The good news is it is very unlikely this week’s episode will have a larger percentage of underwhelming dances than last week’s did. The bad news is that the dancers and choreographers alike really need to step it up or my interest and connection with this season will fade fast. Cat introduced the cast as “the incredible Top 16” and I immediately thought “eh”. Can you name all 16 dancers off the top of your head? I definitely can’t, and there is absolutely some dead weight remaining in the cast that if there is any justice in the world America will have put in the bottom three tonight to make it easy for the judges to snip them from contention. The guest judge tonight is…Misty Copeland? Oh, ok. Listen, I love Misty. She has been one of the best judges the show has ever seen whether guests or permanent fixtures on the panel. However. Her multiple appearances in this “3 Week Tour” on the panel has done nothing but reaffirm the shakiness of SYTYCD on Fox’s schedule going forward. The lack of pull for other celebrity guests to appear speaks to a severe budget cut this season and a lack of commitment from Fox to put any level of effort into the quality of the show. On the other hand, budget cuts mean less reason for Fox to cut it from the summer schedule, and gives me another reason to post one (or more) Misty Copeland picture for everyone’s benefit.
Cat Deeley Outfit Watch: This week Cat Deeley’s rocking a sparkly silver turtleneck dress from Walk of Shame, which when typing this sentence out sounds ridiculous, but looks amazing on her tall British self. She’s also wearing some black jewelry, including one stunning black statement ring, from XIV Karats, which she’s favoring lately as she wore their jewelry last week.
Top 16 Group Dance (choreographed by Mandy Moore), “Take Me to the River” by Annie Lennox
Whitney: Well, starting things off with a group dance set to an Annie Lennox classic is a sure way to get me to perk up and be excited for this episode. The Top 16 did the best of any group performance up to this point in the season in regards to connection as an entire group and pure entertainment levels. The outfits were very “moody 90’s interpretative dance” but in a fun way, and I liked that there was only one point where they broke from synchronicity in favor of individual set pieces, as that has been a favorite motif of choreographers this season. I was shocked that this was a Mandy Moore routine, and in retrospect you can definitely pick out facets of her work in the more questionable parts of the routine that weren’t as strong, but overall it was a start to the show that instilled confidence as to what was to come later in the night.
Elena: Maybe it was the Annie Lennox song, or the female dancers’ slicked-back wet-looking hair, but this whole routine reminded me of the 80’s. It felt more pose-filled than an opening routine usually should, and like last week’s, it existed, I saw it, but it didn’t really make me feel anything. I’m not surprised that it was a Mandy Moore jazz production, because as a choreographer she usually doesn’t make a strong impression on me, but I’m still wishing this first number didn’t feel like filler every week.
Valerie and Ricky – Bollywood (by Nakul Dev Mahajan) “Diliwaali Girlfriend” by Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani
Whitney: That was certainly not the way for Valerie to prove herself on the stage after weeks of shaky performances back to back. It wasn’t blatantly bad, but similar to last week Ricky stole the show and relegated her to second in the audience’s eyes. She was at least more energetic than previous efforts, probably because her background as a tapper gives her the confidence to be in character mode in her dancing excellently. One of the most important facets of Bollywood (as we’ve heard over and over again on the show) is the specificity and sharpness of the hand motions, neither of which Valerie achieved. That lack of sharpness overcame the rest of her movements as well, including the ease of her transitions and steadiness of her spins, directly working against the confidence that was so apparent in her face throughout the routine. Ricky, once again, was great. I just noticed tonight how much he looks like Fleur Delacour when she drinks Polyjuice potion and morphs into Harry Potter, but in kind of a cute way? If someone could screen shot this comparison for me I would be forever grateful, because I swear it makes sense. This was probably his weakest routine of the season only because of the choreography he was tasked with, but that distinction should be taken with an entire bowl of salt as his “weakest” routine was still better than 95% of the others we’ve seen this season. I am not incredibly familiar with Bollywood-style music outside of a few viewings of the studio’s movies and this show, but the beat of the music matched up well with the choreography and contributed heavily to the fun both dancers were having throughout the routine.
