on display, this may very well be one of the best routines of the night. I’m also not sure I’ve seen anything more adorable than the budding romance between Jacque and Rudy that’s happening in front of our eyes. They’re obviously playing it up a little bit for the show but there hasn’t been a behind the scenes partnership to ship since Melanie and Marco, and that was all wishful thinking as they both had significant others at the time. Rudy and Jacque forever! (Or until one of them gets the boot).
Elena: Now that the prize for the season winner includes a role on Broadway, the broadway style of dance seems even more essential, as does having a strong stage presence. Warren Carlyle gave the pair a tricky old school broadway number with a bit of soft shoe and some fun cane tricks. Rudy seemed totally at home hamming it up on stage doing and doing slides into knee lifts, and the two reminded me of Bérénice Bejo and Jean Dujardin at the end of The Artist. They each had their own energy: Tanisha’s was cool and sophisticated while Rudy’s was explosive and bombastic, but they seemed to balance each other out in the ways the best partnerships on the show have.
A Great Big World performs “Say Something” live, which makes absolutely no sense to me at all. They already know this show’s audience is familiar with the song because a couple danced to it on the show last season. It’s also already a worldwide hit and could not possibly get any bigger at this point, when in reality it is waning in radio plays and chart position. Wouldn’t it be the smart choice as an artist to promote another single or new music in front of an audience this large? Especially since I’m pretty sure they don’t have another duet with Christina Aguilera stashed away somewhere.
Elena: I agree with Stanley and Jourdan going home, but really I thought Marcquet should have been right there in the Bottom 6 with them. I’m hoping the Khaleesi of Dance can bring some of his personality back next week in their new partnership, because if not I have a feeling he’ll be in the bottom soon.
Whitney: I’m right with you as far as Stanley and Jourdan going home out of the dancers there were to choose from. If Jourdan had some more time to focus on her stage presence she may have improved past the technically beautifully but emotionally flat performances she gave the past few weeks. Unfortunately, the nature of the show is such that time is not a luxury and unless you prove your worth early on you don’t get many second chances from America. Stanley was the right choice out of the men available, but I wish we got one more contemporary piece out of him before he left the show. I absolutely agree with you Elena that Marcquet should have been voted into the bottom and gone home in Stanley’s place, but neither of them were on the winning track so it probably doesn’t matter much in the long run.