Elena: The first Bollywood routine of the season, choreographed by Nakul Dev Mahajan, was sparkly and smiley and fast and fun, as all Bollywood routines usually are. Valerie started off shakier than Ricky: it seemed that in the beginning of the dance the quick succession of so many moves was overwhelming her. Ricky was precise in his movements where Valerie’s face showed plainly that she was concerned with hitting every move. As the dance continued Valerie seemed to get more comfortable, and while both of their smiles never wavered this was the first time I’ve ever seen Ricky look tired during a routine. Like we said last week, Whitney, I’m still not convinced that Valerie can come up to Ricky’s level of dance fast enough to make this partnership work. Chemistry they have in spades, but Ricky is so beyond Valerie in both technique and performance it’s hard not to focus on their discrepancies in their dances together.
Bridget and Emilio – Contemporary (choreographed by Travis Wall), “The Leaving Song” by Chris Garneau
Whitney: If there is one thing that I thought would make Bridget am 100% lock to stay this week after unfairly finding herself in the bottom three it was a Travis Wall contemporary routine, so I was pleased to see that’s exactly what she and Emilio were granted. It has already been established how strong this partnership is, and Bridget’s talent really shines when given material that is slow and steady as we have seen from her early auditions on through to this stage of the game. This is the first week she hasn’t cracked a smile (other girls pay attention please) and the entire performance was so measured and emotional I was happy to see her show off what she can do after a few shaky weeks. The lyric-less opening worked to highlight the elite levels of skill present on stage, especially with the stage shrouded in darkness as it was, and after that point they never looked back, giving their all every inch of the way. Nigel made a good point as far as the growth of Emilio, which is what the men’s side needs at this point. Growth has been few and far between with the guys but this is mostly because of how strong most of them are already. It will come down to which of the boys has it in them to work on the little pieces of their dancing and outshine the others instead of resting on their laurels. Except you Ricky, you stay gold.
Elena: Every time that Travis Wall describes his contemporary routines, it always makes me think he’s got a lot of things in his past he’s channeling through his dance. This week on Travis Wall’s Therapy Dance, Emilio and Bridget are doing a piece about leaving your past behind you. There’s an empty bed frame as a prop (Travis Wall does love his props), and Emilio and Bridget artfully dance in and out of it throughout the routine. What I’m struck with in the end is how incredibly strong they both looked: there were multiple times where Emilio lifted Bridget with fluidity and grace, and Bridget’s legs were pointed and perfect. The routine played with dynamics: up and down, falling and being caught, being held and letting go. It was moving, evocative, and probably my favorite routine of the night. Although this showing by Emilio and Bridget just points out the fact that there isn’t one couple who’s been consistently good so far. Usually by the Top 16 there are clear stand-out partnerships, but for right now it really depends on weekly performance (and the luck of the draw on what dance styles they all get).
Tanisha and Rudy – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Dave Scott), “Good Kisser” by Usher
Whitney: There’s one way this routine would have been a hit, and that’s if it was performed by Usher and Ciara on a concert stage. Tanisha doesn’t have the “leather jumpsuit with strategic cutouts” sexiness aspect to her dancing that would be expected from a dancer with a background of ballroom dance and extensive partner work. Some of her illusions looked cool, but then all I could think of was how that is what Catwoman would look like if she started taking Gotham Dance Academy classes between her burglaries. The few transitions the routine included had some shakiness, but the confidence of the partnership saved them from looking too unsure of the moves. That confidence didn’t completely save the performance though. All I could think about was the scene in Save the Last Dance when Derek and Sara are on the dance floor together for the first time and he has to show her how to loosen up her hips, and then I just really wanted to watch Save the Last Dance instead of the rest of these routines. Oops. Rudy is absolutely playing things right as far as soliciting votes go, because at this point I’ll vote for him just to keep his romance with Jacque alive.
Elena: Tanisha and Rudy did a comic book-inspired Dave Scott hip-hop routine, a smooth piece to Usher that had a lot of Tanisha showing off her flexibility and Rudy being impressed while wearing a fedora. It seemed a lot more like a jazz routine to me, maybe because of the addition of so many flips and splits, but overall I was underwhelmed with the way they both danced it. Tanisha’s face was blank, and she, like Valerie before her, looked too concentrated on doing the moves correctly instead of just dancing and feeling the piece. Rudy looked adorable, but didn’t have a lot to do in the routine (and was he supposed to look adorable?). I have a feeling the judges were just mesmerized with Tanisha’s leathery black cut-out Catwoman-chic bodysuit and missed the so-so dancing. The way Tanisha and Rudy performed their hip-hop was the equivalent of someone drunkenly mumbling the words to a karaoke song. I expected more from these two after their Broadway routine last week.
Jessica and Marcquet – Foxtrot (choreographed by Dmitry Chaplin), “I Put a Spell on You” by Nina Simone
Whitney: The two musicians the choreographers seem to be obsessed with this season are Sam Smith and Nina Simone, and I for one could not be happier. The musical choices are half the battle when winning the audience over, and perpetuating the use of great artists regardless of how many times they have been included in the season all ready is a great idea. Unfortunately, the song is where the standout aspects of this routine both begin and end. Jessica and Marcquet were classically beautiful, technically precise, and at some points they seemed to be floating ever so slightly, but those characteristics do not an entertaining routine make especially when one of the dancers is perilously close to being sent home. Jessica has been the black widow of partners so far this season, and that will continue to be the case unless the other men in the bottom three absolutely fall apart. She deserves one chance to dance with a strong partner and see if that makes a difference in her charisma on stage. Somehow I don’t think it will matter one iota and she’ll end up becoming the pretty-yet-bland face of the season, but she at least deserves the opportunity in the hopes that I’m proven wrong. Marcquet should have been sent home in place of Stanley last week and if the judges have any concept of justice, he won’t be saved another week. He has shown zero growth over the first three performance episodes and doesn’t have the charisma to make up for his lack of talent in styles outside his own.
Elena: Jessica and Marcquet get a Dmitry Chaplin foxtrot, where Marcquet is a businessman and Jessica is…a beautiful woman who works for him? There’s a reason both of these dancers’ partners have left, and they’re probably close behind them in leaving the show. While the routine had some beautiful lifts, their foxtrot frame wasn’t tight enough, and there was no chemistry whatsoever. Unlike Tanisha, Jessica had the opposite face problem: she was pulling doofy grins and over-performing her “sexy face” to the point where it was uncomfortable for me to watch. Marcquet was pulling his face a bit as well, but he mostly fell flat for the fourth time in a row for me. Better dancers could have saved this routine, but these two couldn’t.
Carly and Serge – Contemporary (choreographed by Mandy Moore), “Foolish Games” by Jewel
Whitney: Sometimes, Mandy Moore tries to be Mia Michaels. She has her own artistic talents and points of view but at least once every season she puts out a routine where you can just tell how hard she is trying to be taken seriously. Her best work is with cheesy, 80’s style romantic choreography. The Nancy Meyers of dance, if you will. This routine seemed too earnest to be fun and too cheesy to be taken seriously. The whole thing would have worked better as a whole if Moore had committed to the Mia-lite aesthetic she was trying for instead of succumbing to her instincts and using a Jewel song with this choreography. The only explanation for this song being used besides “my name is Mandy Moore” is that it came up next on shuffle on the 1995 Pandora station Mandy was listening to while she curated these routines. Something slightly darker or heavier may have allowed the routine to truly speak to the audience, but that was not to be. Carly and Serge have markedly improved over the last two weeks, and it was sad this week that they couldn’t have continued to receive solid material with which to work. Fortunately, it should at least keep them out of the bottom three and allow them to be confident in their next routine should it be a choreography far outside of their comfort zones.
Elena: As so-so as Mandy Moore’s opening number was, her contemporary for Carly and Serge was a welcome reminder that she can create some wonderful routines when paired with the right couple. I know Serge is a ballroom dancer, but his movements for contemporary are just so right I want him to switch styles. He and Carly found success in their last contemporary routine, and I think it’s because out of all the couples they have some really mature chemistry. If I can borrow last season’s power couples, Valerie and Ricky are like the Amy and Fik-Shun of this season, where Carly and Serge are Jasmine and Aaron. When Carly and Serge get a contemporary routine, there’s something breathtakingly raw that goes on between them. There’s an intentionality to their movements, both when they’re partnering each other and when they’re dancing alone: their focus is always fully inside the emotion and the beauty of the dance. While I thought Travis Wall’s contemporary choreography was stronger for Emilio and Bridget, Carly and Serge have exactly the right weight and honesty to pull off a contemporary routine. Now if only they’d channel that into other styles! They’re my favorite couple right now, I just hope they find out how to get into hip-hop more the next time they dance it.
Teddy and Emily – Salsa (choreographed by Oksana Dmytrenko & Jonathan Platero) “Bruk it Down – Soca Remix” Mr. Vegas feat. Alison Hinds
Whitney: Poor Emily. Between her previous injuries this season and today’s dislocated shoulder, she is turning into the Derek Rose of Season 11. Refrains of “She would be great, if she were healthy” or “That move would have been gorgeous, if she could move like I know she can” kept repeating over and over in my head throughout this routine. She broke one of the cardinal rules of ballroom, that of the requirement (with few exceptions) to always keep your knees together unless in a lift or split. Her feet were shuffling instead of snapping into place and her hips were dropping when her posture should have been pulling towards the ceiling. Where Emily was merely lacking in execution, her partner was nowhere to be found as Teddy faded into the background completely here. Most of the problems were most likely produced by the sheer pace of the music, leaving both dancers unable to keep up with the footwork they were asked to accomplish. The precision was way off what a professional performance of this routine would have been and both dancers seemed consistently a half second behind. The one true positive I pulled from this performance was the fact that Emily was smiling her trademark grin when she was actually supposed to do so. A happy routine requires the pearly whites, an intense routine requires giving face. Pin it to your dressing room mirrors, ladies.
Elena: While salsa is neither Teddy nor Emily’s style, and Emily was working with a dislocated shoulder, I was disappointed in how amateurish this routine looked. While Emily did recover nicely from her slip, it’s unfortunate she slipped at all because after that it was hard for me to focus on anything else. There were a lot of issues with Teddy and Emily preparing to do lifts or tricks and forgetting to dance in-between the tricks. Misty Copeland keeps bringing up how the dancers are performing in their face, but it’s an essential tool that dancers continually misuse. Too much face pulling or a blank face can ruin otherwise impressive technique or partnering. Emily’s pained face was probably due to her dislocated shoulder, but it looked like she was unhappy throughout the whole dance, whereas Teddy looked like a natural. Ballroom so far has been a dud of a style to pull, and I can’t tell if the bad couples keep getting it or if the choreographers aren’t giving them dynamic enough routines.
Jacque and Zack – Jazz (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), “Back to Black” by Beyonce feat. Andre 3000
Whitney: I am going to write one sentence about the costumes in this routine and then we are going to forget they ever graced the stage. Costuming department: I love you, you are great so much of the time and especially when complementing Sonya’s vision…but my God if you ever try to make “Little Bo Peep joins the cast of Penny Dreadful” happen again I’m going to have to take some points away from House Wardrobe. Wiping my mind of that pink ruffled catastrophe, I was disappointed in a few moments of this routine but overall both Zack and Jacque showed tremendous growth as individual dancers and in their partnership. Jacque didn’t really take Sonya’s advice to bring some fire to her performance and unless she learns how to bring some intensity to her dancing I fear she is not long for this competition. For Rudy’s sake she should really try to stick around, because I fear without her there that poor boy will be like a swan who loses his mate and turn into a depressed mess. Save yourself with some game face before it’s too late! The music choice made it hard to decide how intense this routine was actually supposed to be, as the mood of the music was hard but the pace of the song and of the choreography didn’t allow them to really dig in to the movements with any gusto the way it seemed they should have. A muddle of a routine, but a decent performance. If that makes sense. You make sense of it, I’ll be over here ‘shipping Jacque and Rudy.
Elena: Sonya Tayeh’s routines, even the middling ones, are so much better than everyone else’s. She and Travis Wall really are So You Think You Can Dance’s secret weapons. Sonya’s jazz specialities are creating unique body shapes that are effortlessly weird and beautiful, lifts and holds that are captivating in their almost animalistic natures. There’s a controlled wildness to her choreography that makes the dancers push and stretch beyond their previous capabilities. I thought Zack embodied that fully in the routine: he was all deep desire and extended arms and was a very strong partner. In the beginning, I thought Jacque was acting a bit too much, but even she got taken over by the ferocity of the dance. Jacque and Zack aren’t my favorites, but Zack really impressed me with the way he got lost in Sonya’s choreography.
Brooklyn and Casey – Hip-Hop (choreographed by Wildebeest), “Hustle Hard Remix” by Ace Hood feat. Lil Wayne and Rick Ross
Whitney: Well, this is a low point of the season. It looks like Brooklyn and Casey fell victim to a trend that is slowly but surely taking over most of the season, that being the inability of most of these competitors to dig in to any hip-hop routines with intensity or legitimacy. I understand there is a glaring lack of hip-hoppers or animators this season, but at some point the show may have to scale back the inclusion of this style of dance unless one couple or another start to step up and prove they can execute what is asked of them by someone with the hip-hop talents of Wildebeest. Both dancers were very light on their feet and looked more upbeat than the routine required. I agree with Misty that Brooklyn looked the most confident out of any routine she’s done this season, but I differ in regards to that aspect of the routine bringing anything to the performance. Someone backstage needs to do whatever the opposite of the vaseline-on-teeth trick that they use for beauty pageants might be, because if these girls don’t stop smiling when they don’t need to be I’m going to throw something (that sounds like an overreaction but it really isn’t that difficult to look aggressive at the same time as you’re acting aggressive on stage). Casey tried so hard to look like this was anywhere close to his style and I admire the effort but it really didn’t pan out for him at all. Brooklyn is absolutely going home after this showing, so we’ll have to see what Casey can do with a more energetic and intense partner next week.
Elena: Will Adams’ hip-hop was about dirtying up Casey and Brooklyn, and even though hip-hop isn’t either of their styles I was hoping they’d pull out some hard-hitting moves. Unfortunately, like everyone else who has done hip-hop so far, neither of them got low enough. They danced too much from their shoulders and forgot about their hips and the rest of their body. The choreography provided Casey and Brooklyn with a lot of moments to shine, and Brooklyn went in and out of doing well, but Casey was really out of his element. They also weren’t in sync for some of the dance, which looked awful when they were dancing side by side. Memo to everyone who gets hip-hop: get low. Get low, and use your whole body.
Group Dance #1 (choreographed by Sonya Tayeh), “So Broken” by Bjork
Whitney: I got very happy about a bonus Sonya routine, so of course she named it the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard a dance routine be named. I can’t recall the particular wording, but it might have well been called “Murder Party Murder Party Let’s All Die” for the mood it set. Then she went and set it to Bjork which made the entire thing dour beyond belief. This all sounds as if I hated what she produced, but in reality it was one of the best things to grace the stage this season. Every piece of the performance cohered into one mood, one focus, and most importantly one level of talent. The only major complaint I have (and it’s nitpicky) is that the costuming was very “Logan’s Run 2: The SYTYCD Routine”. More demerits for House Wardrobe, they now trail House Judging and it looks like they won’t be able to come back to win the House Cup at this point int he season. House Makeup is putting up a fight for second, but House Choreography may be too far ahead to reach already. This piece was heartbreakingly beautiful from to to bottom, due largely in part to the dancers chosen to participate. Considering the amount of time they usually have to rehearse the group routines in comparison with the duets, this should have come out terribly and instead I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the first YouTube upload so I can watch it again and again.
Elena: A Bonus Sonya Tayeh Group Routine!: I want to let Sonya Tayeh just choreograph everything. Every So You Think You Can Dance routine, and then extend that to everything in my life. Cat Deeley said that it was a beautifully ugly routine, and I completely agree. It was full of flailing limbs and an unsettling urgency, with the dancers’ make-up pale and full of disease-ridden blemishes. It was exactly what I imagine a zombie jazz dance movie looking like if Sonya choreographed it. Tanisha, who got a spotlight moment, was impressive: her face was pained and horrified and searching, exactly what the dance needed. It’s the best I think Tanisha’s danced on the show, and I hope more group routines have a sense of place and purpose like this one in the future.
Group Dance #2 (choreographed by Travis Wall), “Love Runs Out” by OneRepublic
Whitney: My first thought: Oh, OneRepublic sings this song? Second (and infinitely more relevant) thought: This was the best dance of the night, period. This will be one of the performances that is recreated in the final episode of the season to be enjoyed live once more, and if Travis Wall doesn’t win another Emmy for the way he transformed these dancers tonight the world will make no sense. This routine had the most electric energy, most creative choreography, sexiest vibes, and was flat out the most entertaining thing the season has given to us so far. Why can’t any these dancers bring this intensity and aggression to their partnerships? I would give all of my votes to every dancer on stage with this routine if it meant it could replace their paired routines. I was getting a lot of Colin O’Donoghue feelings from Ricky here, which is so appreciated now that I have stopped watching OUaT for good. House Makeup, I will let you leave grounds after hours if you keep Ricky endlessly supplied with guyliner for the rest of the season. Poor Lucy Hale for having to follow that routine.
Elena: A Bonus Travis Wall Group Routine!: Urgency seems to be the magical spice in tonight’s best routines that gives these dancers fire and purpose. Travis Wall choreographed a fast and furious routine heavy on jumps, and one complex lift with Carly that was backwards and forwards and so high in the air. The only little snafu was that when Carly was coming down from the routine her foot got caught in Teddy’s jacket, but it was almost imperceptible. Ricky, as always, was insanely watchable and captured my attention for the whole routine, a dance chameleon and a choreographer’s dream. I’m waiting for the Top 10 when he gets to dance with the all-stars, because the boy’s gonna shine.
Whitney: I guess it would have been “Poor Lucy Hale” for having to follow any routine, because yowzers that appearance was not good. I haven’t seen Lucy Hale perform any of her wannabe country pop live before, and I was initially impressed with her stage presence until her voice cracked three times in the first two lines and the entire facade of singing talent fell away. Girl needs to pull a Lizzy McGuire and up the auto tuning during live performances if she’s really serious about giving music a shot. I give her a lot of credit for trying hard and bringing some energy to the song, especially because she has repeatedly stated in interviews that singing is her true passion over acting, but in the end I was more impressed with the guitarist’s moves than her own. Thanks for coming, grab a party favor on your way out.
Elena: Lucy Hale sang, and it was a thing that happened. I wish they’d cut these music moments and replace them with letting the bottom 6 do their solos again. A lot of people impressed when they danced for their lives, and I’m not sure if it’s a budget thing or a timing thing, but I want the solos to come back. While I thought that Brooklyn and Marcquet deserved to go home this week, it would have been nice to see them (and everyone) dance in their style again before shuttling them off the show.
Whitney: I don’t have much to say about the eliminations tonight, other than America got it right and the judges were correct in following suit. Keep it up, and maybe by the Top 10 we can get through an entire episode without an atrocious routine (it’s late, I’m snippy, dance better).
Elena: Next week, four people are getting voted off? It’s going to get so Red Wedding-y up in So You Think You Can Dance.
Apologies for the extra long post this week, next time we promise it will only be emojis from Elena and one word commentary from Whitney (although we’ll both be otherwise detained during the live show so that may be what you get regardless).